sibling rivalry

If you are expecting another child or you already have multiple children, then you have two wishes for them: to be good friends and to not fight all the time.

Good luck.   However, there are several things you can do to facilitate a great relationship between them and fewer headaches for you.  The most important technique (and maybe the most overlooked) is to not pit them against each other.  You want to build them up as a team.   This can happen several ways:


Don’t ask them who did what

This is so common and it make sense, you want to know what happened when you walked out of the room for 5 minutes and now they are both upset and presumably, one of them is to blame and we need to know who.  But what this does is immediately asks one to get the other into trouble.  It immediately asks them to rat on the other and make everything worse.  You watched Breaking Bad right?  Ratting somebody out isn’t a good thing and certainly doesn’t gain points with anyone.  So when you walk in on siblings who are crying, wrestling, upset, etc., ask, “What is the problem?  How can we solve it?”  This way you are working towards a solution rather than stuck on blame.  And you know who was to blame? (probably both of them…or hunger, or tiredness)


Constantly talk about how they are so good to each other

Even if they aren’t.  This is the magic of positive thinking.  If they believe that they are great siblings, then they will be great siblings.  If you catch either one do anything for the other then talk about how they are taking such good care of their sibling.  Let them over hear you say to another adult how they are great siblings and always look out for the other one.  They will absorb that information like a sponge.


Help them problem solve

This is just an extended version of the first tip.  They are going to have opposing viewpoints, ideas and thoughts on just about everything.  One wants to go to the park and the other one wants to go to the pool.  One wants pizza for dinner and the other wants steak.  It takes a bit longer and it can be exhausting to talk them through problem solving but the benefit of having them work it out themselves before too long is SO worth it!

Let me break it down:

Child a: I want pizza!

Child b: No I want steak!!

You: OK, we have a problem, what is the problem? (Identifying the problem is the first step to them solving it on their own- if they can’t identify the problem they get stuck in you vs. me.  At first they will need lots of support in identifying the problem but will be able to do it by themselves after a while)

Child a: We want different things for dinner.

You: OK, what are some solutions?

Child b: We can have steak this time and pizza next time.

Child a: NO! That’s not a good solution!  I want pizza! We have pizza this time and steak next time!

You: Either of those solutions might work, or I have another solution: we can have neither and have grilled cheese instead.

(Other solutions depending on your parenting style can be that each makes their own dinner, go out to dinner so that they can get their own, have neither, have both, etc.   Be creative!)


Don’t force them to share when taking turns is more appropriate

Children feel resentful of siblings when they feel like the sibling is taking their stuff.  So be sure to never use the term “share” as a reason to give another child a toy.  There should be a handful of things that belong to only one child and can only be used by that one child.  Examples of these might be a lovey, a super special toy, or things that only fit a certain child like a bike.  The other child never gets to play with that one or two things.  Every thing else may “belong” to one child but can be used by all or belong to the whole family (like books, balls, dolls, trucks or blocks).  If it isn’t the special toy, then turns can be taken.  This doesn’t mean that a child has to give up a toy, just that the other child gets a turn when the first child is finished using it.


Enjoy them for their differences

Last but not least, your children will likely be complete opposites from each other.  This may mean that one of them is more like you and one of them is not like you at all.  Embrace those differences and don’t try to fight them.  I often find that spending time with the child who is less like me can be an eye-opening experience and I learn so much.   Also don’t comment on how you would like one to be more like the other.  For instance, if you are a clean freak and so is one child but the other one isn’t, refrain from saying, “Why can’t you help clean up like child A?”  Or if you love to go biking but only one child has that same drive then be sure to hold yourself back and not say, “Why don’t you like biking? Child B loves it!”  When you embrace their differences rather than point them out and get frustrated, they will embrace their differences as well!


When we found out that we were having twins, I was shocked beyond belief.  The pregnancy was difficult (not for medical reasons, but for anxiety reasons) and the first 3-6 months were really rough.

