My Hero is You

Here is a wonderful e-book about how children can be heroes helping us all to stay safe and protect each other from getting Coronavirus.

Please note that these are international stories and some public health measures referenced may differ from measures currently in place in Ireland.

My Hero is You, a story developed for and by children around the world, offers a way for children and parents to think together about the questions the pandemic raises. The story is designed to be read by a parent, caregiver or teacher alongside a child or a small group of children. The story is also available in a range of languages here.

Here is the link to the story


Do you need to talk to someone? Donegal Parent Support Line launching on Thursday 14 May

A new free Parent Support Line will be available to parents in Donegal from Thursday 14 May. The Donegal Parent Support line is being co-ordinated by the Donegal Family Resource Centre Network in association with a wide range of community and voluntary organisations involved in family support. The service will be available from Monday to Friday 9am – 3pm.

Many parents are feeling stressed and need a listening ear at this time. There are extra pressures with home schooling, working from home, anxiety about Coronavirus and a sense of uncertainty about what the coming months will bring. Parents are encouraged to avail of the opportunity to talk through those issues which are causing them stress. The Donegal Parent Support line will offer this, with a range of experienced and specialised family support and youth workers available to call parents back. The service will offer sign-posting, advice and the opportunity to talk through whatever is causing a parent stress – no matter how small the issue may seem.

Here is an interview with Leona from the Mevagh Family Resource Centre and Martin from the Moville and District Family Resource Centre on the Greg Hughes show on Highland radio today about the new service

This initiative has been developed in partnership with the Tusla Prevention Partnership and Family Support team in Donegal as part of the ongoing strategy to develop and fund early intervention community supports and initiatives for families in the county.

The number for the new Donegal Parent Support Line is 1800 112277 and the service will operate Monday to Friday 9am – 3pm – phonecalls to the number are free.


How to Achieve Screen Time Sanity During Quarantine

Here is an interesting and very relevant piece from the Psychology Today website which you can access here

Five steps for limits and allowances on pandemic screen time: A “Play Diet”.

Posted May 11, 2020

Two words come to mind when managing your family during the coronavirus quarantine: safety and sanity. Obviously, the safety of our kids and families is the number one priority. Social distancing, sheltering in place, and washing your hands have become the mantras of moms and dads all over the world. While keeping household sanity may be a distant second in our priorities, nonetheless, this supports safety by keeping families more content, communicative, and collaborative.

Pixabay / No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required

Quarantining 24/7 is very difficult. Kids are stuck in their homes, don’t have an opportunity to engage in face-to-face relationships, and are restricted in their physical activities such as participation in team or individual sports. Many families live in urban areas, where COVID-19 is prevalent and home confinement is the norm. More fortunate are those who live in areas where they can venture outdoors more safely and have more breathing space, perhaps seeing friends from a distance and having more opportunities to exercise. Even in these cases, however, family sanity is difficult to achieve when you are living together morning, noon, and night; going to work and school in the same space, and contending with children who complain nonstop about being bored. This can be even more difficult if you have a child with ADHD or learning differences who needs ongoing attention. Family sanity can be helped by engaging in an activity that is quiet, focused, and entertaining—screen time. That’s why I suggest loosening your normal rules around screen time during the quarantine.

But don’t change your parenting style so much that it neglects your family’s health. If you choose to allow more screen time during the quarantine, do it within the context of expecting and modeling a healthy and balanced “Play Diet.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the LearningWorks for Kids construct of a Play Diet, it is a recipe of essential activities for children’s learning and psychological adjustment that recognizes the importance of a variety of play for child development. A healthy Play Diet consists of a balance of physical, social, creative, unstructured, and digital play and is important for every child and adult. Healthy Play Diets vary based on individual needs, interests, age, and on situations such as whether it is a weekday or during the weekend, while on summer vacation, or over the week after Christmas when parents are encouraged to modify expectations. The COVID-19 quarantine is one of those times for changing the rules for a healthy Play Diet.

The current pandemic has also changed the rules for parenting when it comes to screen time. Allowing more digital play/screen time is recommended for safety and sanity. Kids who are occupied in their homes and allowed to play more with their friends online will be less likely to run off to a friend’s house or pester their parents for things to do. In simple mathematical terms, there is more sustained leisure and housebound time for your kids than ever before. Proactive parenting that accounts for the excess free time can use Play Diets as a model for keeping the health and sanity of your home.

