How do I deal with sibling rivalry?

From toy tussles to new-baby-envy here’s how to tackle some common causes of sibling rivalry


1) When your child gets a younger sibling

Going from only child to older sibling is one of the ultimate tests for a toddler or pre-schooler.


Try this…

  • Make ‘little one’ time for your older child. Just because there’s someone younger than her now, doesn’t mean she has to be the ‘brave’ one. You may decide to allocate some special, uninterrupted time for your older child when your baby’s asleep.
  • Don’t saddle an older child with responsibilities that can cause resentment. She’s still a child, too. Instead of making her feel responsible for her sibling, try to foster a sense that she can lead by example.
  • Share your cuddles. Just because one child is older doesn’t mean she doesn’t want a hug. All children need a hug to make them feel like the most special one from time to time.
  • Be aware – what we see as jealousy may really only be a response to your older child’s natural ‘survival instinct’. Teach her how to hold her new baby brother or sister properly, and to put her finger into her sibling’s curled up fist.
Social skills, like any other skill, can be learnt and you’re the perfect person to teach them

2) Sharing toys at playtime

Play is meant to be harmonious, but sharing toys and books can lead to tears and tantrums!

Try this…

  • Get to the bottom of the squabble and try to work out the reason for it. If it’s a case of only one toy between two children, could you get another? If both want the same crayon, simply take it away and let each of them choose a different one.
  • Reward them for playing well together.
  • Make sure they each get time with you and with friends of their own age, rather than always encouraging them to play with each other.
  • Try to unite them against a common enemy (not you!) such as a tricky puzzle or a game that needs teamwork.
  • Remember what caused rivalry before to avoid it a second time. If the dispute was over who played with a favourite teddy, try to give them alternatives to stop the row from flaring up again.

3) When playtime turns into a talent competition

What do you do if one of your little ones is great at one thing, but the other’s not so hot? It’s hard to make sure that they’re both praised and one doesn’t feel that he is in the shadow of the other.

Try this…

  • Instead of pitching one child against the other in the same task, play to each of their skills. See if one can teach the other something she can do. It’ll give them both a sense of achievement.
  • Look for something different in what each child does. Encourage their individual talents so they don’t think they have to match their sibling’s successes.
  • Let your little ones make some of their own decisions. This will help to make each of them feel equal and respected, and will unite them, whatever their talents.
  • Treat each child as if she’s your first. Let her know that each milestone she achieves is exciting to you, behave as if you’ve never seen a child succeed in that area before.

4) Arguments between siblings

Your older child argues that it was his little sibling who did something. Your little one is, no doubt, sitting in floods of tears.

Try this…

  • Talk to your older child separately and ask him about his younger sibling’s good points.
  • Ask him for his own solutions in a quieter moment, rather than in the ‘heat of battle’.
  • Ask him what he’d like his sibling to have said or done differently.
  • Asking your older child why he and his sibling are upset allows him to explain and may reveal the source of the dispute.
All toddlers need reassurance when they are having a tantrum

If it’s just getting too much…

If constant squabbling is causing upset to you or your family life, don’t bottle it up and try to cope on your own. Talk to your partner and friends. It may turn out that you’re showing favouritism without noticing. You might have more baby pictures of your younger or older child on show, or have bought one of them newer toys. If you still have problems and you’re finding it hard to cope, talk to your GP or Health Visitor.


How to break your baby news gently to your older child

  • Tell your child quietly and happily when you have time to answer his questions.
  • Talk to him about when he was born.
  • Show him photos so he understands it was a special time and that you’ve kept a record of his birth, too.
  • If you need to reuse something for your baby that had belonged to your older child, make sure you take it before the baby arrives. Otherwise it’ll be a double whammy of baby arrival and loss of possessions! Give him new ‘big kid’ stuff so he feels spoiled.
  • Find jobs for him as you prepare for your baby. Why not let him help you choose products for the nursery?
  • Ask him to draw what he thinks his new sibling looks like. It’ll give you a chance to explain how your baby’s growing.
  • Do a ‘trial run’. If your older child is due to stay with a relative when you’re in labour, make sure he stays there before.

The Rough Guide to Babies & Toddlers by Kaz Cooke (£13.99, Rough Guides). 

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