Over the previous six months or so, my six-year-old daughter’s jealousy to my two-and-a-half-year-old son had been very evident, showing up in name calling and unkind words.
I had made extra effort to give her more Special Time and one-to-one time and to enhance our connection. I had also used Playlistening to help her to vent some of the name-calling (making a game out of calling each other and inanimate objects these unkind names in a silly and exaggerated way).
However, she had rarely expressed any underlying hurt feelings relating to this jealousy.
Sibling Rivalry Breaks Out Over New Toys
I collected her from school and we had about twenty-five minutes of Special Time together. We went to collect my son from his Grandma’s house, and my daughter became very upset when she realised we were not going into Grandma’s house and that Grandma was bringing my son to meet us at the car.
She sat in her car-seat and cried. I stood next to her and leaned into the car and listened to her upset. I noticed that even as she cried that she seemed to take in my attentive listening more than usual. Quite often I feel she is a bit resistant to it, but this time she held my hand a little as if she was accepting my comfort.
Grandma had bought my son a toy windmill that day and once home my daughter became extremely upset that she hadn’t been bought one too. I listened to her upset about that but then she began to try and grab the windmill from my son.
She wanted to take it from him and have it for herself.
When Anger Flares, Maintain Calm
I had to set the limit that she could not take this from him. I told her kindly “I can’t let you do that, it's his windmill. I know you want one too. I know that this is really hard for you.”
My daughter is very determined and I knew from past experience that she would persist and persist. I had to hold her back as kindly, gently and lovingly as I could.
It was physically challenging. She is strong and I had to pull her away and sometimes lift her away from my son and his windmill. She started saying she would bite my arms and she leaned in as if to do so. I moved my arm away and managed to keep hold of her.
As I re-stated the limit, I remained calm and loving. “I can’t let you take his windmill.” In empathising with her, I was able to help her to face the feelings more directly, while saying things like “You really want it, but it isn’t yours, it’s his,” helped her to release more underlying feelings.
The physical struggle went on for a while. At times, I briefly turned it into a bit of a game. I think the light-heartedness and playfulness helped to reassure her that I wasn’t going to be harsh or punitive. It reassured her that I was in a loving state towards her.
She started sobbing and saying that everyone loved her brother more than her. I was able to reassure her and tell her repeatedly how much I and everyone love her.
It felt like she was expressing deep upset that hadn’t been expressed in this way before.
After a while, she started to play with a train track that was on the floor.
Once a Cry is Heard, Things Get Brighter
Later, I heard her and her brother start playing together. She asked him very lightly and gently whether she could sometimes borrow his windmill to play with, like the way she lets him do with some of her toys.
He said yes, and then they were engrossed in harmonious play together for about half an hour until dinnertime.
Later on that evening, just after my daughter and I had shared a tender cuddle, she apologised to her brother in a really authentic and heartfelt way for scaring him earlier on. That was unusual for her because she doesn’t often apologise.
And for the following few days, they played particularly well together and I hardly noticed any meanness from her to him.
How This Approach Works
My daughter sensed, following Special Time and the episode of Staylistening in the car, that she could release the deeper painful feelings about her brother that she hadn’t really expressed before.
She sensed that I was in a good mental state to help her to do this. Setting the limit kindly, warmly and empathically helped her to release these hitherto unexpressed difficult feelings that had been driving her unkind behaviour towards her brother for many months.
Get More Help With Sibling Rivalry
This post on 15 Playful Ways To Solve Sibling Rivalry has lots of fun things to try
Watch 7 Sibling Rivalry Tips for Parents for more ideas
Read this chapter from our book on Special Time and learn how individual attention helps siblings be kinder to each other
Meet The Instructor
Kirsty Pakes is currently training to be a Hand in Hand Instructor. She is also a Clinical Psychologist and is passionate about promoting emotional well-being in families, schools and wider society. She is based in the UK. Contact Kirsty through email.