Some Ideas Regarding Sibling Relationships

I had such a lovely response from all of you mothers from this post:, which was generated by Chapter Four “Kids Versus Kids” in our chapter by chapter look at the book, “Love And Anger:  The Parental Dilemma”.

I have talked to many mothers locally and on-line regarding sibling relationships.  It is all well and good to know that siblings fight, many mothers say, but what do you do when the behaviors children display between one another are literally tearing the family fabric apart or worse yet, driving a wedge between spouses or partners?

These are my personal ideas; I guess I view things differently than many of the parenting books.  These ideas may or absolutely may not work in your family and they may not resonate with you in the least possible way.  Every child, every sibling relationship and every family is different.  I will some words about the blended family in just a moment, so if you are in that situation, then please bear with me.

To me, name-calling, teasing, fighting, and those kinds of behaviors all have pretty strong limits in my home because I find it hard to function in  an environment that is not kind.  It frustrates me pretty quickly, and so for me, I had to set boundaries on it.  I expect my children to treat each other kindly and if they don’t rise up to the occasion, I expect them to rectify the situation.  I have hammered into their heads (not Waldorf at all by a longshot! LOL) that friends will come and go, but siblings are forever and whilst it is the job of a mother and father as parents to take care of all of their children, siblings also take care of each other because that is what families do.  I also expect the children that are older to have tolerance and treat the younger children kindly and protectively, especially if that younger child is under the age of 7.  However, I also expect the younger children to be able to respect the boundaries an older child may need on spending time alone or with friends his or her own age.

My main response to situations  where feelings are hurt, names are said, physical things is simple redirection, work and reminders and looking carefully at over-stimulation, hunger, sleep, or if the child really needs to get some physical energy out. 

But, if these behaviors persist, my thoughts (and again, these absolutely may not work for your family so take what resonates with you!)  go in this pattern (and this would work more for situations where one child is over 7 and the other siblings are smaller, or perhaps situations where one is a teen and the others are smaller):

1.  The children must need more structure and work on my part.  Busy children are too busy to fight out of boredom and such (obviously this does NOT apply well to a three year old and a baby or a five year old and a toddler!). 

2.  If you are ugly in the house, we cannot take that outside the home, so any playdate or fun thing for the afternoon is gone.  We can’t take that ugly out into the world with our friends!

3.  Or I may be thinking they have not acted in a way where I want to go with other children in the afternoon, but maybe they need to come with me and go hiking or go sit by  stream and just be.  Sometimes that can soothe the hardest of days.

4.  I think about who may need one on one time with either me or my husband, and I also think about if they need something separate for themselves. I have really seen my nine year old spend time with a special close friend just themselves, no younger siblings about, and be really just so satisfied to be able to play an uninterrupted game on their level.  I can’t always make it happen frequently, but I do try when I see the need for that!

5.   If you have children nine and above along with children smaller than age 9, one thing I have seen other families use is to set up social times where both children have a playmate to play with.  ie, the nine year old of the house would have a nine year old over to play, and the six year old of the house would have a six year old to play.  I think this can also work well with smaller siblings when you have teens in the house and the smaller siblings are just hanging around with nothing to do and wanting to be with the teen.  There needs to be time together as a FAMILY, but it is also important, especially I think if you have a smaller family of only two or three children all spaced out, for children over the age of 9 to have time with peers of the same age without younger siblings.  It can also be fun if you have a bigger family to mainly have social time with other bigger families where everyone can be together or pair off…This is one of those areas I think you will find your own way based on your own family.  But I do caution against expecting your teenager to want to include your five year old, and that if your five-year-old is the only other child in the house, then you may need to have a project for that five-year-old and take charge of that time so things go smoothly.

6. Restitution.  If you hit each other, then your hands will work for each other. If you are four and you hit the baby, I will redirect those hands into work but also into doing something positive with your hands for the baby.  And then I will do my part to make sure the baby is in a sling or something so you don’t have to control yourself all day long, but only in bits and pieces.  If you are over 7 and using your mouth to tease your younger siblings, you must need to do something for that sibling to show love because in this family we love each other.

