How to cope with sibling rivalry
Four mums tell us how they coped when jealousy reared its ugly head
Emily, mum to Noah, three and Eli, 15 months
The day my partner went back to work after his paternity leave ended, Noah, my eldest child, suddenly started hitting and biting his new brother. We hadn’t experienced behaviour like that before from Noah, so it came as a shock. At first I was very strict and tried all sorts of things to address the rivalry, including telling Noah off and sending him to his room.
Nothing worked until I realised that Noah just needed my attention too. So, whenever I fed Eli I started getting Noah to cuddle up beside us on the sofa. We read a book together and Noah even soon started stroking and kissing the baby while I was feeding him.
If Noah is too rough with his brother then I just remove Eli from the situation. But if Eli isn’t crying then I try to let them get on with it. If I jumped in all the time then their interactions would always be negative and Noah would end up resenting his baby brother even more. And I didn’t want Eli to panic every time Noah went near him. I also make sure Noah gets lots of praise when he’s being a good big brother.
The children have a lovely relationship now and I am sure it’s partly because I stopped policing their every interaction. Like all siblings they sometimes fight, but Eli adores Noah, and Noah is now very good at sharing. He’s also become very protective towards Eli and can always be relied upon to stick up for his little brother.
Sheena, mum to Siobhan, three, and Brannon, two
The day Brannon was born. Siobhan gave her brand new little brother a very strange look, almost as if she was thinking “Who is that?” And soon afterwards she began throwing huge tantrums to get my attention whenever I was breastfeeding him. When Brannon was a baby he always got his own way when he cried. My instinct was to give him whatever he needed and as a busy working mum of two it was just easier to let him have his way. But I knew I had to make a change when I overheard Siobhan ask my partner: “Daddy, am I your favourite, because Brannon is mummy’s favourite?” It broke my heart – I couldn’t believe she thought that. I realised it was time to make a conscious effort to treat both children fairly. Disciplining them both equally helped and I also started doing more things with them together, such as reading books and encouraging them to take turns to point to the pictures. That way they receive equal amounts of my time, attention and praise.
I also try to spend time with each of them individually, so they both feel special.
Some rivalry is inevitable, but mostly the children are the best of friends, and that’s so precious to watch. Staying calm and taking control before rivalry escalates helps. But if all else fails, try a little bit of bribery – children will do anything for a treat!’
Sheena is the founder of MaByLand
Lauren, mum to Daphne, one, and Sebastian, three
Sibling rivalry began when Daphne was about eight months old. She started to become more aware of herself as an individual who could demand my attention. At around the same time that Sebastian realised she was here to stay!
The problems were mainly at bedtime, or first thing in the morning – typically busy periods when both children are vying for mum’s already-limited attention. I often felt very frustrated as both children would start howling and, on top of a lack of sleep, it was hard to cope with trying to soothe them both. I responded by taking all the toys that were unsuitable for a baby up to Sebastian’s room, so that anything left downstairs could be shared easily without squabbles. Then we designated one toy for each of them as their own ‘special toy’ – a set of ladybirds for Daphne and a pirate ship for Sebastian – that they did not have to share unless they wanted to. This worked really well. Everything else is for sharing, otherwise they have to stop playing and put the toys away. I try to give each of them some individual time too, and we introduced ‘snuggle time’ in the evenings. The whole family cuddles up together while Daphne has her evening feed and we talk about what everyone has done that day. I also wanted to address the underlying problem, which is generally that they are feeling bored or unnoticed, so I make sure that they are included in something interesting. Even washing up can be fun if they get to wave around a scrubbing brush and get bubbles all over the place!
As far as possible they both get the same food, the same snacks and the same drinking cups so there isn’t any fighting about one of them wanting what the other has. And when there is only one of something, then I make it clear that they must take turns. Sebastian is now very protective of Daphne and both children are much better at sharing and will give up whatever they have more willingly, knowing they’ll get it back again.’
Karen, mum to Oliver, two, and Isabella, 16 months, and Samuel, nine
Our younger two children started squabbling around the time Isabella, began walking at ten months old. At that time Oliver, was 22 months old. Isabella would go to get a toy but Oliver would take umbrage and try to snatch it from her. He was used to having free reign with all the toys before his sister started moving at lightning speed. I wasn’t too concerned at first as I felt it was quite normal. But I wasn’t prepared for it to happen while they were still so young. We also had some issues of jealousy at that point because Isabella started wanting more time with daddy. Oliver had been rather spoilt by daddy until then and didn’t particularly want to share his father’s attention. I didn’t want to make a big fuss and cause Oliver to think that he was being pushed out by the new baby, and consequently we were probably too quick to give in to Oliver to avoid a tantrum. But we encouraged him to share toys with his sister, too. We also introduced ‘special time’ – about ten minutes of one-to-one time every day with either myself or my husband, for each child.
Now the children are increasingly enjoying each other’s company, and they’re beginning to play well together instead of against each other. But I also think it’s important to accept that sometimes they just don’t want to play together, or that they just need some undivided attention from a parent.