From the day you become a parent, you begin to have questions. “Is my child growing normally?” “Am I feeding my child correctly?” “How can I foster their learning?” As the years go by, the questions continue and even become more complex. This series will help address many common parenting questions. 

Parenting and child development writer Amy Webb, Ph.D., will be your guide as we explore these questions asked by real parents who probably face many of the same struggles as you. Fellow parents submitted these questions via social media platforms. Although there is not usually one simple answer to individual parenting questions (every family is unique), we will use the latest research and expert advice to address these concerns.

“How do I respond to powerful negative feelings from an older sibling expressed about a younger sibling?”

Although some degree of sibling conflict is normal, it is in our children’s (and our) best interest to try to foster a positive relationship between siblings. Through sibling relationships, children foster and practice crucial social-emotional skills like cooperation, communication, and empathy.

Rivalry or comparison is often the source of conflict between siblings, especially if they are close in age. Each child inherently tries to differentiate themselves from the other siblings. One approach to handling this is for you, as parents, to limit comparisons between siblings. Avoid pointing out how one sibling compares to another in grades, athletics, appearance, or even eating habits. Recognizing each child’s unique talents and skills can help each sibling feel special in your eyes.

If one child expresses negative feelings towards another (as the question indicates), it can be helpful to understand why the child feels that way. Is it because they are often compared to them? These negative feelings could also emerge from an older sibling not understanding the developmental stage of the younger sibling. For example, maybe the younger sibling acts in ways that are immature or less appropriate simply because they are younger and less emotionally developed. Explaining this idea to the older sibling could aid in supporting their relationship.

Another key step is to engage children in helping to solve conflicts themselves, and instead of a parent always being the one to solve the dispute, encourage children to attempt some of the problem-solving themselves. Encourage each child to have a voice in proposing possible solutions to the conflict. This will require some patience and modeling on your part, but over time, children will hopefully gain the skill to resolve many of their problems independently. 

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