managing sibling rivalry
Tricky stuff

5 tips on how to manage sibling rivalry

Aoife Lee offers sound advice on how to manage sibling rivalry and keep peace in the home. 

Summer is nearly upon us. Time to prepare for the school holidays and long mild bright evenings and hopefully some well-earned time off for many parents and all children! This can only mean one thing – our children will be home from school and for some, crèche or pre-school, and like any break we will be looking for things to do to keep our children active, busy and happy! It is important that we allow our children to keep busy themselves, however as we all know, with that can come the squabbles and the bickering. ‘He’s looking at me’, ‘that’s not fair’, ‘I got that first’ – sound familiar? So, how can we help keep the peace over our long lazy days of the summertime?

1. Keep Calm – Press the pause button

If it’s a daily occurrence, there is no doubt it can be hard to stay calm and patient when our children fight with one another, however, the more we can press the pause button and manage our own feelings of upset and frustration the more likely we can deal with the situation and stay focused on supporting the children. Lovely deep breaths can often save the day! Practicing will help, taking a deep inhale of breath right up through your upper body and in through your nose while exhaling right down into your diaphragm – this does work, I promise.

2. Avoid taking sides

If you can offer a distraction to avoid the disagreement this can be a great way to diffuse matters straight away. Often when children argue, it can become a habit as they know it gets our attention. Unless you know that one child has clearly provoked the other, it’s important to avoid taking sides. The child that shouts the loudest can often get the most attention so keep an eye on who is setting off whom!

Instead, we can support both children, if you hear them fighting, as best you can approach with a calm and warm voice and say, “Let’s take it easy now so we can sort this out.” It’s often good to speak to them together for whatever is going on “In this family we are gentle with one another”. If you do use consequences, rather than focusing on one child try to have consequences that affect them both such as “the game is being put aside until everyone calms down”. If they need time away from each other, allow it. This might mean opposite sides of the house as our children often need that space too.

How to manage sibling rivalry

3. Creating expectations

When our younger children struggle to share, this can be really tough on them as between two and three years of age, they believe the word revolves around them and sharing just doesn’t come into it! So when we have two children fighting over the one toy, it’s important that we don’t set our expectations too high on how they cope with that. Empathise with your child while offering distraction or an alternative is often the best possible solution here. When we acknowledge their feelings, they feel appreciated and understood – just like us!

4. Praise them when they are enjoying each other’s company

When our children are laughing, giggling, having fun and playing together there is no doubt it’s so lovely to see and hear; it’s hard not to notice. The next time you pass by and see them enjoying one another’s company – let them know! “It’s so lovely to see how well you’re getting on and being gentle with one another.” Children adore being praised, when you show your approval of what your child is doing, they’re more likely to continue to do more of the things you want them to do and less of what you don’t want them to do.

5. Spending quality time together versus time away

The more fun times our children experience with one another the more it builds on their relationships, they become more aware of this as they get older and understand the meaning of friendship. If you really want to break the cycle of clashing with one another, allow the children pick activities that they can do together. One example is swimming; it’s fun, active and gets us out of the house during the quieter or wet days of the holidays! Even on the rainy days – the best part can be puddle-hunting with all the rain gear in tow.

On the other hand make sure they get time away from one another too – whether it’s through playdates or summer camps for our older children, often when they get that break they appreciate each other more and they have lots of news to share with each other and the family! As children get older, their relationships with each other change, the unconditional love they have will always be there, in those early years our children are finding their place in the family and their personalities and strengths are very much part of that.

Aoife Lee, Parent Coach for Giraffe Childcare

More like this:

More on dealing with sibling rivalry
Surviving tantrums
Disciplining your child


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….


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.