School-aged Sibling Relationships

Archived Q&A and Reviews



9-year-old is extremely jealous of her 6-year-old sister

January 2007

My older child is extremely jealous of my younger child. They are 9 and 6. The younger one is outgoing and generally happy, but the older has a harder time socially and is quite sensitive. She says things to me like ''you love her more'' or ''why don't you love me?' We've always treated them equally, but they just seem to have different temperments and the older one needs more reassurance. Here's my question: My husband thinks it would be helpful to tell our older daughter (in confidence) that she's his favorite. While of course this is not true, he thinks she needs to hear this and that it would be beneficial. I don't agree, but wonder if anyone has any experience or advice? Thanks.

Telling the older child in private that she is the favorite will backfire when she tells her younger sibling, and Daddy will not be able to deny saying it. My 5 year old sometimes needs reassurance that the 2 year old has not taken his place in my heart. He seems soothed when I remind him he was our very first baby, how excited we were when he was born, how he got Mommy and Daddy to himself for 3 whole years, etc. The younger one for now seems happy to hear that he is my newest baby, how excited we were to have another baby, how he got to have a big brother/playmate right from the start. It's hard, because you can never do the same for them all the time, just let them know there's room in your heart for both. We try on the weekends for each child to have one-on-one time with each parent as well as family time. Good Luck

Your husband should not tell your daughter that she is his ''favorite'' because that reinforces the idea that a parent has favorites. I can guarantee you this idea will come back to bite you in the butt. I read an article once that said instead of telling siblings we love the 'equally' we should tell that that we love them uniquely - let them know that they are special and that the love we have for them is so special it is unlike any love we have for anyone else, and that no one in the world could take their place in our hearts. Seems like a good approach to me. Mary

Instead of calling your daughter your favorite, try saying frequently how special she is to you and point out specific things that she has accomplished lately. It's worked with our two boys. Our older one did ask if he was more special than his brother, but I got away with just saying how ''very very very'' special he was to me. The book ''Siblings without rivalry'' directly addresses this. I recall something that kids do not want to feel that they're being treated equally by the parents but they do want to feel that they have a special place just for them in the heart of their parents. Hope that this helps. Have two very special kids

I don't think it's a good idea to tell your daughter she is her dad's favorite, because then it sets up the premise that it IS possible for one sibling to be the favorite. That seems more hurtful in the long run. Then she'll think she may be right when she says you (the mom) love her younger sister more. Besides, I don't know if it's realistic to expect a 9 year old to keep that in confidence, and not tell her sister the first time they get into an argument. Perhaps check out the book Siblings without Rivalry, spend time one on one with the older daughter, etc. to make her more confident in your relationship with her. anon

PLEASE do not let your husband tell your older child that she's his favorite - there is no such thing as telling something like this to a child ''in confidence'' - sooner or later the younger child will find out and be devastated. Favoritism is a horrible thing to introduce into your family, even if it's with the best intentions. You won't be able to unring the bell, so please don't do it. seen the damage

I appreciate your dilemma, but telling the older one she is the favorite strikes me as unwise. Even though it's meant to be in confidence, it seems likely to me that she would gleefully share that ''secret'' with her sister the first time they get really mad at each other. That seems like a big mess, which would result in either your husband having to admit he was fibbing, or emotional devastation for your younger child. Also, I can't help feeling that somehow telling her this would inadvertently play into her worst fears-- namely that parents DO have favorites. Even though she may be temporarily pleased to hear that she is the current front-runner, it seems to me you are setting her up to then obsess that she will somehow lose her privileged position. I think it's better to keep reassuring her (and her sister) that you love them both unconditionally and comparisons make no sense. I wonder if it would be useful to help her cultivate and/or recognize qualities which make her special and unique, so that she can develop more confidence in herself as ''lovable'' and precious. Good luck. another parent

Definitely, definitely, absolutely do not do this. Imagine how your younger child would feel--heartbroken, abandoned, and less cared for. Any therapist will tell you that is a terrible idea. I understand your husband is probably at a loss for what he can do, but that is certainly not the solution. He can compliment her and try to remind her of the good things about her to raise her self-esteem, but saying that he likes or loves her better than her sister is a terrible, terribly thing to do--to both children. Anonymous

