Sibling Rivalry: The Magic Trick That Stops It Instantly
By Stephanie Gallagher
It's a familiar scene: Kids screaming at each other,
complaining that, "He got a bigger piece of pie," or
"She got to stay up an hour later last night."
When sibling rivalry rears its ugly head, what do
you do? Try to reason with the kids? Scream, threaten or
punish them? Ignore it and run for cover?
None of these methods is very effective for very
long. But I've discovered a tactic that works every time.
It really is guaranteed to end sibling battles, almost
instantaneously. The only downside is it requires a bit of patience
on your part.
The trick is understanding that it doesn't matter
what the kids are arguing about, the real battle is for your
attention. Really. They could be screaming at the top of their
lungs over who gets to play with a certain toy. They could be
red-faced and foaming at the mouth over who got to sit in the
favorite chair. It doesn't matter what they're arguing about. What
they're really saying is, "Mom, I want more of your attention.
I want to know you love me."
Understand this, and you're 80 percent of the way to
resolving all sibling battles. So here's how to resolve the battles: Try to catch
them before the argument escalates to the point where one or both
kids need to be reprimanded. If you can't do that, wait for the next time. There
always is a next time, isn't there?
Make it clear that you aren't taking sides
Now try to discern which child is feeling the need
for attention most. It will typically be the child who started it,
though that's not always easy to figure out. Turn to that child first and say, "Look, I can
see you're upset. I'm wondering if maybe you need some more
attention from me. Can I give you a hug?" (Or rub your back or
throw the football around or whatever you do when you give your kids
attention.) When that child is calm, repeat with the other
Your goal is to let your kids know that:
You understand they need your attention; and
You accept them; and
You aren't going to judge them for needing or
wanting your love.
Depending on how old the kids are and how long the
rivalry has lasted, you may hear a little sarcasm. But I promise
you, there's a soft vulnerability underneath those barbs. If you can
ignore the sarcasm and keep offering more attention, you'll be
amazed how quickly the arguments disappear.
Giving them attention doesn't mean you have to be at
their beck and call for the rest of the day. It may mean you give
them hugs and kisses. It may mean sitting and talking with them. Or
it may just mean sitting quietly and playing a game of their choice
for a few minutes.
When They Both Want Your Attention at Once
It helps if you warn them that you'll have to take
turns giving each child individual attention. I handle this in a
really straightforward way. I just say something like, "Listen, I can see
you both want my attention now. And honestly, you both deserve it.
(That's the best line I've come up with yet!)
I really want to give both of you the attention you
deserve, but I'm only human. So how about if I sit over here and
talk with you first, then I'll play a game with you...and so
This also works really well when there's a new baby
in the house. Obviously, if you're in the middle of feeding,
changing or bathing the baby, you can't give the older one(s) the
attention they want.
So just say as sympathetically as possible,
"You know what? I bet you want a hug right now, don't
you?" Or, "Could you use some mommy time?" Or,
"Does it seem to you like the baby is getting all my
attention?" Then say, "You deserve my attention, too. And I
want to give it to you. Right now, I can't because I have to feed
the baby. But as soon as I'm finished I'm going to...[give you a
great big hug, play Candy Land with you, etc.]
Is This Really Guaranteed to Work?
Yes, but, of course, you have to put it into
I am the first to admit that when I'm tired, hungry,
cranky or PMSish (or worse, postpartumish!), I just can't bother
with this trick. I mean, geez, even Barney would get PMS if he were
a woman (and not a make-believe character)! So don't expect the
battles to stop instantaneously and never arise again.
Plus, when the kids are tired and cranky, it doesn't
matter how much attention you give them, they're not going to
respond to anything but food and sleep. Understand that, too.
The reason this trick is guaranteed to work because
it's based on understanding that the root of all sibling rivalry is
a battle for your attention. Even if you do nothing other than
understand that, and accept that all kids need attention (probably
more than you have to give), you're 80% of the way there.
Stephanie Gallagher is
the author of several parenting books and creator of "Mommy
Merry Go Round," the hilarious new online movie that's taking
the motherhood community by storm! See it today at