Sibling Rivalry – The Pre-School Years

As the story goes, in the beginning there was Adam and Eve. They then created their sons Kane and Abel and sibling rivalry was created too, becoming a major challenge to most parents.

I loved my little brother when he was born, and somewhere along the way he started to drive me crazy. Now I understand I was actually incredibly jealous of him as he was unwell a lot of the time and took my Mum’s attention away from me. I used to put the cereal boxes at breakfast around my part of the table so I didn’t have to look at him; I thought he was a waste of air. But take heart, as we matured in later teenage years we really bonded and now adore each other. I am sure many of you have similar stories and may still be carrying resentments and pain from the past.

Within each family dynamic there are many players. As we know each child is unique, their needs and desires all different, and how they play to get these needs met, is never the same, and there is never a dull moment.

Each of your children will invite you to love, nurture and play within their own personal game. They will need their own set of boundaries and rules, and to be parented in a different way from their siblings. No matter how much we try to influence our children we cannot make them feel different about their siblings. We can however teach them significant tools which will enhance their understanding of compassion, patience, love and how to create positive outcomes with conflict resolution. Guess whose job it is to be the wonderful role model?

Siblings do offer each other the opportunity to; love, learn, teach, copy, compete, play, share, be supportive, entertain each other, develop an awareness of others and co-operate.

Competing is a natural exploration of self, and it is healthy behaviour to explore limits and boundaries. Children can learn how to cope with what is not always ‘fair’ to them, or getting what others receive. Parents can also, with loving guidance, help them to deal with any inadequacies that they may feel, and learn to focus on their own unique abilities.

It is important to remember that it is much safer for children to experiment with their sense of self in a family environment, than the outside world.

If your personal experiences of sibling rivalry were traumatic, be conscious that projecting your own personal anxieties could create issues in your children’s relationships that they have not personally created.

It is also important to be aware of how you and your partner are modelling behaviour and how you communicate together, remember your children are always watching and learning even when you least expect it.

Do you speak to each other with love and respect?

Do you sit together and respectfully discuss your issues with eye contact and really listen to each other without interrupting, and have the television turned off?

Is yelling, name calling or sarcasm an issue that requires healing?

Is conflict resolution practiced in your home?

Our children mirror our behaviour, and can even take on responsibility when parents are anxious and stressed.

Naturally this is very overwhelming for them and they react strongly with a mighty force. To prevent this, parents need to create a nurturing, loving, safe haven for everyone.

I hope that these following suggestions are helpful in enhancing the love, harmony, understanding and clarity of communication in your family.

Let us start with under fours and in my next article we will address sibling rivalry in older children and focus on communication skills and conflict resolution.


A young child may feel out of place when a new baby arrives. Prepare them well for the new changes in your family. Not all children experience jealousy or feelings of replacement with a new sibling. They can adore their new baby but they feel different to before, and act out feelings that are not intentional. Their actions are coming from hurt or frustration, not malice.

• Focus on the first child’s importance in the family; let them know what is expected of them in their new role, without putting too much responsibility on them.
• Let them know you will be there for them always. How you will love them and how they can show their love.
• That sometimes they may need to be patient, and waiting may make them feel upset, because waiting can be frustrating.
• Talk about how they may feel, (happy, loving or upset), empathise and acknowledge their feelings.
• Keep your expectations of their behaviour at the same level as before the new arrival. If you lower them to over compensate for the new baby they will behave to match your expectations. It will then take time and energy to return to normal behaviour.
• Let them know where they stand, how important they are to you, this will help them feel more secure.
• If they are co-sleeping keep them in your bed or bedroom, this is not the time to introduce big changes.
• Sharing takes a long time and is a very challenging concept for children under four, sometimes for even older children.
• Encourage them to help with the baby, but that they are not grown up yet, so there are some things they cannot do, e.g. lift or carry the baby.
• Acknowledge their feelings and thank them for what they do.
• If they regress and want to be a baby too, allow them. They will play out their needs and soon decide it is alright to be big.
• If the child is acting aggressively towards the baby, take care how you react. It is natural to react strongly to this behaviour, but it will not help in the long run.
• Gently remove the older child, hold and hug them first as that is what they desire the most from you. Then very clearly with full eye contact and a firm voice let them know that this behaviour is not alright.
• Be very specific in communicating simply what you expect of them next time they feel the urge to react the way they did.
• Show them how to touch gently. Give them examples of what they can do when they feel upset or want to your attention, as that is their goal.
• Punishing them, or withdrawing, will only magnify the problem and create more unpleasant behaviour. Only ever withdraw if you feel you are going to explode.
• Bring your child in close, hold them and hug them tight when they are showing signs of upset. Sharing is a tough lesson especially if it your Mum or Dad.
• Talk to Grandparents and friends about sharing the attention between the new baby and your other child.
• Take time to have some precious one on one time.
• Sometimes little children just don’t know why they react the way they do. Emotions are hard to explain, even when you are a grown up.

It is exhausting to be the umpire between your children as they grow, so watch this space for my next blog on how to prevent this occurring. Sibling rivalry is a natural part of life but it does not have to create discord and disharmony in your family. Love, respect and harmony can be a reality in your home.


Avatar of Arnaum Walkley

Arnaum has been a Parenting Counsellor for over 25 years, assisting and nurturing parents in developing their own unique parenting skills, and how to develop Conscious Parenting skills. In this time she has been involved in South Australia and other states and communities as an Early Childhood Worker, Breastfeeding Counsellor, Parenting Educator, Public Speaker, Counsellor, and Writer focusing on child development and parenting.

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