Talking Parenting: Sibling Rivalry

“Give it to ME!” “I was still using that!” “You have THAT one!”…. a hit, a push, a grab, two screaming children.

About a year ago I naively thought our family had somehow avoided the gauntlet of sibling rivalry. In hindsight now, I can’t believe I could have ever been so blissfully ignorant. Jack and Sarah were 3 and 1 year old. They would squabble, take each other’s toys, the odd push but definitely no hitting and no ear-piercing screams as each child goes into complete meltdown.

Well hasn’t the little bubble that I was living in popped! Some mornings the first thing my children will say to each other is, ‘No. Go away’, as they both elbow each other to be the closest person to us as we lay in bed.

Our morning snuggles in bed used to be such a beautiful way to start the day; everyone together, arms wrapped around each other, peaceful and happy.

Now it seems everything is in limited supply; there are only enough cuddles for one person, only enough blocks for one person. You need to be the first person to go through the doorway or the first one to choose a chair at the dinner table and then all other chairs are unacceptable.

It’s exhausting. Exhausting for all of us. I know that Jack and Sarah don’t like being cranky all the time. I know they would rather be playing happily together. I know that they love each other completely and are each other’s best friend. I know that.

But the fighting. The fighting wears me down. I find it very hard to stay calm and remove myself from the intensity of the situation when the fighting starts before I even get out of bed.

Some days I feel I have a lot of healing to do, a lot of damaged relationships to mend. Some days I don’t respond well, those are not good days.

I have come to realise though that with every squabble, with every fight, every push and every scream, there is a little person desperately trying to tell me something; asking for help and wanting to be heard.

Talking Parenting: Sibling RIvalry - An Everyday Story

So rather than reacting to the emotion-charged situation, I am trying to respond with kindness and an open heart. I’m trying to look beyond what is happening and hear what those little voices are trying to say; please pay attention to me, I would like to play too, I’m not quite finished yet, this is important to me, I’m feeling very tired, I’m hungry, I need some time alone.

I think once I can hear what is truly being said, I will be better prepared to support Jack and Sarah as they learn to negotiate their own social situations more effectively.

I don’t think there are ’10 Tips to Stop Sibling Rivalry’. I think what we need to do is listen and, the thing I find most difficult, let go of that sudden impulse to stop the fighting, especially as I feel my stress levels rising.

I think we also need to stop fearing those strong emotions. Intervening with gentle firmness (blocking hits) but recognising that our children aren’t hateful or malicious but rather their misdirected behaviours are clearly telling us a very real need.

All this takes strength, consistency, time, lots of closeness filling our children with positive affirmations and a well rested Mama and Papa.

So with that, I’m off to bed for a good night sleep, ready for tomorrow.

How do you cope with rivalry between your children?



  1. Boy can I relate and how I remember those days. I have 6 kids and I think I would do it a lot differently if I would do it again. It is a rare family that does not have sibling rivalry (except of course if there are no siblings)
    I learned from a really wise group leader of mine that it is extremely important to separate and be as little involved in their fights as possible. Amazingly I learn so much from my daughter who is a mother of 4. I don’t know where she learned if from because I was certainly not calm when she used to beat up her little sister but, she is the calmest mother I’ve seen. I’ve seen how she firmly tells them that they have to work things out between themselves and teaches them to communicate with each other. A lot of the shrieking that comes along with the fighting is their trying to get involved in their side of things and it is the healthiest thing to do if we can step out and emotionally distance ourselves from the fighting. I know its huge job but, one with great benefits.

  2. Jackie@My Little Bookcase says:

    Oh, I am certainly waiting for the day here.
    It was completely unplanned but there are 3.5 years between my children. I was upset at first, but it has been a little blessing.
    When Baby Ike was born, Cam was at an age where we could talk and explain things to her, we could reason with her, she could ask questions and verbalise her emotions. She has been nothing but a loving, kind, helpful older sibling.

    But I am not naive. Ike hasn’t even started to move yet, take her things, start talking and communicating his own emotions.

    I haven’t got any tips just yet, but I’m always taking notes when I read posts like this.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a timely post. We are on the second last day of school holidays and I am over the whining/screaming/inappropriate behaviour. Each of my 3 is having “quiet time” in their room for an hour (we set the oven timer) and I am hoping that this calming time might make for a more pleasant afternoon! Happy kid-wrangling!

  4. Oh so true! Responding with calmness and setting firm boundaries are strategies I try to use too. Don’t get it right every time but I try!

  5. Bev Carlton says:

    I wonder if we should also respect that the child has a right to express their emotions. At a young age they do not know how to do this in an appropriate manner but as they grow we can guide them into understanding the effect their behaviour has on others. Then they can moderate themselves to control their feelings and how they express them. Standing beside a child waiting for them to finish their tantrum takes self control but gives the child respect and time to regain control of themselves. The sibling rilvary can also be viewed as a teaching opportunity. The children are learning about debating a problem and social conflicts. Even though it is difficult to put up with for us. When I had had enough of the arguing I would sit them in separate corners of the room until they could either find a solution to their problem peacefully or agree to disagree and talk to each other in a respectful manner. This didn’t stop the arguing but gave me a rest from it for awhile as sitting looking at each other often ended in laughter as everyone including me calmed down and thought about the situation. A great piece of advice from my mother in law which is actually from the bible was that “this to will pass’ and you know what…it does

  6. As a mother of two boys, still blissfully in the stage of no sibling rivalry, and a teacher to 32 second graders, I understand your advice. However, as the eldest of 3, I have to enter a warning. My parents didn’t want to intervene in the arguments between myself and my siblings. As the oldest, I tried to take the high road. I tried peaceful to stop the issue. Most of the time not instigated by me. I rarely asked my parents for help unless the arguing became physical. By the time I was 12, I was depressed. I never felt valued or important because my parents felt I needed to solve the problems alone. I attempted suicide. Please listen to the pleas of your children. Take them aside and speak one on one. Don’t just let them try to figure it out in their own.

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