7.  So more DOING, less WORDS.  What I just outlined is my thought process, not necessarily what I would say to my children.

A special note for my blended families:   I think it all starts with you and your partner.  You must talk about these issues ahead of time and have agreed-upon ways to handle things.  You must get very, very clear TOGETHER what behaviors you both accept and what you will not. I have some blended families really benefit from counseling to go through this process, because otherwise they can get in a situation where they are just going around and around about his child and her child and not much action is getting accomplished.  In the end, it is about creating a NEW family.  Attachment Parenting International recommends Imago therapists:  I would love my blended families to chime in here!  I think having a blended family requires the parents to really be a united front, to really think things through, to work with compromise as well.  What has been your experience?

Lastly, I found this decent handout regarding sibling conflict from University of Iowa, and I think it brings up good points about siblings in general, although the wordiness of the techniques I would not use with children under the age of 7.  It also brings up things about sibling abuse, which is something no one seems to talk about:

Many blessings, hope that helps and again, take what resonates with you and your family.


Quick Responses To Sibling Rivalry, New Baby In The House and More

I wanted to bring up a few quick responses for your consideration to some of the questions generated by our review of Chapter Four – “Kids Versus Kids” from the book, “Love and Anger:  The Parental Dilemma.”

Regarding Sibling Rivalry:

I have written some back posts regarding sibling rivalry in general. My two favorites are here:  and this one:

Two  books I like about sibling relationships are “ Loving Each One Best” by Nancy Samalin and  “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Faber and Mazlish.

One thing I always consider in the equation of sibling rivalry is how to foster time and a good relationship between siblings, and the idea of restitution.

What sibling challenges are you coping with right now? Leave me a comment and I will try to address it in a future post!

Regarding Having A New Baby In The House:

I have seen things go one of two ways after a new baby enters the home:  either the children are exceedingly mellow, sleepy and happy to nest alongside with mama, OR the energy is just out of control crazy antics and everything is ramped up.  I personally always felt like took time for the "adrenaline rush" of having a new baby in the house to settle down, especially if family was visiting and also depending upon how things were going with the new infant.  Sometimes once extended family left, the energy seemed to calm down a bit.  I would love to hear your experiences and what the energy in your home was like after having a new baby in the house!  How did you handle it?

At any rate, I think there are a few other things to consider with the older child.   It can be really important to tie the older sibling of the family to your partner or other family member who can really take this child and hold them steady through work, being outside, showing how to be helpful…Really reigning that child in with jobs and as steady a rhythm as one can as all of you get settled in.

If that is not possible, then the other thing I  would suggest is the “relaxed” approach.  Dial everything down and really spend the time at home with bits of crafting, baking, reading and  being outside digging in the soil (newborns can nap outside!). Plan to work in small increments, and keep things as mellow as possible for at least three months and then slowly add life back in. I find this approach can work very well for mothers who do not have a partner or spouse about who can be a big help and who do not have other family available.

Many mothers wonder about older siblings who hit or are otherwise rough with a baby.  I think in this case, prevention is key.  A child younger than age 7 cannot be left alone with a baby period. I highly suggest baby wearing as an important way to get through these periods.  One must always be thinking, if I put the baby down on the floor to wiggle and such, where is my two or three year old going to be?  What job can I give that two or three year old to channel their energy into something productive and kind?  Am I giving this two, three or four year old enough work, enough physical activity?  Am I able to give this two, three or four year old my attention, my arms, carry them?  Two, three and four year olds are very little as well and need your arms and lap and such too!  Tandem nursing, baby wearing either the baby or the older child or both at the same time, co-sleeping, holding the baby and also holding the older child at the same time, smiling, hugging, laughing, working together to do things for the home and the baby, are all ways that mothers have coped with having a new baby and a slightly older child together.

I also wrote back posts about going from one child to two children, try this really popular one that seemed to speak to a lot of mothers:

Hope some of these thoughts are helpful; take what resonates with you!  You are the expert on your own family!



Even More About Transitioning The Only Child To Older Sibling

I do like this back post about this topic:  but today I wanted to add a few things to that post.

