Strategies to Manage Sibling Jealousy and Conflict 

Peace at Home March 15, 2023 | JoAnn Robinson

Sibling jealousy and conflict, although frustrating, is a normal development when a new baby arrives. While some children may start to act up within the first weeks after the baby’s birth, others may have strong reactions later on, when the little one starts crawling, walking, and playing with toys. 

It’s really not surprising—parents’ attention is focused on the baby’s needs. At the same time, parents tend to expect more independence from the older child. All of this adds up to a new role that the big sibling has to grow into pretty quickly.  This amount of change in expectations and life at home is enough to throw even the most mild-mannered child off balance emotionally. 

Certain misbehaviors are especially common. Attention seeking behaviors, like shrieking or refusing to eat, or regression to baby-like behavior, or hitting or taking things from the baby are all common. And if the older sibling is a toddler, being less able to communicate with words makes their behaviors and reactions more exaggerated. 

Young children benefit from parents showing them how to be an older sibling and manage conflict.  

  • Respond Calmly. Young children respond much better to melodic, sing-song voices; they are more likely to pay attention and be interested in what you have to say. When conflict arises, a parent’s angry face and voice often escalates the child’s emotions even more. Taking time to practice staying calm yourself can help to de-escalate conflicts for you and for them. Try to remember that sibling conflict is a completely normal part of development. Your older child is learning essential social skills, and although the transition period can be frustrating, it’s all part of the process. 
  • Focus on connection. When an older sibling acts up or your young children squabble, they are often seeking connection with you in some way. Try to carve out time for each child to have one-on-one time with a parent, when the focus is just on them. 15-20 minutes per day – reading, going for a walk or another activity – helps them feel connected. You could even consider giving it a special name (“Mommy-[name] time”), so they have something concrete to focus on and look forward to. 

Managing sibling conflict is a challenging aspect of parenting, no matter how common you know that the behavior is. By staying calm, maintaining connections, and encouraging your child’s social growth, you can help guide your children toward a more positive relationship with each other. For more information about helping children to develop a positive connection, please join us for Sibling Relationships: Help Young Children Connect in Positive Ways, with Peace at Home expert, JoAnn Robinson, PhD. 

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