Motherhood

A Surprising Way to Help Siblings Get Along

A Surprising Way to Help Siblings Get Along

This spring, Anton and Toby have been arguing more than usual, and it’s making us a little nutty. So! I turned to Becky Kennedy, the amazing clinical psychologist and mother of three, and here’s the surprising advice she gave…

“Having a sibling is really, really hard” was the first thing Dr. Becky told me on the phone. And I nodded along, remembering the ups and downs I experienced while growing up in a family with three kids. “Sibling arguing is TOTALLY NORMAL,” she assured.

Next, I expected Dr. Becky to launch into the million ways siblings drive each other up the wall, but she actually stepped back and looked at the bigger picture. It all goes back to “attachment security,” she explained, which is essentially how safe and secure each child feels within the family. How seen do I feel? Do I have a place in this family? Do I feel appreciated for who I am? She continued: “Siblings are competitors to getting what a child feels is safe — a parent’s love and connection. As soon as a kid feels insecure in that way, his or her sibling becomes a threat. Conversely, the more a child feels safe and secure in those ways, the less a child looks at a sibling as a competitor and the more they look at the sibling as a playmate.”

Bottom line: When sibling rivalry is at a high, it’s actually a sign that a kid doesn’t feel secure or safe in his or her position in the family, especially with the parents. The more we do to let each kid feel valued and appreciated, the more quality time we spend individually with the kid, the more sibling relationships will improve.

(A side note, says Dr. Becky: “None of this is a parent’s fault. Just viewing it in that light gives us a ton of power. Oh, that’s amazing because I can impact a sibling relationship, and I don’t even need anything to happen between them.”)

After speaking with Dr. Becky on the phone, I was curious to learn more, so I watched her online workshop on sibling dynamics. (It has 60 minutes of teaching, followed by a 15-minute Q&A.) And here’s what jumped out at me.

The single biggest thing kids need to get along with their siblings is more one-on-one time with parents,” said Dr. Becky. “Ten minutes of one-on-one time with a parent does more for family peacefulness than anything else.”

She explained the rules:

1) Just you and your child. No partner, no other kids, no screens, no distractions.

2) Join your child’s world. Don’t direct the play. It’s your child’s choice.

3) Don’t ask your child any questions during those 10 minutes. (Asking questions is a position of power — even ‘What kind of tower are you building?’) Simply REFLECT (just describe what they’re doing) and MIRROR (e.g., you can build a tower next to them). Give them your full attention.

This past weekend, I took Dr. Becky’s advice and spent one-on-one time with Toby and then with Anton. And Alex did the same. And it already seems to be helping. Last night, bedtime was so calm — the boys were chatting and laughing, no yelling or squabbling at all. I almost teared up.

What do you think? How are your kids getting along these days? Have you tried one-on-one time with them? If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Becky offers workshops and has a new podcast. You can also find her on Instagram. (This isn’t a sponsored post, I’m just so grateful for her insights!)

P.S. Five sibling rivalry tips for younger kids, and Toby meeting Anton for the first time.

(Photo by Courtney Rust/Stocksy.)

  1. Stephanie says...

    In our house we call this “special play time” and as parents we’ve agreed that when they ask for it, we will say yes unless we absolutely can’t due to a work obligation. It gives my kids the ability to ask when they feel like they are needing connection and know that they won’t get rejected.

  2. Susan M. says...

    We will try this; it’s funny, this was advice for the toddler age-group. But with a 10/11 and 7/8 year old, one loses sight of this. I loved hearing how both parents did this. I will mention this to my partner, but I can tell I’ll be the one mostly doing this in the end.

    • Erika says...

      As I was reading this (I have a 3yo and 1yo), I was thinking “perfect, just keep doing the same thing forever,” check!

  3. Anna says...

    I have three kids (9, 6, 3) and am a single mother. I have no idea how I should ever find a way to spend 10 minutes with each of them alone… :((

    • Sage says...

