Sibling rivalry happens in every home, however what is the best way to respond as a parent?
Understanding your ‘bad’ child’s feelings

Try to imagine how the child feels. Perhaps he feels that life was great until his younger sibling arrived. He had Mum and Dad all to himself and time with each parent on a regular basis.

Now, he has to share his parents with his sibling. In addition, this sibling is annoying and irritating and Mum does not intervene. Eventually, he loses it and who always gets the blame? His Mum and Dad always blame him. Maybe he feels that they love his younger brother or sister more than they love him. They never seem to give out to anyone except him anymore and it seems so unfair. In summary, they feel less favoured, they are resentful of this and they lash out.

What do siblings fight?

To get attention; even negative attention is better than no attention. So, what happens when he hits? Immediately, he gets our attention. What was he looking for? All behaviour makes sense, it is up to us as parents to make sense of our children inner turmoil and see it as a cry for help. How could you respond in a way that might meet his need? ‘It’s not easy having a baby brother taking your things; what can you do? How can you deal with this?’

Time in not Time out

Instead of ‘time out’; try some ‘Time Into the feeling that underlies his behaviour’. Sit quietly with him and explore what led to the misbehaviour. Listen without interruption and empathise with him. ‘Sounds like the baby are annoying you; did you prefer it when it was just us? I cannot let you hurt the baby; however when you feel like that; you can come to me and I will make time for you. What else could you have done that could have worked better?’

Children’s challenging behaviours

When a child has a challenging behaviour, we think this child is trying to make my life more difficult. Take another look and can you see that in fact he may be trying to communicate how difficult life is for him. It is a cry for help and punishment will only make things worse. Instead, respond compassionately and meet the need for 1:1 time and positive attention and he will meet your need for positive behaviour.

The more positive attention you give the less negative attention he will seek. In the short term, ignore misbehaviour and actively ‘catch him being good’ and tell him all that he is doing right, and reward him for positive behaviour with a star on a star chart. Notice the improvement, see the effort and watch this child blossom before your eyes!

But all behaviour reinforces so the more you ‘catch your child being naughty’ the more naughty he will become. If you understand that he feel less loved, more criticised and rejected by his parents, then when this changes, everything will change.

Top Tips to deal with Sibling Rivalry

Never ever compare
Avoid taking sides
Listen for the feeling behind the words
Change the feeling & he will change his behaviour
Show compassion and kindness to the troubled child
Reward good behaviour
Help them resolve differences ‘how can you play with it so you are both happy?’
‘I’m not interested in finding fault; I’m interested in finding a solution’
For more practical parenting tips, why not try:

One day parenting courses run monthly
Parenting talks for schools/companies
Cyber bullying talks for junior/senior schools
In-house corporate talks and workshops for working parents groups

Check out Sheila’s Wellbeing site at