I don't have experience with this, but it seems that starting to play the 'favorites' game is a dangerous road to take. I remember an episode of Oprah where an expert said that you don't love every child the same but it's not that you love one more than the other. you love each one UNIQUELY and you need to tell this to your children and that they are each unique, and your relationship to each one is unique, but that does not mean that you love one child more than the other. Hopes this helps

I can share with you my experience. My father once told me that my older sister was smarter than me but because I worked harder, I got better grades. I think he meant to express that we were equally successful but got there in different ways. But that's not the message I got and I can remember his words to this day. Maybe it had a subconcious effect on me, I can't say for sure. But why tell a child something that may stick with them forever with an unintended result? Also, my sister is convinced that my father favors me over her and I know it is a very sore point with her. Why would you want your younger daughter to feel less loved? I think it's likely she will hear one way or another what your husband tells in ''confidence'' to the other sibling. My 2 cents

If you were to tell your child that she is the favorite, I would give it about 48 hours before she threw that information in your other child's face, then you have a real problem on your hands. I understand the reason why you want to do it but I should tell you that my partner's brother was told that he was the favorite, some 30 years ago and it still causes a rift between them. I don't think it really matters whether it's true or not, I think that is something no parent should ever say outloud. I remember asking our parents that when we were kids all the time and I am so glad they never said which one of us was there favorite. I think you should find another way. How about family counseling, that would probably be so much more productive. Erin

run, don't walk to the library and check out Siblings Without Rivalry. In your post you are already falling into a lot of the pitfalls that the author talks about. Your husband's ''solution'' would come back and bit you all; there is no way to guarantee confidentiality of such a statement over a life time. Remember your children will probably outlive you and sibling relationships are for a lifetime. The author states very rightly I think that children need to be loved uniquely, for their individual selves, not equally. It's really hard to know when to intervene and when to let them work things out but this book is an excellent start. also a sibling with children

I agree with all the other posters that said NOT to tell one child she is the favorite. My suggestion is to tell her something reassuring and true instead. When my older one accused me of loving the baby more than her I told her ''I couldn't love anyone in the world more than I love you.'' She still occaisionally likes to hear that I don't love anyone more than her. (I also sometimes have to remind her that I don't love her more than her sister either.) Just a suggestion. Good luck!

Have you ever heard of the term ''special time?'' This is when you take some time with each of your children alone for 1/2 hr to one hour a week. It's very important that this time be labeled ''special time'' and that it occurs each week on the same day at the same time. This is so your child can count on it. Do not answer the phone or the door if you are at home and be respectful when you are out and you run into a friend by saying, ''oh,it's nice to see you (or whatever), but right now it's our special time and I want to get back to that.'' Wow! Your child will be so impressed and astounded. I know lots of us think we are spending special time with our children all the time but to pay such close attention and to name it and to honor it makes a world of difference to your children. While you don't need to say ''you are my favorite'' (and I would never), it's okay to say, ''This is really nice having you to myself,''or ''i really enjoy spending time with you without your sister or brother or whatever.'' Special time doesn't have to be complicated. It can be a walk around the block, a trip to the library, a game of cards, etc. Ask your child how she/he wants to spend time. It doesn't have to cost money. Your undivided attention is priceless! Good Luck and I can guarantee this will make a huge difference with Sibling Rivalry. Franny

Do read Siblings without Rivalry. That book has so many suggestions with how to talk with kids about their unique specialness to you. I often tell my daughter (or the other daughter) that there is no one in the world like her, and that she alone has a special place in my heart. And it's true. I also tell her about her special qualities without comparing to her sister. I don't ever compare them to one another. I don't think it's fair. For example, if one child plays piano well, does that mean the other child should not play piano? Does one sibling get to dominate an entire field, such as chess, baseball, flute, art? Must the other sibling chose something else? Also, the book Siblings Without Rivalry has many helpful suggestions about how to handle conflicts between the kids concerning toys, sharing, rages, etc. They focus a lot on what parents say that is not helpful as well as how to frame the discussion/issue so as not to increase jealousy and tension. One thing, which may or may not be mentioned in the book, that I do is to comment on every kindness one child shows the other -- each shared toy, each time they stand up for the other, each time they play well together, any time they cooperate or work together -- and let them know how impressed I am by them and how they treat one another in those good momements. mother of two

