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How to Deal With Sibling Competition

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

  • Brothers and sisters of kids who learn and think differently might feel overlooked or unappreciated.

  • It’s important to make sure each child gets time in the spotlight.

  • Open communication can make a big difference in helping all children in a family feel loved and valued.

In a household with more than one child, kids are very likely to compete for their caregiver’s attention. This angsty behavior can heat up when one or more of the kids learn and think differently. Brothers and sisters may tend to resent a sibling with specific issues or struggles.

Here are some common reasons why—and how you can help keep the peace.

1. “I get less attention.”

How it plays out: Kids who learn and think differently often require more time and attention from parents in order to do well in school and stay organized. It’s no surprise, then, when brothers or sisters feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick.

What you can do: You may not be able to make everything equal between your kids, nor is it necessary. But do be sure that the other child gets time in the spotlight. Spend one-on-one time together. If the other child gets a good report card or tries out for the school band, be sure to note and compliment such achievements. And when things aren’t going so well for that child, address those needs, too.

2. “The rules aren’t fair.”

How it plays out: You expect a lot from the child who gets good grades in school and always behaves well. But you accept lower grades and inappropriate behavior from your child who learns and thinks differently.

What you can do: Make sure kids understand a brother or sister’s struggles—and how they affect teachers, parents, siblings as well as themselves. But also let your child know that you love all of your kids, no matter what their grades or abilities are.

3. “I have to do more than my share.”

How it plays out: Your child makes the bed and fixes lunch every day. Often, too, you ask your child to take care of the brother or sister who learns and thinks differently. On the other hand, the child with learning struggles has zero chores, and you take care of lunch and making up the bed each day.

What you can do: It’s important for kids who learn and think differently to do as much for themselves as possible. They can have chores just like their siblings. It can help them become more independent. It might also lessen resentment and sibling angst.

Of course, it can take more energy to model, practice and explain how to do these tasks than it would to just do them yourself. But you’ll find that it’s worth it—for you and your family.

4. “My sibling embarrasses me.”

How it plays out: Your child is embarrassed by the behavior of a brother or sister with learning or attention issues. Maybe your child doesn’t want to have friends over or be seen in public with the sibling.

What you can do: Try to relate to your child’s feelings. Could your child be trying to protect a sibling from teasing, for instance? It can be helpful to arrange for kids to have friends over when their sibling isn’t home. You can also help kids brainstorm what to say to peers so that they better understand and empathize with their sibling’s issues.

5. “I’m not allowed to get upset.”

How it plays out: Kids with a sibling who learns and thinks differently often express feeling like they have to “be perfect” for their parents. This means they might not feel they can make mistakes or express emotions like anger, fear and frustration. When their sibling is crying or screaming, they might feel like doing the same, but—because they feel held to different standards—they worry that acting out will only make things worse or disappoint their parents.

What you can do: Take time out to talk about how your child is feeling and allow the space for your child to express emotions. If your child needs a physical break from the action, go on a walk together or suggest a game of catch. You can each vent your feelings while getting out of the house. It’s important to remind kids that you don’t expect perfection and that you know they are dealing with stress just like the rest of the family.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting less and doing more for kids who learn and think differently.

  • Siblings notice these differences and might resent them.

  • Each child in the family doesn’t have to be treated the same. But it’s important for all the kids to feel that their needs count.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom