Has Sibling Rivalry Gone Next-Level During Lockdown? Solutions for dealing with conflict between your kids.

In this article by Claire Lerner a child development and parenting expert, she explores how we can help our children learn skills to deal with conflict. The article is reproduced below and can also be downloaded here https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/blog/zero-six/202004/has-sibling-rivalry-gone-next-level-during-lockdown

“Haha—you lost!” “Stop singing that stupid song. You’re hurting my ears!”

Sibling rivalry is maddening enough under normal circumstances. Now that kids are home all day with no escape hatch for anyone, what seemed like constant conflict before the COVID-19 lockdown has escalated, driving parents to next-level stress.

There are some great articles on decoding the sibling relationship that I note at the end of this post. They are worth reading as they provide important insight into the complex psychology and dynamics between brothers and sisters. For the purposes of this post, I am going to cut right to the chase and provide some guiding principles and actionable strategies for responding supportively and effectively when your kids are causing chaos.

It is not your job, nor do you have the power to, make your kids love each other and get along. That is something they need to figure out. Trying to control the sibling relationship often results in more, not less, rivalry.

It is not your job to solve your children’s conflicts. If you put yourself in the position of fixing everything, your kids will constantly come to you to be the arbiter, missing opportunities to learn to work things out on their own.

What you can control are the ground rules to keep kids safe. Let them know that it is their job to figure out how to play and be together. Your job is to be sure everyone is safe emotionally and physically. You will not let them be harmful with their words or their actions.

Avoid being a referee. Taking sides, or protecting one child from another, plays right into and escalates the rivalry. It also creates a dynamic where one child is the “aggressor” and the other the “victim”—roles kids internalize and that get solidified, defining the sibling relationship into the long term.

Don’t fall into the bottomless pit of trying to untangle what transpired—the “he said, she said” black hole. Instead, listen to each child’s perspective. Then paraphrase what they share instead of correcting or fixing: “It’s hard for you when your sister has a different idea about how to build the tower.” “You thought he was done with the superhero cape.” When you restate each child’s experiences without judgment, it helps them put themselves in the other’s shoes.

Institute “pause-and-problem-solve.” Explain to your kids that when they are having a hard time, you will help them by using a handy tool called, “pause-and-problem-solve.”  When you hear unkind words or see people using their body in harmful ways, you will clearly announce, “Pause, people” to cue them to freeze. Then you will name the problem: “I see you are having a hard time sharing the trucks.” Or, “You have different ideas for how to build the castle.” Ask for their ideas. Suggest other options if none of theirs are viable, but be clear that you are not going to solve the problem for them. You are just helping them think through the situation.

One great strategy I have been using with kids, age three and older, is to give them five minutes to conduct their own “meeting” to figure out a plan for how they can solve the problem. (Kids love this concept, especially now that they are constantly hearing that they have to play on their own because mommy/daddy has a meeting.) Then, they present their solution to you. If it’s acceptable, they can go on their merry way and continue playing. The beauty of this strategy is that in order to keep playing together or have access to a desired toy, they need to collaborate.

If your kids can’t agree on a solution, you can:

  • Take away the object they are fighting over for a period of time. Let them know when they will get it back and have a chance to work on sharing again. Once they have experienced the consequence of their actions, children are more likely to change their behavior and make a better choice.
  • Physically separate your kids for a set amount of time to give them a break to calm down if they are getting too physical. This is not punishment. It is to keep everyone safe. “It looks like you are having a hard time keeping your bodies in control. It’s time for a safe-space break. Then we can try again.” Situate them in different areas and provide an activity that they find soothing, such as: Play-Doh, threading beads, or cuddling up in a kiddie tent or fort.

Don’t shame the “perpetrator.” “Why would you want to hurt your brother?” “What’s wrong with you?” This kind of response usually makes things worse  as it reinforces the reputation of the shamed child as the “difficult” one, making her feel resentful and more likely to act out toward her siblings, and others. Further, shaming results in kids shutting down and becoming evasive which interferes in their ability to learn better ways of dealing with conflict—the ultimate goal. It does nothing to support their ability to ultimately make better choices as they grow.

Focus on what you want your child to do, not on the infraction. While this may seem counter-intuitive, focusing on the wrongdoing tends to backfire and only increases negative behavior. Imagine that your 4-year-old grabs a rattle from her baby brother. You might say: “Oh, remember, it’s not OK to grab. Do you want to give the rattle back or should I?” If one child gets too rough with another, try: “It looks like you need a way to get your energy out. Here are some soft balls to smash, throw or bang.” Providing an option for solving the problem versus spending a lot of time on the violation tends to put children in a more positive state of mind and makes it more likely they will make a positive course correction.

