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Sibling Rivalry in Toddlers

Toddlers might look sweet and innocent, but they have the same needs and desires as older children. They want your attention and they want to feel special. Quarrels with siblings are a common occurrence, but you don't have to accept them as a fact of life. Gently nudge your toddlers toward peaceful cohabitation. These early lessons will pay off later in close sibling relationships.

Lack of Social Skills

Sharing, taking turns and getting along is hard for anyone. After all, imagine how you'd feel if a co-worker or neighbor wanted to borrow your favorite sweater or shoes. Even adults have trouble sharing sometimes. Toddlers, in particular, are likely to fight with siblings simply because they lack the social skills to deal with the inevitable daily conflicts.

"Toddlers are primed for hitting, biting, grabbing, and screaming because they don't yet have a full command of expressive language or the ability to tolerate frustration and delay gratification," says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based child and family psychologist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent." Give your little ones an extra dose of love and patience. At the same time, model how to ask for a turn or share. In time, toddlers learn more acceptable conflict resolution strategies.

RELATED: Activities to Keep Siblings From Fighting


If you have more than one toddler or a toddler and a baby, you've got your hands full. Just meeting basic needs can be a challenge, yet toddlers sometimes fight as a way to gain your attention. Try to spend time every day with each child, even if this means that housework remains undone. Snuggle and read a book together or play for a few minutes in the yard. These small moments help children feel loved and understood, which in turn reduces their need to compete with each other. Avoid making comparisons and try to appreciate each child's individual strengths.

Teach Empathy

When the fists fly, try to curb the impulse to respond with a swift spanking or scolding. Instead, teach toddlers to recognize the damage they've caused and help them find a solution, suggests Salley Schmid, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Waco, Texas.

After an incident, you can say something along the lines of, "Look at Jessica's face. She's crying. You really hurt her. What can you do to help her feel better?" Help your toddler find a solution, such as giving the other child a hug, saying, "I'm sorry," or getting an ice pack. Even toddlers can learn empathy, which encourages them to develop self control.

RELATED: Parental Involvement in the Disputes of Siblings

Consistent Routines

Toddlers lack the emotional development to exercise self-control or articulate their needs. When they're hungry or tired, even the most amicable little one can turn into a terror. Try to keep a predictable schedule, when possible, to eliminate squabbles brought on by fatigue or hunger. Most toddlers don't like change, another common cause of fights and tantrums, says Dr. Deb Moberly, a University City, Mo.-based early childhood expert, former associate professor and founder of Children First, a consulting service for parents, teachers and childcare workers. "Toddlers need transition warnings, such as, 'In 5 minutes, we're going to clean up the toys and get ready for bed.'"


Bored toddlers are a sure recipe for trouble. Keep a few simple activities on hand to occupy little hands -- a kitchen drawer full of safe, but interesting gadgets, cups and bowls, simple puzzles or craft dough. Keep a close eye on toddlers and intervene when conflicts start to brew. Offer another activity to divert a toddler's attention from a potential fight. Toddlers don't mean to cause mischief; a good offense is usually your best defense in defusing sibling rivalry.

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