You desperately want to reduce sibling jealousy between your toddler and the new baby. But how? It may sound counterintuitive, but treating siblings too much like equals can be precisely why envy and bitter rivalries occur; it essentially creates a battleground on which the kids feel they must one-up each other. “Children don’t need to be treated equally, they need to be treated uniquely,” says Adele Faber, Long Island, N.Y.-based coauthor of Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. “To love each one the same is to somehow love them less.”
So what should you do to reduce sibling jealousy? In fact, complete equality is rarely, if ever, possible (How do you measure whether one piece of cake is a fraction larger?), and is often impractical. “For instance, your toddler takes a nap so he doesn’t go to bed until 8 p.m., but your preschooler has given up naps and really needs lights out at 7:30 p.m., so you are responding to each according to his needs, rather than some arbitrary idea of sameness,” explains Laura Markham, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Brooklyn, N.Y., and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.
That’s not to say you can’t have two of certain things. “It is very hard for toddlers to share and take turns,” says Fran Walfish, PsyD, a child and family psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, Calif., and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child. “They need lots of practice before they can be expected to master cooperative play, so, for instance, if you have twin boys, you may want to buy two red fire trucks.”
But the real key to reduce sibling jealousy is to be fair to each child, which comes down to meeting their specific needs. “Instead of giving equal amounts of anything, give according to individual need,” Markham says. For instance, give a big bunch of grapes to the child who says she’s hungry, fewer to the one who says he doesn’t want a snack. “Instead of showing equal love (e.g., ‘I love you the same as your sister’), show the child he or she is loved uniquely with words like ‘You are the only you in the whole wide world, and no one could ever take your place,’” Faber adds.