But then, the sun started shining and I began to realize how lucky we are to have twins.  The disclaimer here is that twins are tricky no matter what and that I’m not discounting anyone’s experience with multiples, I’m just saying that there are certain advantages to having twins.  And here they are:


1) Twins learn how to share from day one.  

Breastfeeding was very important to me and with a ton of support, I was able to breast feed my boys for 8 months and 13 months.  For the first month or so, I tandem fed them which meant that they both breast fed at the same time.  It was very difficult to do that and once the feedings got quicker, I shifted to feeding them one at a time.  So from very, very early on, they heard me say (and watched me) as I gave them one turn at a time.  And trust me when I say that the one who had to wait wasn’t always happy, but hey, guess what, that’s life and it is much easier to learn at 3-4 months old rather than at 2 years old. 

So if you only have one baby, play games where each of you takes a turn from when they are wee ones.  You can have a fun toy and play with it for a minute or two while saying “my turn!” before you give it to them.  Continue this daily, “My turn for ‘eye spy!'” or “My turn for a bite of applesauce” so that they have the built in skill of taking turns. 

2) The father has to take a lead role from day one.

Moms take on too much.  That is part of being a mom originating from the days of living in a cave.  One of our goals as mothers is to delegate and give the father some jobs.  But we don’t do that well because we think we can do it just a little bit better.  However, if you have multiples, then there is no way that you can physically handle two babies all the time.  The father has to change diapers, feed the babies with bottles, cook, clean, etc.

It is so so difficult to give up some of these jobs but it is crucial for the whole family and especially for the child to have the father take a big role in raising children.  Even having just one child is very difficult at the beginning but if dad takes care of the bath or the bedtime story, or one feeding, then that is one less thing you have to do and everyone will benefit from it.

3) You start them on a schedule from day one.

There are lots of differing opinions on scheduling children and in this case I’m referring more to a routine, but also to a schedule of sorts.  For the first three months, I fed them when they were hungry but I fed both of them at the same time.  So from the beginning I felt comfortable molding their schedule a bit so that as they got older and I did start a stricter feeding and eating schedule, it wasn’t weird for any of us.

There are some days when I feel a little jealous when I see cute kids running and playing at a friend’s house at 9pm because my boys have never been awake after 8 pm but at the same time, I love love love that when 7/ 7:30 comes around, I put the boys in their beds and they fall asleep.  This is because of routine, this is because of a schedule. 

If you only have one child and want to build good sleep habits, resist the urge to have them follow your schedule. Instead, build your life around their schedule.  It’s not forever and it sets them up for good life-long habits.  Feed them at about the same times every day, put them down for nap in their crib at the same time every day and put them to bed at the same time every night.  It really does pay off in the long run. 

4) Twins learn problem solving skills from early on

This one is similar to reason #1 but is different in that I’m really just saying that children learn how to “argue” at a young age.   People ask me all the time if they fight a lot, and the answer is “Yes, if they are tired or hungry, they are very whiny and irrational, but otherwise, they are constantly using their problem solving skills.”  What does that mean?  It means that they are always negotiating, helping each other, finding solutions with each other and so on.  What it means and that they are each other’s social teachers and the lessons never end.

If you only have one child, it is good to do lots of play dates and allow the children to find conflict.  Don’t solve the problem yourself just to avoid the problem. Instead, help them solve the problem.  Offer solutions, give ideas and see what they come up with.  Non-verbal toddlers can learn lots of problem solving skills if you allow them to experience conflict. 

5) The ubiquitous “two for one” (but it’s true)

I hear this so often that it is annoying, but it is also true.  Pregnancy is rough, birth is rough and if you only have to do it once to get two children, then it is a real advantage.

Twins are the best thing in the world!

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At some point, every parent is going to come across this problem.  Even if you only have one child, they are going to have a conflict with another child.  And if you have two or more children, it may be a daily issue.