Pixabay / No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required

But how to achieve a healthy Play Diet during the quarantine? First, model healthy living for your kids. Make time to exercise; talk to friends and family; engage in a hobby; take care of yourself psychologically and spiritually; and use screens to work, relax, and communicate with others.

Next, create the expectation that everyone in the family will engage in daily physical, social, creative, unstructured, and digital play activities. Be explicit with your kids. Yes, you will allow them to have more screen time, but it’s not a free for all, you expect them to engage in healthy activities daily. It won’t be easy, you’ll have to devote time, thought, and money, but it will help everyone get through the quarantine healthier and happier.

A healthy play diet is typically defined by spending a lot of face-to-face time with friends and family and engaging in social activities at home, at school, and in the community. It also involves regular physical fitness, for children and teens most often in the form of team sports, going to a gym, or participating in dance or yoga classes. During normal times, creative play often involves taking art or music classes, being involved in theater, playing in a band, or singing in a chorus or choir. Unstructured play is defined by hanging out with others with no particular goals, taking a walk outdoors, or running around the neighborhood. All of these play activities are more difficult during the quarantine, but not impossible with some planning and effort.

I will expand on detailed strategies for achieving a healthy Play Diet during the quarantine in future posts on but here are a few basic steps that will keep screen time in check and get you started:

Pixabay No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay No Attribution Required

Physical Play: Take a family walk every day, no excuses. This is best done at a regularly scheduled time.

Social Play: Zoom family members or family friends each night before dinner.

Creative Play: Do something new every day. Your kids have more time on their hands, so have them try something new. Try a new recipe, read a book by a new author, take apart a Lego construction and make something different, do a craft project with items found around the house, or learn about something of interest through an Internet search.

Unstructured Play: Take a few minutes each day to relax, stretch, daydream, make a plan for the future, and appreciate nature and the spring season.

Digital Play: This is where your kids will tell you what they want to do. Allow age-appropriate gameplay and think about playing with them.

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Personal boundaries during Coronavirus

Here is some great advice for young people (but can apply to any of us) from Jigsaw about setting and keeping boundaries for ourselves at a time when we are living much more closely with people than we are used to. The original can be found at and you can find lots of useful information and sources of support on the Jigsaw website

We are all facing an uncertain and extraordinary time at the moment, and many of us are out of college or work and may be spending more time with our families or the people we live with.

So it is even more important that at this time we are making sure that we are setting and keeping boundaries for ourselves.

During the next few weeks it is likely that these boundaries will be challenged when we are all spending more time together whilst also trying to manage the uncertainty of the times we are facing. But firstly, what do we actually mean by personal boundaries?

What are personal boundaries?

Personal boundaries are rules or limits that we set for ourselves within our relationships and generally within our lives. They help us to identify our needs, preferences and desires. These guidelines set out how you want to be treated by others and what kind of behaviours and communication you accept from other people.

Types of personal boundaries

Some different types of boundaries include; physical, intellectual – your own thoughts and opinions, emotional – your own feelings to a given situation, sexual, material, time and spiritual.

Boundaries can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy boundaries are really important in all of these areas so that we are able to take responsibility for our own actions and also to help avoid being in a position where we could be hurt or manipulated in some way.

No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable because of what you believe in.

How to create and maintain personal boundaries

Here are some tips for creating and maintaining healthy boundaries:

  • Know your limits/values. What is acceptable to you in a situation and what’s not. Identify what’s important to you.  For example if family life is very important, set boundaries around not working late and protect this.
  • Listen to your emotions. Try not to avoid or bury difficult emotions. Allow yourself to feel them and listen to what they are telling you.
  • Be assertive. Clearly affirm your boundaries, this gives others the message that you value your feelings and needs above the thoughts and opinions of others. You can let people know they have crossed your boundaries and say no respectfully. This does not mean that you are unkind, it means that you are being honest with them and maintaining your self-respect.

When you have been clear in voicing your personal boundaries and someone is not respecting this, it is OK to remove yourself from that situation or conversation. Remind yourself in these moments you are not responsible for others people’s feelings or reactions and your needs and feelings matter.  No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable because of what you believe in.

This exercise gives you a space you let all of those thoughts out freely and safely.

How to do the ‘brain drain’ exercise

The brain drain exercise can help when you’re wanting to set out and define personal boundaries.

