Sibling Rivalry

Written by Christy Whitman October 27, 2011

Our boys, Alex and Maxim, are sixteen months apart. When Maxim (the younger one) started getting more mobile by crawling, he would start to play with Alex’s toys. At this point in time, Alex never had to worry about anyone taking his toys or having to share them with anyone. Maxim wanted to discover Alex’s toys as well.

Alex started getting mad and on many occasions, he would push, bite, shove or even hit Maxim when he started to take his toys. With children, the toys represent more than just toys. Until your children are around age eight, they are still energetically attached to you. When another sibling comes into the picture, the energy is dispersed among the children. The toys represent an extension of that. To children, they are feeling that it is not just their toys that are being taken away, but it is mommy’s love and attention that is being taken away, too.

As parents, it is important to teach our children at a very young age to share, and that their siblings are on their team. Their siblings are their friends for life.

A woman who owns a daycare told me that at age two, children are incapable of sharing, and that I should buy two of the same of everything. I knew intuitively that this is not true.

Whenever Alex would not share with Maxim and would become angry with him, we would put Alex in timeout and explain to him that he needs to share with his brother. But more importantly we would tell him, “Maxim is your brother. He is your best friend for life. You are supposed to look out for one another and love one another. Do you ever see Mommy or Daddy hit or shove each other?” He would say no. “Do you ever see Mommy or Daddy push or bite one another?” He would say no. “We are loving to one another in this family. You can calmly tell Maxim that you are playing with something and give him something else to play with, or you can play with him.”

Time after time of putting him in timeout and explaining all of this to him, thinking nothing was getting in, I walked into the playroom and they were playing cars together.

I was so proud as a mommy to witness this with my two boys.

The next week, I bought Alex a train from the Thomas the Train line. He wanted two trains. I made him a deal. I said, “I will get Spencer for you, and I will get Charlie for Maxim, but you have to share.”

He went home so excited to play with his new train, and then he wanted Maxim’s. I explained that this one was Maxim’s, and that he needed to share. If he plays with Charlie, then Maxim gets to play with Spencer. He started crying and acting greedy, not wanting to give anything to Maxim and wanting to keep both to himself.

I put Alex in timeout, and I took away the trains. After getting him out of timeout, I explained to him that if he can’t share, then he can’t play with them. He said he understood. The next day, when it was time to play in the playroom with the trains, he made sure to give a train to Maxim while he played with his. He was even showing Maxim how to put the trains on the train tracks. Another proud moment as parents.

Just when you think things are not sinking in . . .
Your children surprise you.


  1. At a very early age, explain what sharing is and why it is important. “All of these toys are both of yours. He deserves to play with these toys as well. It is nice to play with your brother. When you are grateful for what you have, you receive more. How does it feel when you share something? How does it feel to you when I share with you?” At a small age, they probably will only be able to say “good,” but just get them in touch with how it feels. When they are not sharing, ask if that feels good or not to just keep the toys to him or herself. They probably will say, “Yes, it feels good to have them to myself.” But they can’t understand how to communicate. It will sink in.
  2. When the other child does not share and actually hits or hurts his/her sibling, put the child in timeout.
  3. After you follow the procedure below, reinforce sharing whenever you can. When we have something that they want (piece of apple, pen and paper, etc.), we say to them, “See, doesn’t it feel good to have someone share with you? Do you like it when Mommy and Daddy share?”
  4. Keep repeating. It will get through.

Timeout procedure:

  1. When your child does something like hurt a sibling, immediately put the child in timeout. Sit the child in a corner or a designated place. Tell your child why you are putting him/her in timeout, and that he/she needs to stay there for “X” amount of time. (This is based on the child’s age. Alex is two, so he stays in timeout for two minutes.)
  2. After the time has elapsed, go up to the child again and tell the child why he/she was in timeout.
  3. Have the child give you or the other child an apology.
  4. Give hugs and kisses (that is my favorite part). Once Alex told me he wanted to go to timeout so that he could have a kiss and a hug.

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