Some parents have asked me, “What do I do about fighting?”  Every situation is unique but conflict is inevitable and once we realize that and teach children how to resolve problems rather than try to eliminate all conflicts, we will all be better off.

At a very young age (starting at 12-18 months), children can start to do simple problem solving.  The most common reason for fighting is that both children want the same item.  Many parents will approach the situation by saying, “Stop fighting and share!”  This approach, however, does nothing to solve the problem or to teach children how to manage the conflict.

So the ideal response is to teach the children how to resolve it on their own.

First, mention the problem:  “What is the problem? You both want the blue truck.”

Second, give the children the language to advocate for themselves:  “Tell your sibling that you are using it right now.” (This can be done with sign language for really little ones which is a hand patting the heart which means “Mine” or “My turn”).

Third, give them the language to problem-solve: “What are some solutions? You can ask for a turn when they are done” (again the child can pat their heart or say “My turn” depending on the developmental level).

Once the parameters are set on who’s turn it is now and who will get a turn soon, then you can guide the conversation in what ever direction works for that situation.  It may be, “What do you want to do while you wait for your turn?”  Or it may be finding a timer so that the turn taking is more concrete.

If the children are older and can help create solutions for the problem, then you can enlist them in finding one or two solutions each.  At the beginning, they will need coaching such as “One solution might be to have one sibling have a turn and then the other sibling have a turn.  Another solution might be to have Mom remove the toy from play.”

So your job at the beginning is to mediate the conflict resolution so that in a couple months (years) or so, they can do it on their own.


The second most common type of fighting is physical wrestling, pushing, hitting, etc.  Again, the most common response is for the parent to step in and end the altercation but if there isn’t an immediate danger, then it is more important to teach the children how to manage the conflict.  

Oftentimes, children like to play rough and you don’t want to step in.  You can monitor from the side to make sure no one gets hurt and then remind them that if one child says “stop!” or “no!” then that is the time to stop.  Remind the child who is probably whining or fussing that it is up to them to say “stop” or “no” and as soon as that word is said, it needs to be honored.  

So if the other child doesn’t stop, then they are not being safe and they are not listening which means that they need to be immediately removed from play whether in the shape of a time-out, or whatever works for your family.

Again, both of these scenarios take much longer than a quick, “No more fighting” but they give children more tools for dealing with conflict once an adult isn’t around.


hiking snow

Once our babies are born, we don’t dare to think of all the things that could happen to them.  We have dreams and nightmares at night of these fears of them getting hurt.  We try to protect them any way we can.

But that in itself, harms the child.

Humans need to push themselves, we need to take risks.

For a couple of years, I worked at a school in rural Costa Rica where 90% of the children were local Ticos and the other 10% were from other parts of the world.   In those two years, there were five accidents (broken bones, nothing too serious) and four of those accidents were from foreign children.

Why is it that 10% of the population had 80% of the accidents?  The answer is that the local children had been taking risks since they were very young.  The children there are allowed to play in the forest, climb trees, dig huge holes, play with big sticks, etc, while children here are gently reminded that they can’t do that because it isn’t safe.

But as children grow, the risks get bigger, and they often don’t know how to manage them, because they have never been given the chance.

Another important aspect to risk taking is allowing the child to find their limit.  This means that the child is more than welcome to climb something if they can do it all by themselves.  That also means that they can get out of the situation by themselves as well.  My boys will climb up on a rock and then ask me to help them down and my response is usually, “If you can get up, you can get down.”  It takes them a little bit to figure out how to extract themselves from the pickle they got themselves into, but they do it, and feel great afterwards.

Since they are young, I am there spotting them, but since there are two of them, I’m not always able to be within inches of them.  Because of this, they have learned that I won’t always be able to catch them.  They have actually learned to fall somewhat gracefully.

Studies have shown that children who take physical risks are more likely to take cognitive (academic) risks as well.  So this little change of allowing your children to take risks will have long term positive outcomes.