I still think siblings are the best gift you can give your child (see back post here: .  However, this is not to say the transition point of this is all roses.  Many mothers at one time or another have felt as if the baby was intruding on their special time with their older child or the older child was intruding on their special  time with the baby.  Some mothers have told me they felt like it took them longer to bond with the second baby simply because they had less time to just sit and hold the baby and they were so concerned about the adjustment of the older child.

I think all of these feeling are normal. 

I think the other thing no one says about transitioning to two children is that you may be going from things being more focused on one child, a rhythm around one child, to having a rhythm now encompassing more of the needs of everyone in the family, and encompassing children who are at different developmental stages. I don’t mean that to sound harder or scary, but just to point out that it is what it is. It is also better to know that some of these transition points don’t come up right away when your baby is still small and mainly in a sling nursing, but come up as the infant grows and matures and becomes more mobile and has more of a personality.

I had one mother tell me she wished people had told her that her relationship with her older child was going to change when she added an infant to the mix.  Your relationship with your older child will change, that is true.  However, I think sometimes when there is a younger sibling/infant in the house we tend to see that as the impetus for change and we forget that that older child is growing and changing and that our relationship with that child would be changing as well, (with our without a younger sibling)  because of growth and maturation and new developmental stages that would happen naturally anyway.  This is not to downplay the transition that does occur with adding a child to the family, but to remind us all that our relationship with our older child would not be frozen in time anyway.

These are the areas I have heard from mothers that they found hardest to deal with when nurturing two children:

  • Dealing with guilt!  Mothers have told me how hard it is to stop feeling guilty because they cannot give 150 percent to each child individually.  It is okay that your neighbor takes your four-year-old to the pool.  It is okay that you can’t run next to your child on their bike with training wheels because you are nine months pregnant.  It is okay for that older child to not be center of the universe, and in fact, I would argue it is better for them to not be under a microscope all the time.  🙂
  • The other area of guilt is in dealing with feelings of perhaps not liking the older child’s behavior.  This is normal.  Toddlers, preschoolers, go through different behaviors as they adjust to the family rhythm changing.  You can still love your child, and show them as much warmth as possible and as much attention to their needs  because they still need Mommy too. You don’t have to love every challenging behavior :), but you still need to be their loving parent. 
  • Co-sleeping.  Mothers have had to work to come up with what works best in their family, whether that is moving another mattress into their room, co-sleeping with the infant only and having Dad sleep with the older child somewhere else, or whatever worked out best for the needs of the whole family.
  • Tandem nursing.  For many mothers this works well, most mothers seem to feel happy they could do this for their older child and felt it did ease some of the transition, but I have also heard mothers who did wean their children over the age of four after a bit of time into tandem nursing.  Again, you will have to sort out what works for your family. 
  • What to do with the older child during the infant’s naptime is another area that comes up as a challenge.  If your child is young and still taking naps, you can encourage your child to sleep when you and your infant sleep.  Some mothers have talked about the older child being wakened by the infant and also the infant being wakened by the older child.    If your child no longer naps, baby wearing can be a real lifesaver.  Some mothers will set up a play scenario in the napping room or a snack in the napping room.  Some mothers will read to the older child and nurse the baby and when the baby falls asleep, mother and older child will slip out.  Some mothers use white noise to help hide the noise of a toddler or younger preschooler during the nap.  Some have babies who can sleep through it.  These things are all individual and take time to sort out.
  • When both children are crying at once.  The best thing with two children is you still have room in your arms and your lap for both children.
  • When the baby needs you during the older one’s bedtime routine and is crying throughout bedtime story time.  Having extra help around bedtime is helpful, as is planning calm afternoons with early dinners and early bedtimes.
  • The transition the fathers go through at this point because their  calm presence and their help is needed more than ever.  They may have to step in and guide the older child’s behavior, deal with being the “less wanted” parent because the older child wanted Mommy to do it, or the baby really wants to be held by Mommy.  It can be a hard role, and especially challenging if Dad has not really stepped up to the plate with nurturing the first child or taking a very active role with the first child.
  • Mothers remark that the lack of time for themselves is difficult; that with the first child they thought they were so busy but with the second child they realize now that any of the little pockets of time they had carved out with the first child is now being filled.