      Anna, you’re doing a great job at something extremely difficult. This is “nice to know” advice that might work for specific situations. You’re caring for three humans, and I bet you’re doing an awesome job, even if your kiddos squabble & argue sometimes. Such is life. They’re lucky to have you!

    • I am right with you. I am also a single mom of a 10 and a 7 yo with ADHD and anxiety disorder who demands all my attention which leads to major sibling rivalry.

  4. M says...

    What a lovely post.

    I don’t have kids but shared this w a friend of mine who does, and her first reaction was, “Dr. Becky annoys me because she doesn’t caption her content.” I feel like w technology these days it would be a simple enough to do. My friend says she has written many times to ask for this but so far no go. Joanna, is this something you might be able to bring up? Is this something we could change? Thank you! :) M

    • Dr. Becky says...

      So glad I came on to see this! I’d love to hear more – my stories are all captioned, my IGTV has captioning turned on (it’s an IG setting; sometimes there are glitches and for some reason captions don’t come on, will research more on this), my workshops have all been re-uploaded with captioning. I’d love to hear more what I’m missing and will work on that from there! Thanks for the feedback.

    • Dr. Becky says...

      Just did some more research. Make sure your friend has captioning turned in for Instagram. That may be the issue!

  5. Lindsay says...

    Wow, this is very interesting. I have never thought of things this way, but my own recent experience with my children seems to bear it out. I hardly ever get one on one time with any of my three children, but on mother’s day each year I have a one-on-one date with each of them. In years past we’ve always done something that I find enjoyable that I think each child will like to, but this year I let them pick something they wanted to do. I just wanted to spend time with them so what we were doing was largely immaterial. Our one on one time was great, and as the article suggests, for the next several days their interactions with each other were much better. I would have never made the connection, I am going to incorporate this more than once a year, thanks for the insight!

  6. Jane says...

    Such a great post, I never thought of it that way.
    In addition, and as children get older, I’ve found it useful to leave them with a task. To go to the store together, pick up a sibling from a play date, walk the dog together. Something without me to run interference. They can be bickering like mad and I’ll send them to the store to buy ingredients for cookies and they come back chatting away. The way I see it is they’ll be around together longer than I will be and they need to get along.

  7. Kina says...

    This post is very insightful. I’m 28, one of eight children (seventh child), and can’t remember ever having one-on-one time with either parent as a kid. In hindsight, it was likely impossible given the size of our family and both parents working. There was so much sibling fighting and dysfunction that from the time I was a teen, I felt completely averse to ever becoming a parent. I don’t know if I’ll ever have children but if I do, I’ll try to remember what was shared in this post.

    • Emma says...

      Yes!!! I’m the oldest of 4 (and one of my siblings was born with a disability therefore requiring intense levels of attention) and our house was a nightmare growing up! My mom is so disappointed I don’t want kids but I don’t exactly have a ton of calm/happy memories from childhood! (through no one’s fault of course but that was our reality)

  8. Liz says...

    Is this the case for twins constantly fighting too? That they feel insecure or are their other dynamics? My 5 year old boys having been battling non stop for two years.😝😝😝😝

  9. Mary says...

    This is such a great post, COJ! We don’t have kids yet but I’m always thinking about how to parent well in the (hopefully near) future.

    I’d love to see a post about adult sibling relationships. My sister & I aren’t particularly close, for no particular reason. I do think my parents intervened too much in our arguments as kids & didn’t let us develop our own relationship *without* them being involved. But I’m not sure how to mend that now? Especially since our relationship is not something she & I ever discuss together.

  10. Carly says...

    I’m 22 and fought with my brother a ton growing up, and now sadly we are not close and don’t talk (although I still have some hope). I find posts like this and insights from Becky so interesting and helpful for understanding past relationships and even current ones with my family/parents. I’d love her (or anyone else’s) take on older sibling relationships.

  11. Sophie says...

    I love this! While I’m not a mom, I have a younger brother who I’m very close with. My mom has told me that when we were little she would make little competitions where my brother and I were on the same team against her. For example, she would see if my brother and I could fold a pile of laundry faster than her. That way we never competed against each other, only her! To this day my brother is my best friend and is still my team mate!

