Show Notes: Sibling Rivalry with Dr Laura Markham Part 2

The second in a Two Part Series with Dr Laura Markham where we learn how our parenting behaviour can influence the relationship between our kids, and facilitate sibling rivalry, or sibling friendship. If you missed the first in the series, listen to Part One here. 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 2 Image


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.

What Undermines Sibling Relationships?

Taking Sides
  • The target of blame feels like a bad kid. – Like you don’t love them. – So they pick on the other sibling.
  • The defended child doesn’t learn to stand up for himself. Instead learns to call you to solve any issues, and begins to worry if the other child is appreciated (in case it is a role reversal).

In the moment: Keep it even. E.g. When you hear commotion “Is everyone having fun in there? It sounds like someone isn’t liking this.”

  • Coach self-defence: “Honey, you don’t look too happy about this. You can tell your sister if you don’t like this game.”
  • Empathise with both aggressor and victim: “You love doing x, but it seems he isn’t liking that very much.”
  • Invite solutions: “So what else could we do. How about your toys play the students?”
  • Set limits: e.g. “No pushing, pushing hurts”.

Preventative Maintenance: Spend one on one time with each child. Aggression comes from fear.

  • If we use punishment to teach lessons, our children will also use punishment to teach lessons.
  • Children don’t learn well when they are emotional. They learn when they are calm.
  • Punishment makes the child feel unsafe, and escalates emotional disregulation.
  • Punishment also sends the message that love is conditional on good behaviour.
  • What children learn from smacking is that physical aggression is part of intimate relationships.

Phase 1: Damage control and calm down. You cannot teach during this time.

Phase 2: Connect with your child.

Phase 3: Problem solving.

Time Out

Time out was developed as a very good alternative to spanking. It is based on behavioural psychology, but children are much more complex than rats.

The problems:
  • Assumes that the behaviour is chosen. Mostly children lash out because they are emotionally disregulated.
  • Sending your loved ones away when they most need support undermines connection, and inhibits emotional processing.
  • Due to the perceived love withdrawal, children misbehave more in the long run and moral development suffers.
  • Children who calm down alone tend to repress their emotions.
  • Time out doesn’t deal with the source of the behaviour. The emotions are still there, and will flare up and affect behaviour.
  • Time to calm down is important, but that can be done with time in and emotion coaching.
  • Use emotion coaching – acknowledge their emotions, listen to their point of view.
  • Humans respond to influence and connection more than punishment.
    • Children want a warm relationship with you more than anything else.
    • If you have been punishing, the first step is to restore that relationship.
  • If a child is grumpy due to hunger, we feed him, we don’t worry about whether we are rewarding the misbehaviour. We are meeting their needs whether that is hunger for food, or love, or comfort.
The research behind Time Out:

I asked Laura more about the research behind time out. Here is her reply:

“A study done by the National Institute of Mental Health (1) concluded that timeouts are effective in getting toddlers to cooperate, but only temporarily. The children misbehaved more than children who weren’t disciplined with timeout, even when their mothers took the time to talk with them afterward. Michael Chapman and Carolyn Zahn-Wexler, the authors of the study, concluded that the children were reacting to the perceived “love withdrawal” by misbehaving more. That’s in keeping with the studies on love withdrawal as a punishment technique, which show that kids subjected to it tend to exhibit more misbehavior, worse emotional health, and less developed morality (2). These results aren’t surprising, given how much children need to feel connected to us to feel safe, and how likely they are to act out when they don’t feel safe.”

I also did some of my own research and found that time out is generally considered a form of love withdrawal. Which makes sense. If your child misbehaves you withdraw your attention for a few minutes, this to kids, would be experienced as love withdrawal. Love withdrawal isn’t associated with moral development. Children whose parents rely more on inductive discipline, which includes coaching, empathy, acknowledging other children’s emotions, are rated as more prosocial (3), more likely to take responsibility for their actions, and more likely to consider other children’s perspectives (4). In contrast, children whose parents rely more on power-assertive discipline, such as punishments, are rated as less prosocial (3), and less likely to take responsibility for their actions (4). Children whose parents rely heavily on love withdrawal, including time out, don’t really show consistent tendencies either way (3, 4). So while time out seems better than power assertive methods, it doesn’t have any of the benefits of coaching.

Dr Rosina also investigated the research behind Time Out and came to the same conclusion as Laura and I, but for different reasons. Check out her discussion of time out on this podcast “Dr Robyn interviews Dr Rosina on Pros and Cons of Time-out for kids“.

I would still like to see a longitudinal study on the effects of different parenting approaches, but based on the research available and the theory behind it, I won’t be using enforced time out (only voluntary time out including mummy time out, and time in).

What is the difference between permissive and positive parenting?

  • Positive parents set limits all day every day, permissive parents don’t.
  • Authoritarian parents set limits too, but enforce them with punishment.
  • Positive parents set limits with empathy (“I know it is hard to…”) and support (e.g. coaching)
What if children break the limits?
  • All behaviour is communication.
    • Consistently breaking limits suggests there is an underlying cause.
    • Try daily one on one time. Stop punishing.
  • You can’t always solve it in the moment.



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1 Chapman, Michael and Zahn-Wexler, Carolyn. “Young Children’s Compliance and Noncompliance to Parental Discipline in a Natural Setting.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 5 (1982): p. 90.

2 Hoffman, Martin. (1970) “Moral Development.” In Carmichael’s Manual of Child Psychology, 3rd ed., volume 2, edited by Paul H. Mussen. New York: Wiley.”

3 Krevans, J., & Gibbs, J. C. (1996). Parents’ use of inductive discipline: Relations to children’s empathy and prosocial behavior. Child development, 67(6), 3263-3277.

4 Hoffman, M. L., & Saltzstein, H. D. (1967). Parent discipline and the child’s moral development. Journal of personality and social psychology, 5(1), 45.