Show Notes: Sibling Rivalry with Dr Laura Markham

Your son snatches a toy from your daughter. What do you do? Snatch it back? Coerce? Time out? I discuss peaceful, coaching-based approaches with world-leading expert on evidence-based peaceful parenting, Dr Laura Markham. Laura shares what we can do to prevent sibling rivalry and foster a good relationship between our children. We discuss common issues such as toy snatching, and aggression. This is the first of a two-part series on Sibling Rivalry. Please look out for the second part where we examine time-out and other parenting strategies that can potentially undermine the sibling relationship. You can find more wonderful resources from Dr Laura Markham at Aha! Parenting, including heaps of amazing free content, the two books we discuss here: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, as well as lots of great Audio content and a parenting course.Sibling Rivalry Part 1 With Dr Laura Markham


Sorry about the poor audio quality. The content is well worth it! If you want a transcript, please click here and enter your email address so I can let you know when it is ready.

Peaceful Parenting

  • No one is peaceful all the time. Peaceful parenting is about making a commitment to using more peaceful parenting strategies including:
    • Regulating ourselves and our emotions – mindfulness.
    • Connection with your child. (Influence occurs through relationships).
    • Coach instead of control.
  • Not about manipulating, controlling, coercing, punishing, rewarding.
  • It is our job to get our children to do things they don’t necessarily want to do, such as sleep, brush teeth…
    • It can be hard to use peaceful parenting in those situations if we have been raised in another way. We need to unlearn old habits and learn new approaches.

Sibling Relationships

  • Siblings do not naturally get along.
    • They see each other as competitors for finite resources (Mum and Dad’s time, toys, etc).
    • They have poor self control and big emotions.
    • They lack language and experience.
    • Individual personalities can clash.
  • Parenting practices have a great deal of influence over the sibling relationship.
    • Make sure love and attention don’t seem like scarce resources.
      • Preventative Maintenance – regular one on one time.
    • The more negative the relationship with the parent, the more negative the relationship is with the sibling.
    • Every time you interact with your kids (even when you are yelling and punishing), you are modelling how you deal with that child, how to approach interpersonal difficulties, and how to problem solve.

Parents can support the sibling relationship by:

  • Having a close relationship with each child (research says this is the number one thing). That way children are less worried that love is a scarce resource.
  • Specific modelling.
    • Child goes to take the rattle from the baby – say “Oh, that rattle looks like fun doesn’t it! But Susanna is playing with it now. How about you ask her, say ‘Susanna, can I have that please?’. Hmm. It’s hard to tell whether she is finished with it, isn’t it. How about we offer her another fun toy…”
  • What if you are too late? The toy has already been snatched.
    • Calm yourself: Deep breath.
    • Put an arm around each child.
    • Describe: “Oh, Liz is crying, I wonder what she’s saying. Liz, are you saying you want your toy back?”
    • Interpret: “Alex, Liz is saying she wants her toy back”.
    • Empathy: “Oh Alex, you want to play with it now, it looks like fun doesn’t it.”
    • Suggest a solution: “Why don’t we find something to swap? I’ll come with you. How about we leave that with Liz while we go and find something to swap.”
  • Model and coach children on how to stand up for themselves and get their needs met without attacking the other person.
    • Coach the child who has had the toy taken to stand up for themselves.

Novel sharing approach – self-regulated terms.

  • Well described in Laura Markham’s book “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings” and Heather Shumaker’s book “It is OK not to share
  • The child who has the toy can use it for as long as they like within limits (e.g. until dinner time).
    • Deepens the play leading to greater learning benefits.
    • The child gets the experience of being generous, and sees the happiness in their sibling’s face. (Practice is how kids develop generosity).
    • Children develop other solutions, e.g. “OK, you use the dump-truck, can I build a road for you?”
  • Hard to put into effect for the first week, but with time…
    • Kids learn the rule.
    • Kids no longer need to fuss to demonstrate their need for a parent to intervene.
  • When children are always snatching and get really wound up about having to wait, it is likely they are feeling vulnerable. It’s probably not really about the toy. Having your understanding and undivided attention while they wait is a great substitute.



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