    • Robin says...

      I try to make my kids the “brothers team” whenever I can. And cheer them on. I think it helps. I’ve also been doing short runs (like, around the block max twice) with my older son which has been good 1:1 time for us.

  12. Kylie says...

    Dr. Becky and Cup of Jo are my two favorite people on the internet. I am so happy to see this post. Dr. Becky has changed the way I view parenting Please consider regular collaborations!!

  13. Theresa says...

    I found Dr. Becky on Instagram about a year ago. She is great and her information is amazingly accurate. I’ve attended her children’s anxiety workshop and it’s been awesome for me, my husband and supporting a child who has anxious moments. My 7 year old daughter is an only child (and I am an only child), but I think this advice is helpful for only children, too. We all get so busy and having that one on one time is so important and sometimes easy to forget!

  14. jdp says...

    THIS IS THE BEST ADVICE. when my sister and i were little, our parents divorced and we were actually raised by our dad. when we would visit our mom once a week and one weekend a month, we were vicious with each other, and i always had a gut feeling as to why — it wasn’t because we didn’t like each other, it’s because we were in ruthless competition (also, it must be said, with our stepdad) for the precious little time we had with our mother.

  15. Janik says...

    My two boys are students now but i would have loved to learn this when they were children!

  16. Jenna says...

    I found Dr. Becky on instagram when the pandemic started and WHOA!! Life changing!! I get something out of every post and putting her tips into practice has completely changed how I parent (and see myself and my children and spouse)! LOVE LOVE LOVE!

  17. Mary says...

    I actually had a Toby/Alex spotting while out and about this weekend! Haha weird comment and Of COURSE I didn’t say anything or bother them, but it weirdly felt like a celeb spotting. And it all came full circle : ) Such a great post!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Aww that’s so sweet!

  18. Emily says...

    I can’t stop thinking about Dr. Becky’s advice! Growing up, any one-on-one time I had with my mother (car trips, chores, whatever it was) was spent talking about my sister: her friends, her problems, her sports team, the list goes on. It was clear that she didn’t want to know much about my life, and it really did (and still does) sting. I’m still processing what I can now see as a boundaries issue, and I’m so glad to read in these comments that so many incredible CoJ readers are taking the time to really connect with their little ones. Grateful for this community!

  19. sarah says...

    Love this advice and it is something my husband and I strive to implement with our boy/girl twins.

    I’m the oldest of four and the only girl. On one hand, I’m thankful for my experiences because they made me very independent, but wow, today I don’t have a good relationship with either of my parents because the expectation for me growing up was to either help take care of my brothers or my parents weren’t able to be there for me because they were caring for my brothers. My mom laments that we don’t have the best sibling relationship now and I’m like, well, how could I be anything but resentful? It’s also still an issue because now as an adult, even if I need something, my parents are STILL busy helping out my ADULT brothers (my mom home schools all the grandchildren that came from one of my brothers). I recognize my parents don’t owe me anything, but it definitely is difficult not to be anyone’s favorite or priority.

    In my own family now, my husband and I strive to make sure our twins, who are opposite in every way, feel seen and heard and get one-on-one attention regularly. I’m also incredibly careful to never compare them and address their differences neutrally.

    • Lucy says...

      Sarah, I feel you. My story is different, but I can relate to the feeling of being overlooked on the basis of gender. I could be totally off-base here but it sounds to me like your parents favoured your brothers entirely on the basis of them being male. I can also understand the feeling of being shortchanged due to birth order — being the oldest usually means you get saddled with extra responsibilities like having to look out for/after your younger siblings — and not having any say in it is frustrating enough, but then not getting your own basic needs met by your parents is even rougher. It’s doubly sh!tty that this misogynistic double standard is persisting into your adulthood and well into the next generation with your nephews. I’m getting the sense here that you also resented being forced to become self-sufficient, because instead of being rewarded it was as if you wound up being punished for it. It’s not fair, and it sucks. I’m sorry your mom and dad never stopped to ask/care about what you needed from them, but at this point it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever have enough self-awareness (or motivation) to rectify this imbalance. I’m glad your own little family is much more healthy, and you’re mindful enough of this imbalance that you’re parenting your own kiddos with much more empathy, thoughtfulness and kindness.