Goodness, I look at this list and I hope it doesn’t sound too negative!  But I think as mothers we need to talk about the reality of things more and support one another.

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.  What was hard for you as you transitioned from having one child to two children and what worked best for your family?

Many blessings,


Summertime Bickering

Does it seem to anyone else that the amount of sibling bickering goes up in the Summer?

I think this increase could  be due to a combination of a changing/different rhythm to the day, (possibly one where  less structure is present than during the school year) and the  weather where the children are outside and in an expansive gesture most of the day (and therefore needing help to come back to an inward gesture).

Continue reading

Sibling Fighting

This post is geared toward children aged 7 or 8 and their younger siblings…Sometimes it can seem as if there is bickering or fighting much of the day, especially when the younger child hits about 4 or 5.

What to do?

Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:

1.  Always go back to looking at your rhythm; are you holding the space enough?  Are you present enough?  Many times when the children are just playing all day, they need something more structured to hang their hat on for a bit, and then some time of free play, and then something with a bit more structure.  The “structured” part doesn’t have to be anything insane; perhaps you all go for a walk together, play salt dough molding or crayoning together; perhaps you all cook something together.  Just something where you, as the parent, are involved and engaged and present.

2.  It is difficult to leave small children unsupervised; if you are in the kitchen baking and they are in their room playing, things may go well or they may not.  It may be worth it to think through what your thoughts are as to where the children can and cannot be when you are doing something; it may force you to look at the usage of space in your home such as do you have an area in which they can play in the kitchen?  How can you be present with them?  What part do they have in your work?

3.  Outside time.  I cannot stress the importance of outside time enough.

4.  Who is in a stage of developmental disequilibrium and what do they need to function best?  More rest, more outside time, more one on one time with you?  How are they eating and what are they eating?

5.  They may not be able to “work it out”.  Children under the age of 9 are pretty immature when it comes to “working it out” (sometimes mature first-born girls can be an exception and be fair).  You need to be there to help.  And to be helpful, you cannot judge what is going on.   You can distract, re-direct, and listen!

6. If this is usually  happening around dinner time, here are some suggestions and pick and choose what resonates with you:  start dinner earlier in the day with a crock pot or by at least doing prep work for dinner after lunch; make sure dinner is not too late; look at what activities are occurring around dinner time and can those be moved at all so you are not rushed; and here is the biggie:  ALL HANDS ON DECK!  Everyone eats, so everyone should be helping to get dinner ready, to set the table, to take out the scraps to the compost pile, and everyone should be helping to clear the table and do the dishes.  Chores are often the least-used method of guiding family bickering, and yet doing chores whilst you are PRESENT (NO SENDING A FOUR OR FIVE OLD OFF TO DO CHORES ALONE!) is one of the most effective methods of keeping everyone out of trouble.  🙂

7. Respect how your children feel in the moment, but DON’T read too much  into it and think their future relationship as adult siblings is going to be permanently marred by this single interaction…  Children are going to say they hate their brother or sister.  Try to help your child move forward with a hug and warmth and “Wow, that is so hard.  Something he/she did really upset you!”  Don’t add a whole lot of words into it for them either. Sometimes just saying it, and getting it out is enough.    “You REALLY didn’t like that!”     “That really bothered you!”

You can always “fall back” on a “house rule”, but this means you must have “house rules.”  Things that just are not acceptable in your family.  What are those things?  For those of you with tiny one and two year olds who are the oldest child in the family, you are MODELING those house rules for them more than just saying words and expecting them to obey your words.

8.  For those children who are a bit older and have a steady stream of complaints, you have a right to not hear all of it!  Sometimes we are just “full”, we have heard them and we will carry their feelings with us but now it is time to peel the carrots, etc.    See if you can involve them in physical work with their hands!  I have also  moved on into repetitive chores and told my kids they could draw it or go outside and tell the trees or tell the dog, but I was full for the moment. (PS, and to get your children to do this on their own, you may have to model it for them when YOU are angry! LOL). I tell them I will be ready to discuss it again after “X” but not right now.

