Sibling Rivalry: Three Year Old Mean Behavior

Question: When a three year old kicks his six month old baby brother in the face how do you deal with the three year old? Is it a bad sign?

Answer: Sibling rivalry is very common in all families and can often be expected with many older siblings when a new child comes into the family. This does not mean that the older child has something wrong with him or her. There are some really good ways to deal with this type of behavior that also helps to strengthen the relationship between the two children.

My first recommendation is to never leave the children alone together. Any child under the age of 5 should never be left alone with a younger sibling. Parental supervision should occur at all times when the children are in the same room together.

Also, do not punish or scold a child for the aggressive behavior towards the other child. This can actually make the problem worse. When a child is punished harshly or scolded for aggression towards a sibling, the other child ends up becoming more angry and resentful towards the sibling. This is because they end up blaming the sibling for the punishment instead of understanding it was their own behavior. This results in more aggression towards the sibling, thus becoming a vicious cyle.

When a sibling is aggressive or mean towards his/her brother/sister, simply say, "Oh, that is so sad, I guess you will have to play in the other room by yourself." Remove the offending sibling and put them in an isolated room with different toys. In essence you are putting them in a time out, but you are not using it in a punitive manner that will make them more angry towards the sibling.

You may stay in that room while he/she remains calm. However, if he/she gets upset, simply say again, "Oh, that is so sad, I guess I will have to leave until you are calm."

When he/she calms down go back in, give him/her a hug, and you may allow him/her to come back to the same room if calm. Repeat as many times as needed until the child interacts appropriately with the sibling.

Set aside special one on one time every day with the offending child in another room to ensure that the child is getting enough individual attention. Tell the child it is your very special time together because you love him/her so much.

When you have the children in the same room together, model and encourage gentle behavior towards the younger sibling. This may be gently caressing the child's arm, gently patting him/her on the back, or interacting with the child using a toy.

Strongly reinforce the older child's appropriate behavior with the sibling, such as "That is so nice and gentle. I like it when you play nice with little sis/bro! I am so proud of you for being such a great big brother/sister."

Try to give more attention to the three-year-old sibling when they are in the same room together and tend to the three-year-old sibling's needs first, then the younger sibling's needs. The older sibling is more likely to remember a longer wait than the younger.

Click here to read or post comments

Return to Ask a question.

Sibling rivalry

by Maria

Question: Our 6 year old puts a pillow over 9 month old brother's face and he also throws toys at his face/hear, holds him up to help him walk, then suddenly drops him carelessly. Talking to him does not change his behavior. Time out does not change it either. What can we do?

Answer: In my experience with siblings, it is not a good idea to punish one sibling for being aggressive towards the other. I believe this actually makes sibling rivalry worse as the sibling that gets punished will blame the sibling for their punishment and not their own behavior, thus causing them to want to be even more aggressive towards that sibling.

The best thing you can do is keep them apart unless you can directly supervise and the older child is being appropriate. If he does show any signs of aggression towards the sibling simply say, "Oh that's so sad, I don't think you can play with him/her anymore today." Separate them as much as possible for the rest of the day.

Attempt to have special one on one activities everyday with the older child giving your undivided attention. This can help with any jealousy of not getting as much attention as he/she used to get prior to the sibling.

Whenever the older child does anything nice for the younger sibling, really give a lot of praise saying, "Wow! You are such a good big brother/sister!" "He/she is so lucky to have such a wonderful big brother/sister." Avoid negative comments whenever possible. This really helps develop a more positive relationship between the two.

Also, always tend to the older child's needs first. I know this sounds a bit strange, but the younger child won't remember at that age that they had to wait an extra 10 minutes to eat. The older child will and it can negatively affect the relationship causing resentment.

I have found these tips to work really well for my own children who are almost 5 years old and actually 9 months old as well. When the older child gets a bit aggressive (usually just playing too rough and not intentional) I say, "Oh that is so sad, no more playing with him today." My older child's response is usually, "Noooooo! I wan't to play with him. He's my best bud in the whole world Mom. Please can I still play with him?"

This is a rare occurrence and for the most part he is a great big brother, so I know it's possible for you too. Good luck!

Click here to post comments

Return to Ask a question.

Dealing with aggression by 5 yr-old girl toward 3 yr- old brother

by Andy
(Miami, Fl)

Question: What response do you recommend to our 5 yr-old daughter when she acts violently (hitting and scratching) our 3 yr-old son? We believe the aggression comes from the older child's attempt at being in control - eg of toys even if she is not playing with them.

I read the website's advice concerning a 3 yr-old and a baby in re telling the child that the behavior makes me sad and to put the child in another room - a time out but without causing resentment toward the baby. Does this advice apply between the 5 and 3 yr-old?

Answer: Yes, I would do the same for a 5 year old as well. If you scold or punish too harshly when it comes to sibling rivalry you risk the result of the sibling you scold developing even more resentment towards their brother or sister.

When it comes to fighting over toys, I think the best approach is to put the toy in a timeout. Simply say, "That is so sad, it looks like the toy is going to have to be in timeout until you can learn how to share with eachother." Regardless of who had it first. Also, tell them both that they are brother and sister and they should care about and love each other. No toy is worth hurting your brother/sister for.

Then if she continues to be aggressive towards him, have her play in a separate room saying "That is so sad, if you can't play nice with others then you are going to have to play by yourself. Let us know when you are ready to play nice." She should start to make better choices on her own as she sees it isn't as much fun to play in a room by herself. Just be sure to be consistent.

Also be sure to excessively praise any positive behaviors she shows towards her younger brother saying "That is so nice, you're such a good big sister!" Over time she should start to proudly fulfill that role.

Good Luck!

Click here to post comments

Return to Ask a question.

If you haven't already, be sure to download my eBook with the best tips and techniques for helping all children by clicking the image below!

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.