      Coming from a culture that favours sons, I also had to make my peace with feeling intrinsically undervalued simply because I’m a girl. It’s so prevalent that my mom was actually conferred the “title” of my brother X’s mom — as in other mums in the neighbourhood addressed her as X’s mom — which meant that if she had never had a son, it would have been as if she didn’t exist as a mother, because having daughters like me wouldn’t have been enough to earn her that recognition. It’s messed up, I know. My brother got all sorts of privileges I never did, and it seemed like he always got away with blue murder, so we were never really close. But you know what, my mom’s lack of empathy for me made our relationship what it is (cold and distant), and now she has to lie in the bed she made. In the end, we reap what we sow, and this is just as true for our parents as it is for anyone else.

  20. Ruth says...

    This is great! I have a 2 year old and a 5 year old and they are starting to play together — I expect that arguments are not far behind. Love this and it makes perfect sense!

  21. China says...

    I have three kids who are generally very close but definitely go through bouts of more arguing, and I completely agree with this advice. During the pandemic my husband and I took part of a positive parenting course (hopefully we will finish it up over the summer!) and there is a huge emphasis on this. Also, just to remind you of your own advice, I remember you recommending the wonderful book Siblings Without Rivalry years ago and I find that it’s helpful to re-skim it occasionally as my kids get older and the issues change.

  22. Thank you. This is helpful to me. I’ve noticed that my children argue more sometimes but not at other times. It did make me think … eh, what happened and why? I will use the advice and see what happens.

  23. Anjali Singh Code says...

    Legit was like “Universe, is that you?” when I read this bc the sibling fighting has been building in this house like WHOA. My boys are 2.5 and 5 and they’ve been basically at home since the pandemic started and apart of me wondered if it was just boredom after all this time together, but this was so helpful. Thank you! Going to go ahead and download that podcast too.

  24. Jessica says...

    When I was 3.5 and my brother was born, my mom would turn to me when he cried and say, “the baby is crying and now I have to go feed him instead of reading another book with you (etc.). Should we just get rid of him?” I was so adamant that she should go to him because I wanted to keep him. I think giving me that feeling of agency within the family as a young child – feeling like having a brother was my choice and I had just as much say in it as my parents – gave us the strongest relationship I could ask for. 27 years later and I could probably count the number of fights my brother and I have had on one hand.

    • Kriww says...

      often try this to my son and his answer is always “oh yes yes can we do that please!!! if I know having a lil sis is so much work I will never ask for one!” Guess every kid is different lol.

    • Stephany says...

      Thank you for sharing this. I want to give my older that “feeling of agency” moving forward. It feels like the missing piece that I’ve been racking my brain about this week.

  25. Jess says...

    Andrea! I have this person in my family too! I have two daughters and everything she says about them is a comparison statement. She does the same with my sister in law and I. I recognize it happening and we limit our time with her. She’s always begging for one on one time with one of our daughters (and not the other :’( ) and it’s a hard no. But it’s so difficult to have secure relationships with extended family with these dynamics. There is a name for adult behavior that triangulates every relationship to make sure no two people in the family are closer to each other than to her but since I am not a professional, I won’t say it. This just serves as a counter example to dr. Becky’s assertion that we do have so much power in kids lives and I am so glad to see coj pointing us to use it for good!

  26. Christine says...

    There is much truth in this advice and wish I had known this earlier. I kind of did the opposite… Most of the time I was at my wits end (hubby travels a lot for work) so my go to whenever the kids were arguing or “annoyed” with one another (a word we heard a lot of during the tweening/teenagering years) were a couple of things:
    1) get them to do something together and assign roles so they would be forced to cooperate. My two older kids (then 12 and 10 at the time) had an extracirricular class and one had to figure out the bus route/directions and the other was in charge of the bus and snack money. It was a new thing for BOTH and a little bit DAUNTING and they had to RELY on each other. I guess this is called regrouping in the face of a common enemy.

