Sibling Jealousy: How To Handle Difficult Behaviour

Yesterday I could hear Wills making some not-so-happy noises up in the kids’ bedroom. Upon inspection I found my usually fairly well behaved 3 1/2-year-old laid on top of him with the full weight of her body, slapping him in the head repeatedly (alternating hands for maximum impact like the clever little madam that she is).

About 10 minutes before this, I’d asked Amelia to find somewhere to calm down because she was feeling particularly angry (she was screaming like a banshee and generally being a b****). She’d gone to her room, and her defence for the attack on her little brother was;

“Arrrrrgh!! But HE’s annoying me!”

No doubt he probably was annoying her, and disrupting her ‘calm down time’. And the truth is that he smacks her in the head with all his might much more often than she does it back. He can be a vicious little sod, and I know from the calculation and glint in his eye that he very much knows what he’s doing too.


It’s Just a Phase

Like with all things kid related, I’m absolutely certain that this sibling jealousy is just another phase, and one that both of them will most certainly grow out of. At the moment they are vying for may attention, and still coming to terms with each other’s existence. After well over a year of Wills taking up a lot of my time, suddenly he’s able to move about freely and physically muscle in on time with Amelia. And obviously he’s able to express his displeasure at Amelia even daring to touch me with a great big whack. Wills has no concept of Amelia as my daughter, only of himself as my child. He has no understanding that Amelia is just as attached to me as he is, so naturally he’s pretty pissed off when she’s taking up valuable lap space that he could be using

Both kids want me to themselves, and both are clearly very jealous of any attention that the other gets. And it’s even necessarily just physical attention like kisses and cuddles, but all kinds of attention. Today I spent some time with Amelia doing a workbook to practise pencil control, and Wills was clearly particularly displeased that I was sitting at the table with Amelia and not playing with him. Manifested mostly by alternating between whacking me and then her.

So How Do I Handle It?!

As with all behaviour, there are lots of theories and books readily available to tell you just how (and why) to manage sibling jealousy effectively. Some will say that it should be managed in a way in which no-one gets told off per se, because it’s natural and ok to have emotions like jealousy. Some will say to leave them to it – let them battle it out and come to their own resolution. Some will even say that if it’s already got to the hitting stage you might want to look into art therapy (or something similar. Almost all of them will say that one on one time is important. The reality is not always (ever?!) a textbook example, though. We use a combination of everything, with a little bit of winging it thrown in for good measure!

  1. One on one time
    Time spent with your kids alone, when they have all your attention just for themselves, is an amazing way of diffusing sibling jealousy. And it’s even a good way of calming down a potentially volatile situation in the moment.

    “I know it’s tough right now, but remember it won’t be long until his nap/bed time and then me and you can have our cuddle time on the sofa”

    I always make sure to stagger the kids bedtimes by half an hour or so (Wills at 6:30 Amelia at 7:00) so that Amelia can have that one on one time with us before bed. At the weekend I usually let her come food shopping with me, leaving Wills and Mr C at home and killing two ‘one on one’ birds with the same stone! It’s a boring job, but it gives us a good hour to chat uninterrupted and have a little giggle together. She feels grown up because she’s helping me with a chore, and she knows she’ll usually get a little treat too 🙂

  2. No-one’s right or wrong… Unless someone is!
    I remember reading once that you shouldn’t become the referee in a fight or argument, and shouldn’t be the judge of who is in the right. while I agree with that in certain situations, I’m not entirely convinced. If I’ve seen who hit who first, then I make sure to let them know that’s not ok. Wills gets a big (deeper voice not louder) “No!” and I will ask Amelia what she thinks she should have done when her brother hit her. This is assuming everyone’s calm enough for that! Sometimes Amelia needs to calm down a bit first. If I haven’t seen what’s happened, I separate them so they can both calm down, and when they’re ready I ask simple questions. When Wills is older and able to speak, I plan to ask a couple of questions each, and if they both lie to me (“who hit who first?”)  then obviously I won’t referee. Generally, though, I find calm questioning usually brings out the truth (“Did Wills hit you first before you laid on him?” “No, Mummy”)
  3. If you can’t share…
    That goes for me too! So they can both sit on my lap, but if there’s any shoving, hitting, or obvious and tactical lap hogging, the culprit is put down. Even little Wills. It might seem harsh, but right now being denied mummy’s lap is probably he best way of teaching him that actions have consequences. There’s not much more in the world that he wants than mummy, so showing him that he loses that for a moment when he smacks his sister in the face will hopefully start to sink in soon.
  4. Man up…
    I don’t have a huge tolerance for whingeing. “Muuuuum, he took my toy pony” is usually met with “Take it back, then, you’re a big girl.” It might not be the most PC way of doing things, but I’m a firm believer that whingers aren’t often met with much respect in life, and those aren’t the people I want to raise.
  5. Kind Hands
    Kind hands is something that came from the kids Auntie who is a primary school teacher. When Amelia was small and went through the inevitable hitting phase, we would take her hand and touch or stroke it gently against whatever/whoever she had hit and say “kind hands”. It’s something that she still does now and we are teaching Wills. So when he smacks us, we show him kind hands, and we also say it when touch him gently too. When I ask Amelia what she should do if Wills hits her, she knows to show him kind hands. A lot of the time she does this without needing to be reminded, and other times she forgets and lashes out (perfectly understandable IMO, like I said, he can be a vicious sod!)

As with all behaviour, there are lots of theories and books readily available to tell you just how (and why) to manage sibling jealousy effectively. Some will say that it should be managed in a way in which no-one gets told off per se, because it's natural and ok to have emotions like jealousy.

What works for you?

All kids are different, and all respond to different things and in different ways. There’s no rule of thumb, and neither should there be. Every child and adult is unique, and I don’t ever want to take that away! So what have I missed? How do you handle sibling jealousy? Like most mums, I’m always up for a handy trick to try or even just some food for thought!

On second thought, I’ve had enough of sibling jealousy for the day, don’t talk to me about it..!

11 thoughts on “Sibling Jealousy: How To Handle Difficult Behaviour

  1. Oh I like that kind hands one. Never heard of that. And I’m hanging my head because I referee all the time. I think after reading this I may stand back more (although I do get to the point often where I just say I don’t want to hear one more argument or he said she said nonsense). The time alone thing is nigh on impossible when you have three kids or a partner who has one day off from work and doesn’t come home til 11pm the other days. I totally agree with that individual time as I clearly remember the day my childhood changed forever. Days out with my parents and their sole attention died with the arrival of siblings. Funnily enough the jealousy thing though was never an issue between my siblings and me *the problems between us hit in adulthood!) and the only area I see it with my kids is my 13yo who envies the relationship her 7 and 10yo siblings have with each other. In the end you really do find what works for you after trying various options! #bloggerclubuk

    1. It’s so easy to act as ref though, and kind of feels necessary sometimes – there are deffo times when it’s needed I’m sure! For me it’s the noise of the argument rather than the fact they’re arguing! I just want them all to stop screeching haha!!xx

  2. Great tips here! With four children, three of which are very close in age, we have a lot of sibling jealousy. Often they come to blows and I end up screeching at them which isn’t the best way to deal with it. I’ll put these ideas into practice! #bigpinklink

  3. Love this, great tips as sibling rivalry can be so difficult. I know my mum was tearing her hair out with how much me and my younger brother fought – there is no right and wrong (sometimes!) but sounds like you are handling it so well. Thanks for linking up to #dreamteam

  4. What a briliant post, all great theories and ways to deal with the situation but I love your conclusion, there is no firm right or wrong, you just do what feels the right thing for your kids in any given situation. #DreamTeam

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