Dealing with sibling rivalry

Dealing with sibling rivalry

Most parents will know that it’s normal for children to argue with each other. Mother-of-three Aideen Glynn asks how do you prevent petty squabbles from turning into bullying situations? What tips and tricks can we employ when dealing with sibling rivalry?

Put any group of people in the same environment for a prolonged period of time and tensions are bound to break out, regardless of age, race, gender or connection to each other. Nowhere is this more seriously felt than in a house full of children.

Being a parent of three I can categorically state that no matter how lovely your children are, no matter how polite and kind and courteous they are to people outside the family, they will save their nastiness and bad temper to use on each other.

Even if they get on very well for the most part, they will inevitably squabble, row and fall out with each other on a regular basis. It’s to be expected really. They share the same space; they compete for the same amounts of attention and are regularly expected to share possessions and belongings. This can breed resentment and hostility and even if there isn’t any obvious downright malevolence, there can be jealousy and antagonism between them which can awaken any underlying aggression.

It’s part of growing up..

Because sibling squabbling is commonplace and expected within a family unit, parents are generally more likely to let it slide and not intervene. Many think that leaving the children to cope with this on their own is helping them to learn valuable life lessons. They believe that the conflict between them is healthy and that it can have the effect of teaching the siblings how to handle difficult situations that they will no doubt be exposed to throughout their lives.

The bully in the next bedroom

However, it can be dangerous to turn a blind eye. Simple sibling squabbles can develop unchecked into something altogether more sinister.

Aggression between children of the same family should be taken very seriously as, believe it or not, it is a form of bullying – a very frightening one at that, and one that can have serious longterm effects on the child involved.

Home is where every child should feel safe and be able to let their guard down. It is where they should be comfortable and relaxed, where peer aggression and social media taunts cannot reach them. But what happens when the bully and the cause of the problem is in the bedroom next door or worse still, sleeping on the top bunk?

Effects of bullying

When any child is experiencing bullying from their peers, they can become withdrawn and depressed, suffer from severe anxiety and experience mental health problems later in life.

Sibling aggression in any form also results in feelings of anger, anxiety and despair. The effects are the same as peer bullying. So just because one type of bullying takes place at home with family and the other takes place in school or on teams or through a mobile phone, it does not mean that they should be treated as different sorts of problems. The result is worryingly similar and because the bullying is happening at home, in a place where a child should be most protected, the mental anguish can be intense and long lasting.

Long-term effects

The long-term effects of bullying are well known and well documented. But sibling aggression is particularly associated with significantly worse mental health in children and adolescents. When you’re under threat in your safe place, the psychological impact can be quite severe and long lasting. It’s a serious issue and one that parents have to be on the lookout for.

Make home a safe place

So the next time you see one of your children hitting out at another, don’t just dismiss it. Step forward and make sure they understand that this is not a good way to behave. The rest of the world will be very quick to criticise and upset your children. Any misery they experience, any aggression they are faced with should not be coming from within their own family. Life is hard enough.

Siblings will be with us for most of our lives and as such we need to teach our children the importance of this special  bond and how best to embrace it.

“Sibling rivalry is a naturally occurring event that every parent contends with now and then. Brothers and sisters will quarrel, disagree, fight and yes, occasionally come to blows about. It usually is a temporary phenomenon that is short lasting and easily sorted.

When one child habitually bullies another, threatens or intimidates them it is another matter entirely.

A child who lacks self-control and is aggressive needs help. Parents have probably used the disciplinary methods that helped other children but which now seem useless for this child.

The root causes of extreme aggression are varied and it may take professional intervention to come to terms with them and bring them under control.

In younger children, it is often helpful to say to them “Use your words, not your hands” and to help them develop better coping skills. In the case of older children, with a longer history of aggression, professional intervention is probably the best way forward. Either way, never leave it unaddressed.

The child who is overly aggressive is liable to grow up to be an aggressive adult. Intervention by parents and professionals is warranted.

Parents often ask “When should I consult a professional about my child if I am worried for them?” The answer to that question is simple. You should consult a professional about your child at the time you become concerned about them.”

What Parents Can Do

So what, as parents, can we do to prevent this and how do we know when to intervene?

Firstly, we need to set clear rules in the home about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

We need to be firm but fair about what will be tolerated and what will not. If the children are fighting, consider separating them and make sure they all have their own space to retreat to.

We shouldn’t just assume that the squabbling between them is healthy and will help them become stronger individuals as this is not necessarily the case.

Consider rewarding kind and pleasant behaviour and maybe offer an incentive that will encourage them to be nice to each other.

Catch them being good, noticing when they are being friendly to each other and show your appreciation of this.

Teach the children about compassion and kindness and make sure it is very obviously practiced at home.

More like this:

Shouting to be heard
Managing a busy family
Surviving tantrums


Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


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If you are conscious of ethically produced clothing, or uniforms that are kind to your child’s skin – then you’ll love these organic school uniforms.


Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.