Sibling Rivalry: A New Tool To Try

parents Mar 21, 2017

This week has been a very emotional week for my three-year-old and I. She's been communicating a series of alarming messages; including the claim that her nanny hits her in the face!

After having time to gather more information from her during this week and after listening to input from those that are more experienced, I think the root cause of this new behavior is that she's jealous and confused about her eight-month-old sister.

The frequency of our three-year-old knocking over the baby, or other physical expressions of her frustrations, has been increasing recently. After trying different traditional responses that weren't working, I am excited to try a new tool: reflection-time.

"Reflection-Time" Is The New "Time-Out"

While talking to our new babysitter, Ms. T (who has been a teacher), about how to address the sibling rivalry, I asked about implementing "time-out." Ms. T said that she found time-outs to be very effective in her classroom. After telling her that I didn't like the sense of punishment that a time-out creates, she suggested the use of the term "reflection-time." I loved it.

So, this morning, I had the following conversation with my three-year-old:

"Y'know, for a long time before your sister came along, it was just you, me and daddy. And you got to have all of our attention, everyone's attention.

Now that your sister is here, it is very normal for you to not like her sometimes and to get mad at her sometimes because you have to share the attention. I know you always love her but you're not always going to like her. And that's okay. But, it's not okay for you to hurt her. And I think you hurt her sometimes because you're confused about new feelings that you don't have words for.

So, we're going to try something new. Whenever you hurt your sister, a grown up is going to pick you up and place you in the travel crib to let you think about why you hurt your sister."

Her face lit up because she's been wanting to dominate any item that her eight-month-old sister has been using, which has included the travel crib.

"You'll be left there for 3 minutes -- because you're 3 years old (I got a big smile from that explanation) -- to think about why you weren't nice to your sister. Then, after 3 minutes, the grown up is going to come back to talk to you about why you weren't nice to your sister."

She was smiling, nodding her head, and shaking her body with excitement.

"We want to help you understand why you're not nice to your sister sometimes and help give you the words to share why. Since you are feeling new things, it's normal for you to not know, but we want to help you learn. We all want to learn."

She was thrilled. She wrapped both arms around my neck to hug me tight (I had been carrying her while having this conversation), and was visibly excited by this new idea. We are as well! The grown ups get reflection-time too.

Other tips I heard that we'll be trying are below:

  • The minutes of reflection-time should not exceed the number of years old the child is.
  • They should each have things that they do not have to share with each other, even if it's just one thing each. It is very hard for siblings to have to share everything.
  • Limit the use of the word "share" and, instead, use the words "take turns."
  • Shower the older sibling with tons of attention when they are doing desirable things (like, being caring and gentle towards the younger sibling) and minimize attention (even negative attention) when they are doing less desirable things.
  • Highlight special privileges that the older sibling has that the younger one doesn't. For example, make a big deal of the older sibling being able to have a later bedtime than the younger one.

I'll keep you posted on our lessons learned. And, if you have any tips, please share them below!

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