"he did it first!": managing sibling rivalry

With three small children in the house, sometimes I feel more like a referee than a doting mum. Shouts of "he started it!", "she did it first!" or that good old-fashioned unintelligible screams are the soundtrack to my weekend mornings these days. Who needs Radio 4?

Managing sibling rivalry isn't easy when they're young: funnily enough, little ones aren't born with the ability to share. However, after a bit of trial and error, I've found a few techniques that can help soften (and hopefully put a stop to) those early sibling spats.

Here are my tips on how to deal with sibling rivalry in toddlers – good luck!

Sibling rivalry between brothers

understand what's causing their sibling rivalry

Since toddlers have very specific wants and needs, they usually only fight for a few basic reasons:

• they're bored
• they want attention
• they feel 'victimised'
• they feel a bit resentful

The last two points are the hardest to deal with since they require you to tweak your everyday parenting techniques. If your child believes that their siblings are getting special treatment, it makes them jealous and they act up. All you can do is treat them all equally and calmly talk about problems, instead of doling out punishments. I know – easier said than done with a couple of screamers on your hands.

give your little ones equal attention

The root of most sibling rivalry problems – including jealousy among sisters – is plain and simple competition. Older children can feel especially jealous when new babies come along and hog the limelight. Scheduling in one-on-one time with them when the others are asleep will make them feel special, and get rid of that underlying resentment.

reward good behaviour instead of bad

If your little ones are trying to get your attention, it's best not to give it to them until after the fighting has stopped. If you do, they'll think being naughty is the best way to get you to notice them. Instead, keep an eye out for times when they're kind to their siblings.

Be really vocal, giving them plenty of praise for it. Next time they want attention, they'll remember that the best way to do it is by gently kissing or hugging their sibling... rather than stealing their favourite toy.

Sisters hugging one another

avoid the blame game

Whenever there's a fight, it's natural to try and find out who started it. Then you might send them for a 'sit and think about what you've done' session on the naughty step. However, rather than teaching them a valuable lesson, singling out one child can make them feel victimised – fuelling the burning fire of sibling rivalry. Be a mediator, and try to get each child to see the other's point of view.

Inevitably, siblings are going to bicker and fight. After all, they're probably two (or more) peas in a pod that spend a lot of time together, and therefore know exactly how to wind each other up. As their parent, it's your job to stay cool, calm and collected – and make sure everyone feels equally loved.


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