To start the exercise

Write down whatever comes into your mind until you have completely filled 2-3 pages, it should only take you about 10 minutes. Try doing this in the morning when you get up. Don’t think about what you are putting on the paper just write exactly what comes in to your mind as it comes, even if you are writing ‘I’m bored’ or ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘this feels silly’

The result

At first your writings will sound a lot like this, but over time you will start to go deeper and identify more important thoughts and feelings.

Generally, when we have more time on our hands and less distractions than usual, our minds can go into over-drive and overthinking and worrying escalates. So all these uncomfortable thoughts are stuck in our heads and we just keep going over them.

This exercise gives you a space you let all of those thoughts out freely and safely. It gives your mind permission to say and think anything without fighting it or trying to bury the thoughts because they feel uncomfortable. So what your doing is acknowledging and accepting them for what they are, just thoughts and your letting them go.

By engaging in this for 10 minutes every morning you are much less likely to be overthinking these same thoughts throughout the day and you will feel a greater sense of calm and of being in the present moment. This will inevitably have a positive impact on your relationships and the people you are spending more time with.


Remember you can find more information and support on the Jigsaw website

Let’s Play Ideas

Here is another good piece from the Government website Let’s Play Ireland

Published: 24 April 2020
From: Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Here are some ideas for play that cost very little:

  • take out frustration by squashing pillows or stamping cardboard boxes until they are flat
  • draw pictures on card and cut them into jigsaw puzzles
  • set up pretend shops, schools, kitchens, banks, post offices, beauty salons, hospitals and cafes
  • collect and sort things to play with in water, supervising young children
  • make dens, shelters and cubby holes
  • play at dressing up, put on shows, make up soap operas and dramas
  • reuse old/dead plant pots to make a small indoor garden, planting seeds and watching them grow
  • invent new board games

There are lots of things around most people’s homes that can be played with. Although you might think play means games and toys, children can play with lots of things that encourage their imagination and ingenuity. For example, things like cardboard boxes or old sheets can be played with in different ways.

Here are some ideas of things you can find around the house for your child to play with:

  • sheets, duvets, pillows, old clothes
  • chairs, tables, cardboard boxes
  • pots, pans, wooden spoons
  • papers, chalk, balloons, paint
  • string, elastic bands, pegs, paper clips
  • tins and cans from the cupboard

You can also offer your child some of the things that are often thrown away or recycled.

Here’s a link to the First 5 parents page for ideas on play and learning for younger children.

Here’s a link to the NCN Play Hub on Facebook for daily ideas on play and activities.

You might want to record this time in your family using the COVID-19 Time Capsule.

Here are great resources from our friends in Play Scotland:

Messy Play Book 1

Messy Play Book 1

Messy Play Book 2

Messy Play Book 2

Loose Parts

Loose Parts

Experimental Play

Experimental Play


Barnardos provide new Covid19 Crisis Parent Support Line

  Barnardos has launched a national telephone support service for parents in response to the challenges they are facing during the Covid-19 pandemic. This service will be staffed by Barnardos project workers who are trained professionals.

The government’s response to Covid-19 has meant that normal routines and sources of support are currently unavailable to many families.

Through their dedicated telephone support service Barnardos staff can provide support and advice to parents on the following issues:

  • How to talk to your children about the corona virus
  • Setting a good routine
  • Managing children’s behaviours and sibling dynamics
  • Managing aggression and family discord
  • Home schooling/managing school expectations.
  • Fostering natural learning opportunities in the home
  • Healthy eating
  • Accessing fun and educational activities for families and individual children
  • Managing your child’s worries
  • Self-care for parents
  • Helping parents manage their own worries and anxieties
  • Managing children’s online activity
Barnardos also provides specialist services and support in relation to bereavementadoption and fostering.

For more information and to request a call-back from Barnardos click the link Barnardos National Parent Support Phone Service

Regression In The Time Of Coronavirus: Why Children Take Steps Backwards In Their Development In Times Of Stress And What You Can Do

In this article Claire Lerner, Child Development and Parenting Expert, explores why our children’s behaviour may be regressing at the moment and how we can support them. The article is reproduced below and you can download the original or sign up to Claire Lerner’s blog here:

Madison used to be a great sleeper. Over the past few weeks, as the coronavirus lockdown has persisted, bedtime has deteriorated. It started with Madison insisting that I stay with her until she falls asleep. Now she insists on sleeping in our bed all night. –Father of a four-year-old

Marcus has been fully potty trained for two months. Since his school closed and we are all home together, all day, he has regressed to the point where he insists on wearing pull-ups all the time. All of a sudden he seems totally uninterested in the potty. –Mother of a three-year-old

Kids regressing—moving backwards in their development—is a very common reaction to stress. The same is true for adults. Experiencing this seismic shift in our worlds has sent many of us into survival mode. Our psychic energy has been diverted from higher level brain functions to just trying to cope day to day. Few people I know would say they are at the top of their game right now. Just like many of us are having a harder time managing everyday tasks and challenges, so are our kids. This can result in more challenging behaviors and regression to less mature levels of functioning. You may see your child get frustrated more easily, become more clingy, have more potty accidents, experience sleep disruption, and, have a change in their eating patterns.