Boys 6 & 9 can't go 10 minutes without fighting

August 2005

I have 2 boys, ages 9 and 6 who can't seem to be in a room together more than 10 minutes without fighting. They bicker constantly, and will often escalate into hitting and scratching. They both get along well with their 3 year old sister, and do fairly well when there are other children as ''buffers''. They rarely do it on the 3 days per week when they are with the nanny, but save it up for mom and dad's days off. Does anyone have any techniques that help kids this age diffuse their arguments? Both my husband and I work part time in order to spend more time with them, but they are driving us nuts!
Testosterone Stormtrooper

I found the book ''Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too'' very helpful. Here is info from Amazaon:

With a title like this, it's no surprise that authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish had a monster bestseller on their hands when the book first appeared in 1988. From the subsequent deluge of readers' stories, questions, and issues, they have created nearly 50 pages of new material for this, the 10th anniversary edition. The central message remains the same, and sounds almost too simple: avoid comparisons. But parents know that's easier said than done. The value of Faber and Mazlish's discussions is precisely that they talk you through umpteen different situations and outcomes to help you teach your brawling offspring a new set of responses. The highly informative text is punctuated with helpful summary/reminder boxes and cartoons illustrating key points. It's a must-read for parents with (or planning on) multiple children. But parents of young children who get along fine (so far) should read it too--as the authors make very clear, rivalry is inevitable. The only question is how to manage the rivalry with intelligence and compassion, and on that subject they offer a wealth of good advice.''


Brothers' treatment of each other - 6,9,12

Jan 2005

I am at my wit's end about how to deal with my children's behavior, mostly toward each other, but somewhat toward my husband and me. We have three sons, 6,9, and 12. They are all bright, generally happy boys who do quite well in school. We get good reports from other adults about their behavior away from us. One on one with us they are mostly a pleasure.

But at home and with each other it is often a different story. The youngest, a first grader, has a very challenging strong-minded inflexible temperament. He, of course, is also dealing with the usual issues of being the youngest of three boys. Despite hours on our part of trying to show them how to solve their differences, i.e. talk it out, take time to cool off, etc. they very often resort to yelling, hitting, name calling, etc. To make matters worse, my temper is so short from dealing with this so often, I find myself reacting in very inappropriate way - yelling and saying mean things. This models even worse behavior for them.

Do others have the same problem with their children? Is it worse with all of one gender? And of course, does anyone have any suggestions? We have read quite a few books, both those dealing with the particular issues of our youngest and also on sibling rivalry. I would really like hands-on advice. Thanks. Tired mom

Boy, do I ever feel your pain! I grew up in a house with 5 kids -- I was the 4th of 3 girls and 2 boys. My brother closest to me and my younger sister fought like cats and dogs -- I mean scratching full punching, name calling -- and to this day, I still resent my older brother for it. I still don't understand why my parents allowed it -- my dad is sort of of the mind that ''kids will work it out'', and I feel like it really hurt our relationships with each other. I remember BEGGING my parents not to leave him home ''babysitting'' my younger sister and me. I was scared and knew he was going to beat the you-know-what out of one of us. As a result, this is a hot button for me with my own children. My two daughters are 6 and 7 and when they really go at it verbally, it makes me craz! y. Fortunately, there are not many instances of physical attacks on each other, but I find I really have to take a deep breath and react to them in a very matter-of-fact way -- ''It's not ok to talk to you sister that way'' and show little emotion. I find that if I do show emotion, they feed on it and the problem gets worse. If it continues, I find manual labor is a great solution! I will warn them once, then start giving them jobs -- sweeping the floor, washing the windows, etc .. Then I find that they sort of bond in their frustration at having to do more chores than normal. I don't mind being the bad guy that way. While thay are working, I remind them of how important it is to take care of each other and that it is ok to be angry with each other, but not to hit or be verbally abusive toward each other. Works for us! Good luck -- Trish

