Sibling Competition

Dear Sharon,

Our oldest son, (12), is spending two weeks at sleep away camp this summer for the first time. His younger brother, (7), is explosive on the subject. He is SO jealous and angry! How can we explain to him that he’s just not ready, and that we’re not ready for him to go away? He’s acting very angry at his brother and my husband and I want to find a way to put peace back into our house.

Thanks!!!

Dear Mom and Dad,

Even with the recent explosions at home, I think this summer could turn out to be a very good one for both of your children. For your 12 year, old sleep away camp could be a wonderful place to make new friends and build self confidence.

For your 7 year old a summer separate from his older brother could provide an excellent opportunity to have his parents all to himself, something that may have rarely happened before. Children of all ages can feel uneasy when “transitions” happen in and outside of their home. They sometimes prefer to have routines stay unchanged particularly if they are happy with the way things are.

Saying good bye to classmates for the summer, beginning a new activity, or in your younger son’s case living without his brother for a few weeks can be unsettling. This partly explains the explosive nature of your 7 year old’s reaction, one that is actually not uncommon. Younger siblings can easily feel “left out” when their older siblings go off to do things with their own age group. They can feel like they will never quite catch up to the older one’s capabilities and privileges. They can’t tell that those differences are connected to age and will come their way sooner than they can imagine.

One thing that may ease the tension is to talk to your younger son about specific activities you will do with him while his brother is away.

One idea would be for the three of you to take a trip, one that might be just right for someone his age and too “babyish” for his older brother might be ideal. You could present several ideas to your son and let him pick the one that seems the best. The more time the trip takes the better it will be. Since you mentioned he is angry at his Dad right now it might also he a great opportunity for the two of them to go off alone on a father son adventure. If a trip is not possible there are other ways to use this “only one child at home” time. If one or both of you work you could take him to the office with you for all or part of the day.

Each of you could also take a day off to spend time with him to do special things as well. When you pick the day you will set aside for your son, tell him about it ahead of time, listen to his ideas about what he might like to do and then plan accordingly. Spending one on one time with a child usually helps lower tensions. a great deal.

It is important to remember that you are not alone figuring out how to handle explosive sibling jealousies. As I mentioned in my April column “Sibling relationships are usually some of the most intense and important relationships anyone has.”
As is true in the course of any important relationship jealousies can surface. I have raised three sons (the youngest is now 19) and over the course of many years of parenting I have often heard things like, “I can’t believe you let him do ______, you would never let me do that,” along with statements like: “I hate him,” “You treat him so much better than you treat me,” “he is such a pain, why do you put up with him”. One thing that I have tried to remember when one of them is complaining about the other one is that I need to try to be quiet and listen to what they have to say before giving out my words of wisdom.
(This has NOT been easy).

I have come to believe that listening to what they have to say about each other when they are young can strengthen their bonds tremendously as they get older. I think this kind of understanding and support can also help them handle difficult neighborhood and school relationships and can help reduce at home tensions in the short term as well.

Unfortunately I can’t promise that my suggestions will immediately lower the explosive nature of the conversations in your home, but I hope they will help everyone in your family have a wonderful summer, one each of you could remember for a long time. You might even want to repeat some of it next year! Good luck and enjoy.