    2) When my youngest caught up and started to get in on the sibiling rivalry fun (kids were probably 15, 14 and 10) I instituted a SIBLING’S MEAL once in a while where I drop them off and pick them up at a set time and the three of them were not allowed phones but they could pick whatever they wanted to eat, on mom’s dime. They choose McD’s. lol… but they came back a bit nicer to each other and since then when I’d sense they needed some bonding time I’d suggest/declare a SIBLING’S MEAL night (they choose higher end stuff now and bring their phones. lol) and they always seem to come back a bit gentler if that makes sense. I don’t pry too much when they get home although I am dying to know what they talk about but I find out throughout the week “casually” chit chatting. This strategy is called free meal. haha!

    My kids are now 21, 19 and 15 and they are close. Sure they rib each other and still can get on each other’s nerves but they celebrate each other’s wins, console when there is loss and are there for each other. I love hearing them chat about their shared experiences and me not having the information to “jump in” so I’m trying to let them have their space to grow as adults and siblings. I think the common thread in this and Joanna’s advice is…don’t give up. Parenting is about constantly trying. I think it was here that I read “Keeping doing what works, until it doesn’t.”

  27. Becky says...

    A lot of time sibling fighting at a young age is not very deep. Kids want space. In my personal experience, young kids want what they want when they want it. It’s frustrating to wait for a toy. It’s frustrating that another person wants their toy. Alone time goes a long way. I am no longer a nanny but was for close to a decade. During nap time, when the youngest one sleeps, and the oldest one can have free roam of the toys, oh my the difference it makes. When they come back together the older one is so much happier. Or I have seen the same be true for kiddos staging out of nap time. I would give them quiet time in their room with books and soft toys. That time apart by themselves is always beneficial even without a nap. I respectfully disagree that it’s not really about attention it’s about space.

    • Ana D. says...

      When you’re watching them, they’re likely not competing for their parents for attention.

    • Becky says...

      Ana D, honestly I’ve worked with so many families it’s a strong trend from my observation (including many twins). The families I have worked with have been a mix of work from home and corporate office. Yes parent time of any kind is helpful but kids also like control, for lack of better word. A lot of fighting I see is also about worry that their siblings are looking at their toys😂 I stand by my observation that all kids need some space, daily. They need to be bored to use their imaginations, they need alone time to play how they want to so that when they come back together with family they are happy to share. If you think about it, kids are with people all day. Family, students whoever. It can be a burn out. It’s not just adults who value it. The big difference is that adults know they need it. Some kids are aware as well. Giving space is not isolation in case anyone misunderstands.

  28. Kat says...

    I have three kids – 8, 6 and 3. Last year, my New Years resolution was to take each of my children on a solo date each month. The pandemic wrecked that, so I picked it up again and cannot recommend it highly enough. Each child chooses the food he/she wants to eat, gets drink of choice and even a dessert. They love going, and I get to have a great conversation without competition from anyone else. Also, the two “left behind” are total angels by comparison. It’s a win / win / win / win/ win.

  29. Catherine says...

    Dr. Becky is amazing. We just had our second baby and we were really struggling with big sis. Dr. Becky provided great insights and tools to help navigate that, and by the time my maternity leave ended last week, we started to find our groove. Can’t recommend her workshop on Deeply Feeling Kids enough, either!

  30. Mina Neumüller says...

    We had three children in three years, and sibling relationships are constantly evolving and changing and erupting(!) in our family. Right now my youngest two, 7 and 8.5 yrs old, are at eachother all the time – but also learning to play together really well as their older brother starts to evolve out of little-kid playing.

    I loved this advice about 1-1 time. It’s so hard to find the time to spend that 1-1 time, but when I do, it always reminds me how much I really LIKE the child that I am with (as opposed to loving them which I do all the time). When sibling relationships are turbulent, it brings out everyone’s worst sides, so it’s good to get a reminder of each person’s best sides to balance it out.

