Taming Toddler Sibling Rivalry

Smack. Big A starts from his position in my arms. Our heads swivel about. My youngest son is now howling and attempting to pull Big A from my lap. Welcome to a Tuesday afternoon.

Big A has recently started school and has been engaging more at home since. Josh and I absolutely love this development. Little A? Not so much. His sibling rivalry kicked in quickly.

I understand it’s a developmental phase. I don’t want to discourage Little A’s affection, but I need him to share. There’s no way to make both boys happy all the time. But I wanted to find a way to make each of my children feel heard and seen enough to not feel threatened by my time with the other.

I consulted the internet, other parents/professionals, and good old trial and error for some answers. Armed with these techniques, we’re all handling toddler sibling rivalry a little better.

Little A trying to pull Big A off of my lap.

Set Ground Rules

Our toddlers hear some variation of, “it’s ok to be mad, it’s never ok to hurt anyone,” several times a day. They absolutely understand that hitting, biting, kicking, etc, is off-limits. If those behaviors are observed, the boys are immediately separated and disciplined.

Then Get Out

Does everyone know the ground rules? Cool, don’t intervene unless they’re being broken.

Sometimes, I’ll poke my head around the corner and find the boys rolling all over each other. They could be laughing. Maybe they’re wrestling over a toy. But unless there’s some kind of violence being committed, I stay out of it. They’ll figure it out or they won’t. I ain’t the sharing police. I’m the don’t hurt each other police.

kids stickers

Practice Positive Ways To Get Attention

Ignore the screeching and the pulling. This is hard for me, as it’s so very annoying. I mutter repeatedly through gritted teeth,

This is not the way to get my attention.

Later, when we’re all calmer, I show the boys ways that will absolutely get my attention. My oldest son is autistic and nonverbal; we practice signing mama and tapping me. Big A will say “mama” sometimes, I encourage that when he does. I also try to recognize his special grunts or signs of distress that I know require attention.

Little A will say “mama” (though he prefers sign) all day. I reward him with attention when he verbalizes or signs rather than screams.

taming toddler sibling rivalry pinterest graphic


Name Sibling Rivalry

When jealousy rears its head, we talk about it. I can not expect the boys to work on their behaviors surrounding jealousy (screeching, pulling, hitting, etc) if they do not understand what jealousy is.

When Little A acts out because I’m paying attention to Big A, I first ignore him. I try not to let his actions deter me from attending to Big A. But I will talk about what Little A is doing and why, “You’re feeling jealous and mad that Big A is getting Mama’s attention. It’s ok to feel that way but it’s not ok to…” etc, ad nauseam.

Teach Siblings To Share

Sharing sucks and it’s hard. I’m thirty-six and I hate sharing. Sharing is not an innate skill and we can’t expect tiny humans with no impulse control to pull it off. Sharing has to be taught, early and often.

The A-Team and I spend a lot of time taking turns. I’ve learned to time everything: how long each boy plays with a toy, hugs me, looks at the cat. The timer becomes this neutral third party, “Aw, man, I wouldn’t want to hand over the dump truck either, but the timer went off. What you gonna do?”

When we play with blocks, Little A and Big A take turns stacking. When we bake, the boys take turns stirring. I try to turn as many things into turn-taking activities as possible.

Schedule One-on-One Time

Blocking individual time with each child helps some. Little A gets the whole morning now that Big A is in school, so I don’t have to plan that. It’s more making sure Big A gets his time. I try to plan some alone time with him once a week, rather a weeknight or over the weekend.

Megan and Big A
Mother-Son Date with Big A

Make Sibling Books

I saw this delightful tip on Messy Motherhood.

In this season of meltdowns, toddler siblings can forget that they truly do enjoy spending time together. Amanda made these darling sibling books to remind her children of their enjoyment of each other.

“Get over here!”

How do you deal with sibling rivalry? Tell me all your tips! Did you find this article helpful? Share it!

Happy sibling bonding!


Megan Signature


Pin Me!

taming toddler sibling rivalry pinterest graphic

Picture of Megan


Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up and get exclusive content not shared anywhere else!