Is Big picking on Little?

Siblings. They can play well together, enjoy one another, and be super sweet to each other, and then in an instant the tables can turn. Suddenly you’re rushing to the aid of one child, admonishing the other, and feeling frazzled and confused about what really happened.

A LOT can happen in an instant, and it’s unrealistic to think that you can be there in every moment. So, what can you do to foster a healthy sibling relationship and what is the appropriate response when things go haywire?

If your kids are experiencing some difficulties in their relationship the very first thing to do is to consider the big picture. What is the overall feeling between them? Does your younger child feel afraid of your older child? Does your older child seem to feel jealous of attention the younger child receives?

Once you’ve identified the overall tenor of the relationship, from your perspective, consider talking to your kids about their friendship. Ask them how THEY feel their sibling treats them. Really take their feedback into your overall image of what’s really going on.

Next, consider the past week or two. Can you identify the specific triggers to the behavior you don’t want? For instance, have you noticed that every time you’re reading a story to your younger child, your older child runs up and hits him? Or does your younger child tend to invade your older child’s space resulting in a conflict?

As you think about the conflicts of the past week or month, be sure to consider all sides. Avoid the temptation to blame all conflicts on the older child, just because she’s older. Sometimes, the behavior of a younger child can be the triggering event too. And, any time you find yourself thinking that one child is the culprit and the other is a completely innocent bystander, stop yourself.

Most often there’s a dynamic between the two (or three) that needs to shift and if your beloved child feels that you’re taking sides against her, she may feel hurt and betrayed. Instead, try to empathize with both parties.

Now that you’ve identified some specific triggers to behavior that doesn’t work for you, you’re well on your way to fostering a kind and caring relationship between siblings.

So, if you’re clear about what the triggers are you have a few choices.

You can: 1) Prevent and avoid the trigger altogether by

a) identifying and addressing the unmet needs of the aggressor or

b) letting go of unrealistic expectations and creating a more doable scenario

2) Offer an alternative to the negative behavior that is even more fun

3) Be a safe haven for a frustrated or fearful child

Here’s an example. Let’s say Ben is hitting his little sister Sally, whenever she comes near his action figures. You can prevent the conflict by realizing that when Ben plays with his action figures he’s needing space and safety, he wants to know that his sister isn’t going to mess up his game, so you can invite him to play in his room with the door closed, or give him a rug to indicate his play space and then help his sister respect his space.

If Sally isn’t able to respect his space when he’s in the shared living space, then putting a closed door between them is a great way to help her. Or, you could invite Ben to play at the kitchen table where Sally can’t reach his toys. Alternatively, you can invite both kids to dance and sing with you in the living room instead of playing with action figures, or maybe they’d like to play a dress up game and put on a play for you.

And lastly, if Ben knows that he can come to you when Sally interrupts his game, and you’ll actually help him figure out a way to continue his independent play, he’s more likely to call out to you or come and get you, rather than hitting Sally. One the other hand, if he knows he’ll get the half baked response, “Why don’t you just let your sister play?” then he feels he’s on his own and has to do whatever it takes to protect his game.

I’d better wrap this up for today, but I would love to hear about what’s happening for you and what works or doesn’t work at your house!

Have a fantastic week, Shelly



We have a lot of sibling rivalry going in our household. They tend to have issues on 'how they want their imaginative game to be played'. It is more of a controlling issue for whomever is fighting to be the leader, if you know what I mean. I appreciate this blog. I am reading a little each day. Thanks!


Thanks Jaime! I'm so glad my blog is helpful to you and your kids. And I'm happy you shared a comment here. I am so grateful to get to interact with you and know you better. Sending you big hugs!


Hello Shelly,
I really appreciate this Blog. This is exactly what is going on in my house right now, and the last part about Ben and Sally really helped me because it is the little ones invading the older ones space. I like your positive ideas for helping the situation. I am going to try the closed door one and the distraction one as soon as I can.
Just wanted to know I appreciated hearing what you had to say!
Thank you


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