  31. Sylvia says...

    As the older sibling myself and seeing the children of my friends this resonates a lot.
    What I always wonder about is how important it is to have these on on one moments seen for the other siblings.
    I feel like oftentimes the older siblings get their time when its bedtime for the younger kids. This means that the time with the younger children is carved out through the day with clear set boundaries and seen for the oldest but not the other way around. I personally definitely noted that my younger sister to this day struggles to really, deeply comprehend that my mother and I have our own bond. The younger ones are less likely to play on their own or the like to respect the one on one time of the elder siblings – from what I see and experienced myself. Nobody to blame, just curious if there is advice on that or if others have thoughts on this.

  32. Catherine says...

    I come from a family of 5. my parents never spent quality time with just one of us-my dad worked all the time and my mom was overwhelmed. We fought A LOT and I must say I am scarred from this.
    I have a son and a daughter and instinctively my husband and I split a lot, we would take my son for an afternoon then a morning so that the other could get a break and do personal stuff. We needed that for our mental health, we’ve always been very independent people. When my daughter was born, we kept splitting but as my daughter grew older, we switched to a one parent-one kid dynamic and we loved it.
    My kids are now 16 and 19 (I know…) and I have to say they have fought maybe 5 times in their entire lives. They love each other and I think are growing into emotionally secure young adults. We were doing what felt good for us parents, didn’t know it would necesarily have such a positive outcome with the kids… It feels good to hear that kind of validation as people thought we were weird!

  33. K says...

    this makes a lot of sense to me on a lot of levels.

  34. Ariadne says...

    I think my approach is more of an 80’s latchkey approach. Sibling conflict is not the parent’s problem, it’s the kiddos’. It may be annoying (and that’s how it affects me/the parent), but it’s not my problem to solve. Assuming a household is free from ongoing trauma/abuse/intense marital conflict (because THAT’s the problem, chronic sibling conflict is a symptom in those cases), fighting with your sibling teaches you that even when you love someone deeply and unconditionally, living with them day in and day out is hard. There will be stretches of harmony and Woodstock vibes. There may also be loooong stretches where the relational basal is mutual agitation, irritability, and maybe even moments of contempt. Siblings provide a master class in conflict resolution, compromise, forgiveness, tolerance, patience, self-advocacy, assertiveness, empathy, perspective-taking, and friendship. These skills will generalize into adulthood and can be mobilized at home, school, work, etc. I see the role of the parent as a model and mediator rather than an interventionist. So let the games begin, and let the learning ensue!

  35. Lauren says...

    I’m the firstborn of three, and I’m not entirely sure my parents clocked when we were squabbling with each other as little girls (it was pretty obvious once we hit adolescence). When I resented one of my sisters, I’d sneak in her closet and spit in her shoes; she’d never know, but I sure would.

  36. Leigh says...

    Would love to know how people can do this when you have wide age gaps between kiddos…for instance, I have sons who are 6 and 8 years old and I would LOVE to do this with them, but I also have a 14 month old, am doing virtual school with the older boys, and my husband works a crazy demanding job. I just do not have the time to give one on one time every day!

    • Amy says...

      Leigh, I have three too with a big age gap. Mine are 9, 7, and 3.
      It is not possible to do one on one time every day over here, nor do I strive for it. There is SO MUCH advice that we mothers ‘should be doing’ that often results in feelings of guilt and inadequacy. It’s unrealistic.
      I see the above advice as a positive thing but try not to get too worked up about it. I’m only one person!!! I give one-on-one time when I can but I make sure I am getting me time first (mainly exercising or a quiet bath) —-otherwise I have nothing to give and am exhausted.
      At bed time I do make sure and go into each child and spend a few moments just talking to them and hugging them or rubbing their backs.
      This seems to work here :)

    • Amy says...

      Let me add that I don’t think it’s this post’s intention to shame moms or guilt us into doing one more thing. I think it was presented as a possible solution to help if there’s extra sibling fighting going on.
      I just feel like it’s SO easy to read these sort of helpful articles and take it as one more thing we SHOULD be doing. We are all already trying our best and we are all exhausted….especially after this pandemic.