Responding to regression: What not to do

Shame your child for acting like “a baby.” Shaming has a profound, negative effect on children. It is an attack on their sense-of-self which leads to more acting-out behavior. It also makes it much less likely they will rebound to a higher level of functioning.

Cajole, bribe, reward or punish your child to get her to “act her age.” These strategies tend to backfire for several reasons:

  • When children sense that you are trying to control them, it often leads to power struggles that only result in their digging in their heels more forcefully.

  • Your child is not regressing on purpose. She is acting on her feelings; so, using logic and trying to convince her to “get with the program” rarely works and can in fact reinforce her regression.

  • Regression is often an unconscious way to elicit the additional support and reassurance children need when they are experiencing stress. When you demand that your child act more independently—to use the potty, to be less clingy, etc.—it increases her insecurity which only leads to more regression.

Responding to regression: What to do

Validate your child’s experience. Because we love our kids so deeply, it is hard to see them struggle. We just want to make the “bad” feelings go away because we think it’s harmful to them to feel sad, angry, or scared. But ignoring or minimizing feelings doesn’t make them magically disappear, they just get “acted-out” through behaviors—like aggression and regression—that can lead to more, not less, stress for your child…and you.

So, start by acknowledging that your world has changed a lot over the past few weeks, and that change can be hard. Share that you are also adapting, and that you are all in this together.

Avoid the temptation to jump to reassurance that all will be well when your child expresses difficult emotions. If he says he misses his teachers and friends, instead of responding, “Don’t worry, you’ll see them again soon!”, start by validating his experience: “That makes a lot of sense. You love your school pals and teachers. It’s hard not to be able to play with them.” Then move to empowerment, for example, by brainstorming ways your child can stay connected to teachers and friends by scheduling videochats, or drawing a picture or dictating an email to send to people he is missing. If you skip the step of validation before providing reassurance or going into problem-solving mode, it doesn’t give your child the chance to work through the feelings that are driving his behavior.

When your child shares his deepest feelings with you, it is a gift. It means he trusts you. It also gives you the chance to help him cope with his emotions—one of your most important responsibilities as a parent. So, when your child tells you what’s on his mind and in his heart, tell him how happy you are that he is sharing his thoughts and feelings with you to reinforce that you will always be there for him and can handle whatever he is experiencing.

When you recognize and validate your child’s feelings, you let him know that he is not alone and that you understand and accept him completely. This helps your child gain the self-acceptance and self-awareness he will need to recognize, own and manage his feelings effectively, far into the future.

For guidance on how to respond to specific questions your child may ask about the coronavirus, check out ZERO TO THREE’s great resources.

Follow your child’s lead. If you’re like most parents, you believe that you have to do something to control your child’s behavior—to make her behave the way you think would be best for her. In fact, while it may feel counter-intuitive, following your child’s lead and giving her the space and time she needs to regain a sense of safety and security makes it more likely that she will return to a higher, developmentally appropriate level of functioning.

  • If your child is getting more easily frustrated with an activity or task, let her know you see she is having a hard time and ask whether she’d like some help or to take a break and try again later.

  • If your child is acting helpless and clingy, provide lots of love and connection. But be sure to provide similar attention when he is acting his age—snuggle up with him to read some books and give him big, spontaneous hugs throughout the day. This signals to him that you will provide nurture and support even when he is behaving more independently.

  • If your child has regressed in using the potty, don’t push it. Let her know that it is her body and only she can decide how she pees and poops. She can wear underwear if she wants to use the potty. If she is not going to use the potty, she wears pull-ups. When she has accidents, don’t shame or punish her. (Shaming makes the whole potty experience fraught with anxiety which leads to an increase, not a decrease, in accidents—however paradoxical that may seem.) Take a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental approach. Acknowledge that accidents happen, then help your child get cleaned up and move on. Remember, elimination is all about control. When kids feel out of control on the inside, they lose control on the outside. The more you try to control your child, the more likely she is to resist. Following her lead and not making a big deal out of it makes it more likely that she will choose the potty again, sooner rather than later. (For more guidance on potty learning, check out these blogs.)