Start watching Nanny911 on Fox (I think on Wednesdays at 9pm). Seriously. It's actually a great show on parenting skills. Every week there is some family full of yelling, screaming and hitting kids (and parents). And every week the nanny provides some great ideas, insights and solutions. You might even see a bit of your own family in each episode. Also, there is a new show called ''Supernanny'' on ABC Sundays at 10pm. I haven't seen it, but it sounds like more of the same. anon

I am dealing with EXACTLY the same thing (though only with the two older girls, not the youngest of the three). Our strong-headed one is the eldest. Though there is little physical anger shown (sometimes a single hit/push, but this is! rare), there is a lot of fighting, impatience, negative statements, hurtful statements, and yelling and stomping on the part of the eldest. I, too, find myself very angry and short- tempered by all of this. What I am doing: Last week I sat the two older girls down and said that I am absolutely not accepting this behavior anymore, and I will stop it, repeatedly, if neccessary, every time it happens. I am also not taking sides, but will ask each child, calmly, what they think happened, and help each child state why their feelings are hurt/why they are angry/why they said what they said and perhaps what they really meant to say, and so on. I am giving a lot more hugs, giving praise to each child individually, telling them what they are doing well, and really praising them when they get along. This has seemed to help them, but it has also made me feel more in control of my own emotions and anger, and at the end of the day, I feel like a better mom, which helps my mood. I have already seen some improvements in their behavior this week alone. I also considered a marble-jar or chart of good behavior, which the two little ones were excited about, but the older one (age nine) absolutely refused (I think because she was afraid of the competition, even though that is not what it is meant for). I get so depressed about the dynamics I see going on between my kids, and between me and my kids. But, this does seem to be helping! Good luck.
Mom of three girls!

Wow, do I feel your pain! I have two girls, 10 & 14, who frequently resort to the most vicious, nasty yelling, name- calling & threatening, (though rarely hitting). The younger one is similar to your 6-year-old -- very volatile & intense & strong-willed. The older is the typical moody teen. I too lose my temper often, and often find myself disliking both of them when they are being so nasty to each other (the words they know - - oh my! I didn't know those words until I was a grown-up). The thing is, these flare-ups are over quickly, and five minutes later they'll be getting along OK. I haven't found much help in the literature on sibling rivalry.&! nbsp; Mostly I try to stay out of it, since the times I've gotten involved have only prolonged the misery for everyone, and they both end up even madder at each other (Now we're in trouble and it's your fault!) Of course if one particular kid is being routinely victimized, you have to intervene. In our case they're pretty evenly matched. That is, they are equally to blame for the blow-ups and each gives as good as she gets. I'm afraid I don't have a lot of suggestions, I think some of this just has to be endured. I think my girls will be good friends when they're older, and I don't think they'll remember all the stupid fights, or at least they won't be any big deal. I'll be interested in hearing what other people have to say on this subject, since my kids' fighting is definitely the biggest source of stress in my life these days.
Wish we could all just get along

Your situations sounds very similar to what I was going through a couple of years ago with my three boys. They are now 8, 11, and 14. The physical fights, teasing and arguing that was going between the three of them were driving me nuts. With the help of a family therapist, we were able to quickly put an end to it. We agreed to strict family rules: no physical fights, no teasing, no slamming doors, etc. If a rule was broken, the child's 5 favorite ''priveleges'' were taken away for 24 hours. Each child chose his 5 priveleges -- no gameboy, computer, dessert, etc. There were no warnings and no second chances. No opportunities to negotiate. I thought it might be too harsh, but it really worked. My sons have leared to get along better and I can how picture them having positve realtionships with eachother as adults. Kids need clear and consistent rules. We could! n't haeve done it without the help of the therapist (Dr Jose Lopez - Kaiser Oakland) who encouraged us to work this all out.