Create a “cueing” system for kids who have a hard time with self-regulation. For example, a family I am currently working with has a 5-year-old, Jake, who adores but is also very jealous of his younger sister, Maeve. He taunts her a lot. His parents have acknowledged to Jake how hard it can be to share attention with Maeve and that jealousy is an emotion we all struggle with. At the same time, they have made it clear that it’s not OK to express those feelings in ways that are hurtful and they will not let him do that. To be his helpers, together with Jake, they come up with a word (he chooses “hippopotamus”) that they say when they see him heading down an unacceptable path. It is a loving and supportive way to throw a monkey-wrench into the behavior that is brewing. This often enables Jake to halt his haranguing or other unacceptable behavior.

Role-play. Have the kids pretend to have an altercation—something most kids find very amusing. Then proceed with using “pause-and-problem-solve” so they have a chance to practice conflict-resolution strategies and get a preview of what will happen when their actions require adult help. Play out a range of situations so they can experience the difference in outcomes when they can come up with a solution versus scenarios when a toy might need to be taken away or they need a full break from each other to calm their minds and bodies before they can peacefully come back together.

The sibling relationship is the testing ground for building all sorts of skills for getting along with others: how to share, take turns, cope with envy, build empathy, learn to collaborate, and to jointly resolve problems. So, don’t fear the conflicts that arise among your children. When you position yourself as a facilitator of this process, versus a solver of all problems, it can reduce conflict and make it more likely that your children will ultimately learn to respect, value and even adore each other.

Here is a great article on sibling relationships and rivalry. And another.



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Safer Internet Day takes place next Tuesday, 7th February 2023. Sadly more than 1 in 4 young people in Ireland have experienced cyberbullying, yet only 60% of victims tell their parents. As teenagers and children spend more time on the internet, ensuring it's a safe space is ever more important. To encourage conversation about life online and help parents keep their children safe, I'd like to share a free resource created by Switcher.ie. It's a comprehensive guide which includes things like:
  • How to reduce the risks online
  • How to recognise cyber bullying and grooming
  • How to educate children on cyber safety
  • How to set up parental controls on devices
I thought it may be useful to share the link to the guide - https://switcher.ie/broadband/guides/how-to-keep-your-children-safe-online/ - which you can include on your website ahead of Safer Internet Day, to help parents and children who may need some extra support. We've also put together some handy top tips you can use on your website: 10 tips to keep your children safe online
  1. Talk about it:Make time to chat about online risks and how to use the internet safelyas soon as they're old enough to go online. Encourage your children to speak to you about what they view online and empower them to act if they're worried about anything.
  2. Recognise the risks: Educate yourself about the potential dangers children could face online so  it’s easier to spot warning signs. Get to know what platforms your children use, and learn about dangers such as phishing, grooming and cyberbullying.
  3. Teach the do's and don'ts: Be clear about the non-negotiables.  For example, teach your child not to share personal details or photos with strangers and instruct them not to click on links to unknown websites or texts. Do encourage your child to question what they see and only accept friend requests from people they know.
  4. Spot the signs: Pay attention to your children's behaviour whilst on and off their devices. Being alert to changes in your child can help prevent problems from escalating. Some warning signs are withdrawing from friends or family, sleeping and eating problems or losing interest in previously loved hobbies or interests.
  5. Set boundaries:Let your children know what they can and can't do on the internet from the get-go. Agree on what devices they can use, when, and how long they can spend online. As they get older, explaining and negotiating boundaries may be more effective.
  6. Take 'parental' control: These ready-made boundaries put parents in control of what children can see online. They can be set up through your internet provider at device level to block specific websites and filter out inappropriate content.
  7. Be social media savvy:  The popularity of social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat makes it harder to keep track of what your child is accessing online.  Fortunately, each social media platform has its own privacy settings and safety tips for parents. Check them out before you let children have their own accounts.
  8. Protect from harm:Install antivirus software on family devices to minimise the risk of cyber attacks or scams. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) for extra security on your online accounts. This can also stop children from signing into services they're not allowed to use.
  9. Set a great example:  You're the greatest 'influencer' in your children's lives when they're young.  Limiting your time online, discussing dangers you've come across, and questioning what you view can help reinforce the rules you are setting for your children and, in turn, influence their online behaviour.
  10. Seek support:The more you learn about online dangers, the better equipped you'll be to handle them. There are some great resources like  webwise.ieinternetmatters.organd cybersafekids.ie to help you recognise and reduce online dangers and seek advice if you think your child is experiencing cyberbullying or is at risk online.
        Short videos on the Importance of Play have recently launched which was a collaboration between North Central CFSN and Lifestart Services.   Volume 1 https://youtu.be/xl2F2vZXhbg Volume 2 https://youtu.be/OOy4lmWggtM Volume 3 https://youtu.be/tmv40--l7fA Volume 4 https://youtu.be/Wr9bfTWddts Volume 5 https://youtu.be/7HLkBXvVTFE Volume 6 https://youtu.be/NuUXb51qZY0

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.


The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books (www.mychild.ie/books) and also on www.MyChild.ie  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.


In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  


Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  


In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the www.mychild.ie website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at www.mychild.ie

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from healthy.childhood@hse.ie

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