  37. Alice says...

    Dr. Becky has helped me so much this year. I love her advice! I highly recommend following her on IG at the minimum.

  38. Ashley says...

    All of her advice and smarts are always right on for my kids. She’s a favorite IG follow. Looking forward to trying this!

  39. Bianca says...

    Sounds like Special Time from Hand in Hand Parenting too. It works *wonders* for peace in my household!

  40. Silver says...

    I’m a grown up with a younger brother. Thinking about this story, I have to confess that I don’t think I agree with Becky’s take at all. My husband also has a sibling, and whilst as adults we love and care for our siblings we both agreed that it is not really a fundamental relationship in our adult lives. My husband and I have talked about this a lot, and based on our feelings about a sibling we actually agreed to have one child, based on the premise that we felt we’d have been perfectly happy as only children. Both of us have nothing in common with our siblings – the activities that bring us joy, the way our emotions work, the sorts of entertainment we like, our politics, our friendships, the food we want to eat… we don’t fight, we get together for important events but none of us are necessary to the other. Maybe there is more conflict if siblings are similar, maybe then they feel there is a struggle for a place but I think I was born ready to run off and be alone. My brother is more family oriented. I was that kid who was often packing a bag ready to leave home and make it on my own. I loved my parents, my brother was little and needy and not brave and thus not as good a companion as my dog, my best friend or my own imagination.

    • Jamie says...

      I totally relate to this. I love my sister, but we have ZERO in common, save for hair and eye color. We don’t really talk that much, and definitely only see each other when we’re at our parents. We didn’t get along growing up, and that didn’t change when we became adults. We’re just DIFFERENT.

      My husband and I have one child, and we used to get a lot of responses like “don’t you want him to have a brother or sister as a lifelong friend???”, and I’ve just never bought into that given my experience. I’m not going to bring another kid into the world I can’t afford or don’t have the desire to have just in the off chance they might get along when they’re adults? My husband has siblings, and while they were “close” growing up, guess what? They all moved far away and we don’t see them much, and it’s not that big of a deal. Now that they are adults, they all have different interests, desires for where they want to live, etc. They all have friends that they are much closer too…and guess what? That’s ok!! My husband is realizing they were “close” growing up b/c they had to be haha. :)

  41. Shelley says...

    Yes I needed this reminder to spend some more one on one time with each of my boys. They have been squabbling over everything but also very normal for a 2 and 3 year old.

  42. Olivia says...

    LOVE dr Becky. Wish she was my mom.

    Honestly the thought of having a second child scares the shit out of me for this reason. I love my baby girl so much. Like, my heart could burst from the joy. I long to be with her even when she’s asleep (yes, she drives me crazy, too). How could I ever bring someone else into the fray? How could I deal if my two favorite people fundamentally don’t get along? I know its likely to all work out, but truly it gives me pause.

    • Louise says...

      I felt this too. I spent some of my pregnancy feeling sad for what we would lose, that one on one time we had so much of. And it’s true that there is something lost when the second child arrives. Of course I love my son and of course I wouldn’t be without him, but I sometimes look back on the relationship I had with my daughter before he arrived and miss that too. Having said that, time changes everything as well, we can’t really preserve those moments and keep everything the same, it will change in different ways regardless. Whatever you decide, whether to have another child or not, it will still be special.

    • Corinne says...

      Oh Olivia I remember that feeling so much! My husband really wanted to have two children so I agreed and I felt that feeling right up until my son was born. I am also an only child so didn’t understand sibling dynamics. Now my heart bursts with twice as much joy. They are still young so I am sure there will be fighting, but the love between them was something I hadn’t planned for. It truly is amazing to watch.

    • Mina says...

      I felt the same when I was pregnant with my second. My sister and I have always had a bit of a rough relationship and we are not super close as adults either. So I was SO nervous about having a second child. Now we have three kids and no – they don’t always get along, but they also love eachother so so much. I just want to say don’t be scared for this reason. Even if you’re kids don’t end up as besties, that is ok too!

