Children have no concept of the fact that mom and dad can love both them and their siblings equally. This perceived imbalance of love and affection can lead to sibling rivalry. Through no fault of your own as a parent you may find that one child takes on the role of “second best” while another feels they’re “dad’s favorite.” You should aim to make your children each feel that they are your favorite. A mother can’t play favorites anyway, although you should realize that children may see it another way.
If you’ve got the Favorite Wars going on in your home, there are some things you can do before you blow your top. First, you want to take a good look at yourself and see if perhaps you and your husband are unequally treating your children. Does one excel at sports (very important to Dad) while another excels at school (very important to mom)? This could create an unconsciously, ever so faint inequality in how parents treat the child who does not have the desired qualities among their top talents. If you find you are playing favorites, you can modify your behavior.
Treat children the same, but different. Sounds impossible, right? If you have children who aren’t twins, they are at different developmental stages based on their differing ages. You can’t treat a two year old and a five year old the same way when you’re trying to discipline them. Each child must be reached at their own level. A tantrum from a two year old may get a time out while the same tantrum from a five year old may lose him his TV privileges for the night. This can lead to children feeling like they are unfairly punished. It’s your job as a parent to get the point across that both kids are being disciplined in a way that matches their age. You might say, “Johnny’s only two right now, so he gets a time out. When Johnny’s a big boy like you, Mike, he’ll lose his TV too if he acts out.” This may not eliminate the rivalry, but it will give your older one something to go back and think about.
If you have smaller siblings who are not at the age of reason, you can spend quality time alone with each of them to show them they are special. Mom might take Judy to the salon with her for manicures, while Bella stays home and plays games with Dad. Then another day Bella gets to go shopping with mom while Judy goes for ice cream with Dad. If each child feels valued, they will be less likely to act up because they think they’re not getting enough attention.
For the smallest tots who grab toys from another small tot or pull hair, the best you can do is keep them separated at times of flare up. You will still want to instruct them that their behavior is not acceptable, but remember, small children will normally have a bit of jealousy for their favorite toys or sibling gifts and won’t know how to share for some years yet. Make plenty of toys available and redirect the offending child into another fun activity. In a few minutes, the whole thing will be forgotten.