Member question:

Sibling rivalry is at a peak in my house. I try to separate them but they don’t want to be alone. They fight all the time so I end up taking technology away often (unless it’s school related). We have been depositing into their needs and attention bucket by doing special time daily but it doesn’t appear to be helping. What else can we do?


Rachel’s response:

I have some thoughts that will depend on what’s already happening. Can you tell me more about what you mean by “we’re doing special time daily”. You’re spending 1-on-1 time with each of them daily? (With the other sister not around? During that time, what is the other doing?)


Member response:

Yes, we call one on one time special time. [The other parent] and I spend time with each of them doing what they want and then we switch. It got worse today. I finally made them both be on separate floors in the house.


Rachel’s response:

If you’re doing 1-on-1 time but they’re still fighting, that just means there’s still a problem that hasn’t been solved.

Here’s what I’d consider:

*When any two humans are together for long periods of time, they fight. If we were with our spouses all day, we’d end up fighting more — especially if we were like kids who don’t have impulse control or conflict resolution skills. 😉 I think they need time apart.

*The fact that they don’t want to be apart may have a lot to do with a desire for something to do (engagement and stimulation). I’d come up with a list for each of them of things they want to do when they’re alone. I actually like your idea of putting them on separate floors in the house.

*I’d build “alone time” into each day. The more consistent you are, the more they know it’s coming, the less likely they are to resist.

Try giving them more separate time and if that still doesn’t help, we’ll need to figure out if the issue is related to needing help solving problems!

For better or worse, figuring out behavior is all about testing variables until you find the one that works. (The one that “works” will be the one that fills their needs and gives them the tools to be successful!)

Member response:

 I asked them tonight why they keep fighting and they said that they each are doing things that the other considers distracting. But it’s simple things like one is counting to 10 in Spanish and the other doesn’t want to hear it. Or one is looking at the other and they don’t want them to. Or one is working on LEGO and takes a piece from a house made over a week ago and the one who made it doesn’t want it to be touched even though it’s been there for a long time. Do you think this is more they need separate space or is it more needing problem solving? Thank you! I will try to come up with some kind of schedule where they get alone time and see if that helps.


Rachel’s response:

That’s helpful! It sounds like one is seeking stimulation and creating it by bothering the other… and then the one who is being bothered doesn’t know how to address it in a mature way (of course), so that turns into a fight. (And by the way, a fight does fill the “botherer’s” need for stimulation!)

Here’s action I suggest:

1.) I do still think they need to be separated for part of the day if at all possible. When they have time apart, being together can be more engaging. When they’re together all the time, seeing the other is no longer novel or engaging.

2.) Have a list of engaging things they can do… but keep in mind that it’s easier to bother a sister than to start a new task (there’s an executive functioning skill called “task initiation” that kiddos lack!)… so if they do start fighting, they may need help starting another activity.

3.) Teach them how to talk to each other (or what else they can do) when one is bothering the other.

Does this make sense based on what’s happening?