My boys are 9 and 5. I try to get them to be on the same team, united against me. If they can't get along after a few reminders, they are sent to their own rooms for a cool off period, or if it's really unmanageable, until dinner or bedtime. They then play alone or will start to interact nicely from their bedroom doors. Sometimes drawing me into the whole thing just keeps the arguments going. Sometimes if we are trying to decide where to go or what to eat, they will be equally insistent on opposite ideas. I tell them that they need to agree or I will decide. However when I was a kid with 3 siblings, we often had charts we made out rotating the go! od chair, and who got to pick the tv show. jen

123 Magic by Thomas Phelan has a section on sibling fighting. I've found it to be very effective as a disciplinary method. I too was having trouble with my own yelling so I thought that Thomas Phelan's 'no emotion' 'no talking' rules would be too hard for me. On the contrary, they give me a method for dealing with behavior I don't like so I don't have to resort to yelling. good luck

Boys 5 and 7 are constantly at each others throats

Feb 2004

Boy I hope someone can guide me in the right direction! I have two boys, 5 and 7. They are wonderful little guys that my husband and I adore and they adore us. However they are constantly at each others throats. Pushing, shoving, tattling, etc. We try to keep things equal between them, like buying them the same amounts/types of anything. If one gets a pair of pajamas the other will get a pair of pajamas, but we realize that not everything is equal and we've tried talking to them about this when the situation arises but it just doesn't seem to work. They always seem to be competing. If it's not getting up the stairs first, then it's picking a movie, or getting to the car or even getting their dinner served. ANYTHING. My older son is very clever and is somewhat manipulative with his brother. If he sees something that his brother has that he wants he will persuade his little brother into trading, even if it's an unfair trade, which we've also discussed ad nauseum. My husband and I are trying to figure out what to do because even with all the talking we do, it doesn't seem to be helping much. Does anyone have any suggestions? I have a younger sister and we used to fight often too as kids, despite our mom's efforts. Though we talk, I feel there is a strain in our relationship which has slowly been improving (I'm 27, she's 25). I do not want my boys to end up the same way. I want them to be close and be the best of friends.
Boys driving mom crazy

look for a book called ''mom, jason's breathing on me!'' it's all about one man's method to deal with sibling bickering. it was helpful for me. as with anything, it takes time for the new techniques to start working for you. suzie

Oh Ho!!! Welcome to the club.

You are certainly not alone in this. I think it's a way of life for siblings to is in our house. My boys are 4 1/2 years apart. The little one wants to be with the big one so he's really pesty to get attention, then the big one torments the little one....and on and on.

Screaming at them is my first instinct but it really doesn't work and nothing gets resolved.

What can you take away from them? In our house it's electronics. Consistancy is the most important inwhatever you decide to do. In teh past 3 weeks, my husband and I saw a therapist who does parenting consultations. She helped us a lot to figure out boundaries and proper and reasonable consequences. I have not yelled at my kids since that meeting with her and I have to say things are a lot saner around here.

Granted, my boys are a bit older and easier to reason with than your youngens but as the therapist said to me, ''kids like whistles and bells''....they want attention adn they'll do what it takes, even for negative attention. So, if you can tone down your reaction they may tone down theirs as well.

I hope this is also may have to wait it out. My brother and I fought all the time as kids...he's 7 years older though.Now we are as close as can abe. Good luck. happier mom of 2 boys

I recommend the book '' Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live! Together So You Can Live Too'' by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Not only did it help with my parenting, but it gave me insight into my relationships with my siblings. Helena

I've been there with brothers fighting! Here's a great book to help restore your sanity: '' Siblings Without Rivalry'' by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. (Theauthors have written other helpful books including ''How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk''. ''How to talk....'' will give you practical tools to acknowledge your kids' feelings, elicit cooperation without becoming a nag.)''Siblings without Rivalry'' will help you deal with your children's feelings and problems and has many practical suggestions. It's a quick and easy read. Both books have helped me tremendously and helped my boys stop fighting. They are really good friends now and are able to talk and confide in each ! other. Best of luck Deb