9.  Listening is the best cure. Judging doesn’t help; most at likely you don’t know the little one was torturing the bigger child (or vice versa) up until this incident happened. With the children closer to nine, take up a pencil and write all the complaints down and read it back to them.  Don’t judge it, just read it back.  Sometimes they just want to be sure you heard them.

10.  Check out what kind of language or name-calling goes on in your house.  I have seen husbands and wives call each other some pretty nasty things when they were upset.  There should be a rule of being polite across the board, and when someone is angry, that person needs to chill out before we can even discuss the problem. Discussing things in the heat of anger rarely, if ever, solves anything, because no one can be calm or rational or discuss anything.  So see how you and your husband handle being irritated and angry. 

11. Are you comparing your children?  Again, not helpful and often leads to incredible resentment.  With older children, you can describe what you see.  With younger children, stop using so many words.  You also describe what you think the child would be feeling, such as “You must be proud of the picture you drew!” for the older child.

12.  Fair and equal can be very, very important.  Try to stress what the individual child needs.  “So you are hungry and would like more?” in response to the wailing of “He got two more apples slices than me!!”

13.  Stop labeling.  Those of you with only two children, please erase the “big boy” or “big girl” and “baby” terms.  Children move forward, regress and run the gamut in between.  Accept where they are….

I am sure I will think of more to say later; but that is not a bad start.



Siblings Are The Most Precious Gift

There has been a sweet scene playing out at my house this week.  My four-year-old is learning how to ride a bike with no training wheels; she has been working on this for awhile but we didn’t ride much in the heat of summer and now we are back at it.  Anyway, the sweet part is that my eight-year-old has taken over the job of the initial balancing and getting the bike going for her sister so I can sit and nurse the baby.  She decided to do this of her own accord, simply because she likes to help her sister.  She will let the end of the bike go and shout, “Mommy!  Look at Sophie go!”  She is so proud of her sister, and I am so proud of both of them.

Those of you who know me in person know my mantra that “a sibling is the greatest gift you can give your child.”  I truly believe these children not only choose us as parents, but also pick their brothers and sisters.

Siblings are the first place where one learns about peer relationships.  Even on the most trying days when siblings are fighting and bickering, they still love each other and you still love all of them! 

Isn’t it wonderful how different each and every child can be?  Oh, we know in our heart as we go to have our second child that they will be different people, yet it can still be shocking that they really are different!  We have to figure out each new addition to our family for that reason.

Some of you have heard my theory that “the role has been filled.”  In other words, I have observed that in families it seems as if one child is a “high-needs” child (I am not in love with that term, but you all know what I mean when I say that), then it seems the next child realizes that and does something completely  different!  

As attached parents, we often ask ourselves how can we foster siblings who are attached to each other?  I have a few thoughts on this one:

1.  Co-sleeping siblings, and as they grow, siblings who share a room.  I think this is very important and goes a long way in making up some of the daytime hurts if those occur.

2.  Fostering a sense of caretaking of the youngest by the oldest.  This is important, because little ones appreciate being assisted, and then will come to the aid of the oldest through imitation.

3.  When your children are over 9 and truly have the skills to “work it out”, let them try.  Intervene as needed, but work together to solve the problem.

4.  Have a family mission statement, family meetings and put forth the family as a team idea in words and action.

5.  Choose activities in nature that require teamwork – hiking, camping, orienteering.

6.  Spend quantity time together – and yes, I think homeschooling is a huge help in this regard because instead of being separated by age at school, the siblings are together all day.

7.  Some siblings get along better when they have some separate friends or activities, depending upon the spacing of the children.

8.  Expect your children to get along, visualize your children getting along, and hold that idea within the space.  My two oldest have their share of bickering, but they know our home is a place of kindness.  I recognize that sometimes there can be a fine line in teasing fun, but there are limits!

