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How to deal with sibling rivalry!

Why is there sibling rivalry? | Why do my children fight? | How can I stop sibling rivalry? |

Let me firstly reassure you that sibling rivalry is normal. Even when your children become the best of friends, it’s common for them to fall-out, to argue and even fight. My two love eachother to pieces, they are the best of friends 99% of the time, but the times they are not friends – it can be stressful and upsetting for both them and me! 

Why is there sibling rivalry?

Often, sibling rivalry starts even before the new sibling is born! This is often the case when you have an older child who understands that they are not going to be the only child anymore. It’s a tricky situation, and one that needs to be dealt with calmly.

As hard as it is – it’s important to try and divide your attention equally (I had two under two so can totally understand how hard it is!) When your baby goes down for their nap, explain to your older child that this is ‘your very special time together’.

That way they will look forward to that time. Plan an activity to do together, even if it’s just 15 minutes of quality time – puzzles, simple sensory play or crafting are a great way to let your older child feel you are paying them equal attention

I’ve written a separate piece on preparing children for a new arrival. The tips can make it all a little less stressful and more exciting and happy – just like it should be. After all – the arrival of a new baby is truly wonderful! 

Signs of sibling rivalry include shouting, fighting, destructive behavoiur or hurting and even name-calling. It’s not pleasant for parents to witness, but it’s a natural and normal  part of development to feel jealous of a sibling or indeed another close family member or friend. 



Why do my children fight?

Where do I begin? There are so many different reasons and situations why your children may fight. From toys, to what to watch on TV, to who was fastest at running, to who had the rabbit spoon first (I really need to buy another rabbit spoon!) In general these are the main reasons for daily sibling squabbles.

Different ages means different stages! Unless you have twins or triplets (or even quads?) Your children will always be at a different age and stage of development. Their needs for each stage of development can significantly affect how they relate to one another and so it’s important to try your best when dealing with fights and squabbles to not treat them the same. I’m guilty of this as my are only a year apart and have to remind myself that my youngest is a whole year younger. That’s a big difference in development!  

Personalities: Your little one is an individual. Remember that just like you – they have their own personality and ways. These unique traits play a large role in how well they get along with other children, and in particular – their sibling! The laid back child will be less likely to start arguments or retaliate to pokes, whereas the easily rattled child may find it hard to keep calm when their sibling teases them. As mentioned already, ages and stages development play a big part. A toddler is starting to learn about sharing and respecting others things – when knocking the beautifully constructed lego building down – it can cause fireworks with the school age child. 

Special needs:  If one of your children has special needs or is ill, they” often need more attention and time than your other child(ren) and this can cause rivalry. Your other child may pick up on this (in their eyes) unfair division of parent time and start finding other ways to get equal attention. n some cases, they my even start being unkind or hurtful to their sibling through jealousy. 

Favouritism: Nobody is going to ever admit they prefer one child to the other. It’s not the done thing! But favoritism does exist but showing those feelings are often unintentional! I saw a very stand-up show where Michael McIntyre was he was talking about taking his two children to the park. One ran one way, one ran the other and he joked how in that moment you as a parent have to choose your favourite. The audience laughed knowingly. 

Jealousy! One child may be doing better than the other in school, in sports or even in a game! It can be something so small and silly to an adult – but to a child it seems so much bigger. Jealousy is a very powerful emotion and can even adults do silly things. It;s a very hard emotion to master as child.

How can I stop sibling rivalry? 

In one quick answer – you can’t! It really is normal and punishing your children for having feelings will just make them bottle everything up inside. However – you CAN deal with the consequences of the rivalry, so the fighting and arguing becomes less, and so they understand it’s OK to have feelings of jealousy or anger but it’s not OK to fight. 

I encourage parents to not to get involved if their children are arguing with eachother because it is healthy to debate with one another. If they are disagreeing on something – let them. If you always intervene they may close-up altogether and not talk. They’ll worry that debating something is wrong. 

As adults we debate, we often argue (I’m not talking shouting and screaming here) and it’s OK. Let your children know it is OK to disagree, but it is not OK to hurt eachother physically or emotionally with unkind words. 

Rather than stopping them arguing – give them the tools to argue ‘nicely.’ Make rules such as ‘no name calling’ or ‘saying hurtful things’ and certainly ‘no hitting.’ 

When you need to step in!

When things escalate and you do need to get involved here’s some things to try to calm the situation.

Keep calm! Screaming and shouting at your fighting children won’t help them to calm down, in fact it often just escalates the situation. (I think we’ve all had that moment when things got too much and we shouted!) Instead, step in, take some time-out, and talk calmly about what is happening.

Time out: Separate them until they have calmed down. This can be in their rooms (older children) or a safe place to have a moment until they’re calm. While they are apart don’t talk about the incident as this may escalate things. Let them both calm down for a few minutes. Wait until they are calm, then talk together around a table. If they are toddlers – explain about hurting or saying unkind things in a very basic way. Explain to your older child how the younger child doesn’t understand as well as they do. Be understanding, offer reassurance and guidance. 

Don’t take sides: Don’t put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame. fighting, no matter who starts it, is a two person thing! Instead, talk about the negative behaviour and ensure they both understand that fighting or screaming at eachother is not an answer to a problem – ever! 

Equal outcomes: Ensure each child is happy and Ok with the end result. With young toddlers who have destroyed a beautiful drawing for example, get them to sit down and do their own picture. Try and salvage the damaged picture of your older child, or help them create something fantastic. Try not to put guilt on to your young toddler – remember they are learning and as awful as it is to be destructive to a beautiful piece of work, they are still learning. 

Talk! Talk, talk and talk some more! Reassure both sides that you understand them and understand their feelings. Talk about feelings in a way they understand. ‘I know you feel sad your little brother broke your tower, I’m going to help you build it up again. He is little and learning, I’m sorry he broke it.’ Books are ideal for talking about feelings – especially jealousy and fighting. Here are some of my favourites:

Take time out for each child: Try and make time for one-on-one time with each of your children. I know as a parent this can be difficult, but even half an hour for a milkshake in a cafe or trip to the park can be enough to reassure each of your children they are equally special to you. 

Family meetings: For older children who fight often, a weekly informal meeting can be a great way to get children talking. Have a notebook on the side in the week where they can write down anything that’s upset them during the week, if they think they were treated unfairly or something hurt their feelings. you can then go through the book (without judgment) and talk things through. Always encourage your children to talk things through rather than bottle things up and encourage them to offer a solution to the problems. Work together towards a calmer family life, let everyone have their say calmly, and write down some family rules that everyone agrees to.


I hope these tips have helped you – even if they have just offered reassurance that these situations are totally normal and part of growing up. 


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