  • If your child is becoming more clingy at bedtime, acknowledge that during times of big changes like this, it’s harder to separate for sleep. To provide more support and connection at this juncture in your day, consider expanding the bedtime routine by adding a few books and some cuddle time together. But try to stick to the limits you have already established, for example, that your child sleep in his own bed. You want to avoid setting up a dynamic that will be hard to undo. Further, letting your child sleep in your bed inadvertently sends the message that he isn’t okay in his own room at night—increasing, not decreasing his fears. Instead, consider letting him know you will check in on him periodically to provide reassurance. (For more guidance on dealing with sleep challenges, check out these blogs.)

Most of all, be patient. This too shall pass. Have faith in your children, they are often much more resilient than you think. With your support and acceptance—giving them the space and time they need to regain a sense of security in this changing world—they will return to their higher level of functioning.

Coping With Conflict During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Lockdown

This article comes from the Young Scot website and is brought to you in partnership with the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution. You can download the original article here

The article was written specifically for teenagers but there are useful ideas in it for all of us who are finding that tensions and tempers can rise when we are all home for such an extended period of time.

When you’re spending more time with the people you stay with to help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) it may mean you get into more arguments or conflicts with those around you. Here’s how to resolve any conflicts that do happen.

What causes conflict?

Conflict usually starts when you disagree with somebody about something, or you don’t like how someone has reacted to something.

Conflicts tend to come from two main causes:

  • misperception, where you believe something to be true without any factual proof. For example, you might believe your sibling didn’t do the dishes because they’re being lazy and wanted you to clean up after them, but you don’t have any proof of this.
  • misinformation, which is fake news meant to deceive you. For example, somebody may text you saying that a friend was gossiping about you behind your back, when in fact this didn’t actually happen and was made up to start some drama.

By understanding what starts conflict, it can help us resolve it!

I’m upset by something someone has said/done. How should I react?

You should think about a few different things about reacting, including:

  • where you are (at home, at the shops, out walking the dog)
  • who is involved (parents/carers, siblings, police officer, a stranger)
  • whether you have all the facts (is this a misperception or have you been given misinformation?)
  • your emotions (are you in a good place to respond?)
  • the consequences… (what happens if you react the way you want to?)

This can be difficult because emotions can rise quickly! But by taking a minute to think through these things, we can react in a more thought out way and not let things escalate or get worse.

What’s a better way to react?

Be calm and be brave. It’s courageous to stand up to conflict and deal with it responsibly.

Be curious, not furious. Find out the facts and make sure you aren’t being misinformed. Don’t be too quick to judge or misperceive something.

It’s also important to acknowledge your part in the conflict too: one person can’t just fight on their own!

By controlling your emotions and communicating calmly you can resolve the conflict in a better way.

For example, you could say something like “I’m not spoiling my life because you want a fight, let me find out what is going on then I will come speak to you about it like an adult.”

It’s difficult to manage my emotions sometimes

Emotions can be powerful! But it can be really useful to know how they work so we know how we can manage them. Head to the Scottish Centre of Conflict Resolution to find out what’s going on in your brain when you feel angry, sad, happy and everything in-between.

Another way you can keep your feelings in check is by figuring out what pushes your emotional buttons. These are things that, when they’re triggered, make you feel irritated, frustrated and angry. This could be things like feeling your personal space is being invaded (your parents or sibling comes into your room without asking or knocking) or you feel like there’s been some sort of injustice (your get told off for something your sibling has done). By knowing what things upset you and why, you can better manage how you react to it.

I feel like I’m struggling to manage them

When you’re feeling overwhelmed and your emotions seem too big to tackle it’s a good idea to talk to someone and ask for help.

It can be scary to ask for help. You might feel like asking for help makes you weak, when in fact the opposite is true! It’s very brave to ask for help and support when you need it – and everybody, even the most powerful people in the world, ask for help every day.

It’s important to ask for help when you start to feel you cannot cope, or feeling overwhelmed, stressed or just curious about what kind of help you would get.

You can ask anyone you trust, what you need to do is think about who they are and how they could support you. Your doctor, social worker, or support worker and other professionals that work with young people and families can help you.

More information

Learn more about managing conflicts over at the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution website.

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

“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.