*Tandem nursing – I didn’t put this directly on the list because I feel tandem nursing can be a different experience for each family.  Some mothers find that they are indeed nursing two or three children, but don’t enjoy nursing them all at the same time and that separate nursing sessions work better for them.  Some tandem  nursing mothers told me their children fought over the same breast and had other sharing challenges around nursing.  Some mothers have the most wonderful, beautiful, heart-warming experiences possible with nursing children holding hands whilst nursing together.  So, I think it can enhance a sibling relationship but I don’t view it as “your children will never be close if they don’t tandem nurse.”

Most of all, maintain your “ho-hum” attitude regarding your children’s relationship.  Trust it will grow in love as you set forth this expectation and example.  Let it grow!



Sibling Rivalry and Fighting: How Much to Intervene

Many parents have the question of if my children are fighting, how much do we step in and intervene?  Many parents have the attitude that the children need to “work it out.”

I think children who are under the age of 7 often do not have the skills to “work it out.”  Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.   Sometimes it will be “worked out” mainly to the satisfaction of the older child, which can be okay if the younger child is happy (and you are not judging whether or not the solution is “fair” from an adult perspective!).  However, please do remember that ages  4 and 6 are especially bossy, aggressive ages for many children and leaving them to “work it out” without your physical presence and perhaps some guidelines often leads to some sort of physical altercation with someone in tears.

To me, when small children fight, it may mean that they need you to hold a stronger presence around them.  They may need you to say, Oh, I need help in chopping these vegetables for dinner or Oh, I need your help in planting seeds or whathave you.  It may mean you need to go and look back at how present you are, and also where your rhythm and the place of very physical, outside time is within your rhythm. 

Being a listening ear with loving arms can go a long way toward soothing strong emotions and tears even without providing much of a solution.  Just having an adult understand how upsetting a situation can be is helpful.  You really don’t need a lot of words, just a calm presence

I like the positively-phrased aspect of working with two small children regarding conflict resolution:   “We share” or “You may have a turn when your sister is done”, but the truth of the matter is that you  also need to be right there to help the children follow-through.  Some children really do need to hear an adult count out the length of a turn so the turns are “fair.”

Fairness can be a big deal, but it also should be understood over time by children that fair is not always equal and different members of the family have different needs.  I truly believe that when you have children over the age of 7 and also children under the age of 7, setting rites of passages helps immensely because the younger children can see that certain things happen when one is 6 or 7 or 8 that do not happen before.  A two-year-old and a six-year-old are at different development stages and should be treated as such.

Conflict between siblings will probably never stop, and to frame it more positively this is the first place where children really learn about dealing with another person, how to deal with conflict, the concepts of fairness, equality, how to deal with jealousy and other strong emotions.  It can be hard, but it can be a time of extreme growth.

Many mothers attempt to instill the notion of the older as the protector and caretaker of the younger sibling as a way to defuse argument.  I agree with this to a certain extent, and have seen this work successfully within many families, but I think we also need to be careful to understand that a six or seven or eight year old can really take this concept and run with it to the point of being incredibly bossy and demanding of the younger child in the guise of being the “Mommy” or “Daddy” figure if Mommy and Daddy are not right there.  I think we also have to be careful not to push our oldest daughters into the position of feeling as if they are raising children or doing much of mother’s work.

Your oldest child also has needs, and with homeschooling, I feel many times those older over 7 and 8 year old children do need a few social outlets with children mainly of their own age since they may be spending a lot of time at home with younger siblings.  I know this could be an extreme source of controversy, and not every parent feels this way, but I have certainly noticed my oldest daughter appreciates things here and there that involve mainly her own age group and being  a part of that.  As a child heads toward the nine-year-change and beyond, building a sense of trusted community outside of the immediate nuclear family in limited doses can become important. 

Of course, siblings and the close intimacy of the family are the most important relationships your child can experience in many ways.  To me, siblings is one of the greatest gifts I feel you can give your child!

All family members treating one another with respect, courtesy and having a peaceful household is so important in setting the stage for how we treat those outside of our family.  Let us be as kind to one another in our home as we would be to strangers requiring our help.  What a wonderful model for our children!

Blessings today,