Sibling Rivalry

"Our son has zero interest in his baby sister, and sometimes pushes her out of the way," a PSP member shares. Here is advice about how you can help build the sibling bond. 

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As a PSP member writes...


Hi all,

I have a 3.5 year old son and a 10 month old daughter. My son has never shown a great deal of interest in my daughter and has been pretty passively antagonistic towards her (for example if he notices her being interested in watching him play he will turn his back to her or casually go into the other room with his toy to continue playing.). We usually don't say anything and figure once she's more mobile and interesting to play with he'll come around. Meanwhile my daughter adores her big brother and does everything she can to bestow her best smiles and laughs on him. It's just heartbreaking to see him so uninterested. Lately, as she's become an active crawler and started cruising, he has actually pushed her out of the way if she comes over to hug/gum/generally maul him. We've explained to him his role as a big brother, encouraged him when he's been sweet to her and reprimanded him when he's not. Nothing seems to work. Ironically, I am pregnant with another and he has shown interest in the baby in my tummy, asking what he looks like now, rubbing my belly, etc. Any suggestions how I can foster a better relationship with these two? I appreciate all of the sage advice of the PSP community.

J., mom to otherwise lovely 3.5 year old S., 10 month old C., and C., expected arrival in July.




"I am really sensitive to the sibling rivalry thing because my sister still has so many jealousy issues and I wanted my kids to have a better relationship so I started looking for resources while pregnant. The best one I found is an awesome book called Siblings without Rivalry. Highly recommend it. If you practice the techniques she gives you, it really alters the relationship. My daughter went from hitting and pinching to kisses and hugs in about 3 months. I was really stunned it worked but it does!"


"I haven't myself read books like "Siblings Without Rivalry," but I assume that and other books would be quite useful. From the reviews I just read it sounds like they have wise and practical tips on how to treat your children "uniquely, not equally."


"Here are some of the things I have found to be helpful to keep in mind in thinking about my own and other sibling's relationships with each other, which may or may not be included in those books.
1. Your children are closer to and feel safer with each other than perhaps anyone else. This means they have more feelings around each other as well, which they often will target each other with. Which means that the behavior that looks like lack of interest from your son to your daughter is probably his acting out at her what he feels elsewhere.
2. When there's a new sibling in the house, moms and dads relationship changes with the first child. This often feels like a big loss to the elder siblings.
3. It makes a big difference to everyone if all parents carve out some one-on-one time with each of their children where the child calls the shots on what happens in that time. No phone calls for the parent or other distractions. In my house it meant no music of my own choosing. We tried for an hour once a week with each of our children, but didn't always pull it off. I tried as often as possible to spend this hour with my children when I picked them up from school since the distractions in my own home were too difficult for me to ignore. I often used a babysitter with my other child when I spent this time with my other child, but I know some co-parents who spend this time with their kids at the same time in separate rooms or separate places. Once you have more than two children, unless you have 3 or more parents, that would be out..... I know one mother of twins who hired a babysitter once a week and alternated which daughter she spent time with.
4. To find ways to listen to each child on their feelings about the other out of earshot of the other. "I hate him!" "She's boring and always gets her own way!" Any you as parent get to acknowledge their feelings and not argue with or talk them out of them. Really hard!
5. If you're a mom parenting with a man, encourage him to spend time alone with each child also on a regular basis and not be critical of either sibling for their feelings toward the other. It's hard not to take sides, especially given our own genders and sibling order, but I know it's possible!"


"My children had some very tough years with each other, but they're now really good friends, and it looks like that's for keeps."


 "Empathy? I mean empathy on his part. (I've read some on sibling rivalry, but this one is mine, so it's not exactly a studied answer.) My daughter is now 3yrs 3 months and my son 8 months (so same age difference and approximate age as your kids). I have been lucky so far in that for the most part, my daughter has very good with my son (so I recognize that's a huge help from the start). On the several occassions when she hasn’t been, eg - she has taken toys away from him so that she could play with them - I stopped her and got right down on the floor right close to her so that it became a serious conversation (not just me talking to her from a distance) and asked her how she would feel if I took her toy away - not in a scolding way, just expressing it in a way that I really was interested in the answer. And I probed it a bit with her so that, again, it wouldn't be a passing question/comment. It seems to have worked so far. I have also talked to her some about what she was like as a baby. She’s very interested in these stories. I figure it may help create empathy - the idea that she was there once too. (And I think she does get that.) I have stayed away from talking to her about playing the role as big sister. Somehow, casting her in that role - doesn't seem like it would go over well."