Sunday September 25th 2022

Sibling rivalry tips

Parenting expert Claire Marketos has kindly shared her latest article with us – an answer to a reader’s question about how to deal with intense sibling rivalry emanating from a three-year-old towards her baby sister.

Please visit Claire’s site for more inspired parenting! It’s at – dedicated to giving children what they need to be happy and successful.


Dear Claire

I have a nearly four-year-old little girl.  When I say that she is out of hand, she screams and shouts and me in frustration, I think.  When I try to put her in time out, she laughs at me and says she will not go, I then take her to time out and she starts crying.  I think that the issue is that she is a little jealous of the baby.  The baby is now 10 months old.  She says in one breath that she loves her baby sister and then will walk pass her two minutes later and push her over or pinch her or do something to hurt her.  When the baby was born I was very conscious of making my older daughter feel special and not feel left out in anyway. My three-year-old can start to cry at the drop of a hat and if she does not get her own way has a terrible temper.
Please could you offer me some advice on how to deal with this.  I want her to love her sister. Some friends have told me that once the younger one is able to relate and actually play with the older one things will improve then.
Please please help.  She has become so cheeky and it really does hurt me, she does not take me seriously at all.  I do not give into her, and I do stick to what I originally said.
Please help

Sibling rivalry occurs in most families especially with young children who are still learning to regulate their emotions and learning to be empathetic. Whether sibling rivalry becomes a problem depends on how well the parents manage their children’s behaviour. In addition, your eldest daughter should be learning to use words to express her feelings rather than expressing them physically by crying.

It is important to continue making your eldest child feel special  as you did when the baby was born by arranging a lot of one on one dates, both with you and her dad separately, where you go out and do something fun together. Using punishments such as time out only pushes her away at a time when she is angry and frustrated and needs you to hold her and acknowledge her feelings. Read my article ‘Throw out the time out’ on my website. When she is upset and angry it is important to give her the words to express herself: “I can see you’re very angry. It’s not fair. You really want  a cookie right now. I hear how cross you feel. I’ll sit with you. Let’s do an angry dance, draw an angry picture. Let’s take the dog for a walk just you and me. “  When she is calm talk about different things you and her dad do when you are angry to help you. Also identify the triggers that make her angry  and want to cry and find ways of meeting her needs before her outbursts. Look for signs of boredom, tiredness, hunger, over stimulation and needing attention.

Teaching her to be empathic, that is put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand how they are feeling will prevent her from hurting her sister as it is hard to cause someone pain if you understand how they feel.  Encourage her to comfort her little sister when the youngest is crying and let them sometimes have a ‘sleep over’ together where they get to sleep with each other to encourage closeness.

Avoid getting into power struggles with your eldest child over small things. Think carefully before you say no to her and find ways of saying yes. If she wants a chocolate biscuit for example and it’s nearly supper time either give her supper or let her choose from a drawer of healthy snacks.

Other things you can do to help your eldest is climb into bed with her for 10 minutes before she wakes up giving her cuddles and telling her how much you love her. Do this again when she goes to bed at night. Let her have an important job in the family which she enjoys doing and which makes her feel grown up and special. Let her feel as though she has control over her life by letting her make choices as to which clothes she’d like to wear, choose lunch from a range of healthy meals, the activities you’ll do as a family on the weekend and so on.

Be vigilant and always stop your eldest if she hurts the baby by teaching her empathy an explaining to her that that is not something you do in your family. If she continues being angry over time, crying, and hurting her sister, it may be beneficial to take her to a child psychologist for play therapy.

Inspired Parenting,  South Africa’s finest parenting website offers free advice and information to parents and educators on all parenting/educational aspects. Visit

Claire Marketos, a qualified teacher with an honours degree in Psychology has been working with children for over 23 years and has identified what children need to be happy and successful. Phone and face-to-face consultations available. Contact her at 083 457 3667 or