I have two boys who are 2.5 years apart, let's call them ''Joe'' (the jock) and ''Jake'' (the artsy-fartsy guy). They are 21 and 18 now. Everything you described happened with my boys too, plus more. I tried everything to make them get along! They never really did, though they now accept and respect each other and are friendly when they are together, but they have virtually no common interests. Their personalities are completely different, that's the problem. They dress differently, like different music and movies, eat different foods, have two totally different approaches to life. Just like regular people. When they were little, it was like being forced to have a roommate that you have nothing in common with. Trying to get these two guys to ''play nice'' together for extended periods was always futile because there never was any activity they both liked! , and there still isn't! (Except for the beach - they always were nice to each other and played together for hours at the beach.) So ... I don't know if your boys have different personalities like this, but here are some things I did that were relatively successful. 1) Separate rooms if at all possible, or an area that's off limits to the other one, with a safe place for their stuff, and the ability to have privacy when they need it. 2) When there was a dispute, I found that I needed to step in and lay down the law on them rather than try to get them to work it out between them. I tried really hard to get them to negotiate, but they just never were able to get to that point. As long as my rule was not too unfair, they would accept it without argument. For instance if they were both struggling over the video game control, I would say ''OK Joe has it till 3:30 and then it's Jake's turn.'' This method wor! ked a lot better and faster than trying to figure out who had it first, or who started the fight, or etc. I can remember saying the following at least 1,000,000 times: ''OK, you can both play the game together but if I hear any fighting, the game's over and I don't care whose fault it was!'' They really learned how to cooperate and contain fights when this rule was in effect, and it did set up a sort of brothers vs. mom situation that fostered cooperation. 3) Acknowledge each one's strengths and preferences, and point them out frequently to the other brother. I think this builds respect between them, and helps them understand why they are not getting along. This only works if you really stick to the things they actually like or are good at! For instance, I'd say to Jake ''Look how great Joe's doing out there in left field. You'd probably hate being out there, huh? But Joe loves it!'' I'd say to Joe:! ''Your brother is getting pretty good at speaking Japanese!'' or ''He sure does love that eel sushi!'' As they got older they started to acknowledge each other's areas of expertise and I'd even hear them brag a bit to their friends (''My brother eats eel sushi all the time.'')

Good luck. I think it is really great having two different kinds of kids because they each satisfy different likes and dislikes in my own self. When I get tired of watching the baseball game with Joe, I can go eat sushi with Jake! Ginger

I have two boys, age 9 and 6, and we have the same problem. I would particularly appreciate advice about related consequences'' i.e. I read all the time that the punishment should be connected to the offense, but I'm not sure hwo to do that. What's an appropriate consequence for hitting an older brother or his playmate? What's an appropriate consequence for burping, farting on purpose? I'd appreciate any ideas! Barbara

I am the mom of 3 boys - the oldest is 7- and I can feel the same issue rearing up. Apparently the book, ''Sibling Rivalry'' (don't know the author) is wonderful. Someone gave me the tip that making your kids feel bonded by a them-against-you feeling works wonders. I have been trying that (''Hey, guys, what's all that whispering about?'') and it seems to work! They giggle and sneak off and plot ways to surprise mom.

I also grew up fighting ALOT with my brother - my mom still says it was the hardest part of parenting for her - but in contrast to you and your sister, we are truly very very close now and have been since the teenage years. He is like my best friend so don't fret that fighting as kids necessarily means tension forever. And we were brutal with the teasing and ev! en physical fighting as kids.

Two boys 5 and 7 fight over everything

July 1999

I have a problem that I need help on. I have 2 boys, 5 and 7, and they seem to fight constantly. They fight over everything but everything but I think what underlies it all is that the 5 year old wants more of the 7 year old's attention and will do anything to get it--including hitting, kicking, and teasing. The older one likes more alone time and to get rid of his brother will pinch or push him and then cry when the little one retaliates with a kick or hit. It seems that the fighting is nonstop. They are in different daycare programs so they only see each other at night and weekends. How do other parents handle sibling bickering?

The book Holding Time by Martha Welch addresses this issue (and the whole territory of teaching your child trust and expressing-feelings skills) with some elegance. Highly recommended.