      Also – read Siblings without Rivalry. Reading it helped me to understand some of the dynamics in my family growing up and how they probably weren’t that conducive to a close sibling relationship. Hopefully I will be able to avoid some of those mistakes with my own kids (naturally making all kinds of other mistakes instead ;-) ).

    • k says...

      I feel you. We weren’t ready for #2 until my oldest was nearly 3 and becoming the biggest delight in the world. I cried hugging him the last time before our induction. You’ve captured heart bursting perfectly. Now little bro is that same age and it is magic. Everything they say about the heart growing is true.
      And something I’m grateful for is that #2 has given me perspective on parenting big bro. It’s a firsthand reminder that every kid is unique. Sure you can see it with neighbors and nephews, but within your own house it carries more weight. I’m a better parent to big bro because I see more of his uniqueness.
      Plus, when little bro laughs hysterically alongside big, it’s glorious.

    • Olivia says...

      Thanks for the replies, everyone :) they really helped, this has been heavy on my mind lately.It’s a good reminder that the way our relationship now is certain to change – Even if we didn’t have another, she won’t always be a two-year-old like this. Thank you for the perspective

  43. STK says...

    I took one of my five year old twins to see my parents in CT for the day on a recent Saturday. My husband stayed home with her twin and baby sister. The next day the two of them played together from morning til night without a single argument. It was amazing what some space did for them! 💕

  44. Rue says...

    As a kid-free adult I follow Dr Becky on Instagram and find her work so valuable! One or two people have mentioned below having neglectful or abusive childhoods and I did too. My therapist had me work on reparenting, which is a specific therapeutic approach to helping people gain “inner parent” voices if we didn’t have the opportunity to develop that in childhood. I haven’t taken Dr Becky’s reparenting class online yet but I know that’s something she includes in her work. But even for people who don’t have a specific medical need for it, it’s so true that the healthy parenting lens can be a valuable one to apply to plenty of relationships and interactions, including how you talk to yourself and how you interact with coworkers. Long story long, I think all of us can learn from Dr Becky, not just the parents in the room!

  45. Bonnie says...

    So, who is your other sibling, Joanna? You’ve written about your sister, but I had no idea there was someone else! A brother, maybe??
    Anyway, I will have to try this with my four boys, some of whom have a love/hate relationship with each other.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes I have a little brother! But he’s super private and not online so I don’t really write about him :)

    • Ooh I’m remembering now Joanna mentioning her brother in her first/early post. :)

    • Lisa says...

      I love Joanna’s gift guides for brothers! They always remind me of my little brother, who makes me laugh without fail every time I talk to him.

  46. Caitlin says...

    “Asking questions is a position of power” stuck out with so much, especially as a college professor who asks questions of students all of the time (obviously to assess them, but also to tease out their ideas and get them more comfortable expressing themselves). It’s also making me rethink how I interact with other adults…even how I interact with men in dating situations. Hmm, I’m going to have to rethink how I feel about some past experiences where I was bombarded with questions – which I interpreted as an expression of interest in me – but in retrospect, did not give me the space to feel comfortable engaging as an equal, or even the breathing room to decide if I liked the person on my own. Obviously questions can help you get to know someone, but I like the idea of reflecting and mirroring as alternative ideas for engaging with someone – friend or otherwise – as an equal.

    • Michelle says...

      That is so interesting. I’ve never thought about it that way but it makes so much sense!

  47. Yes to all of this! There’s an example in Siblings Without Rivalry that goes something like this: “Imagine if your spouse came home and said, ‘Honey, I love having you in my life so much that I want to bring another wife in our life.'” Looking at it through that lens helps me understand how my children might feel! About once every other month or so, I take my oldest son to a hotel for the night. My youngest son loves staying home with Dad (he’s way more of a homebody). This kind of quality time really seems to help fill up our children (and they are so fun to hang out with one-on-one!): https://feedingthesoil.com/2021/01/20/mother-and-son-weekend-getaway/

  48. Nicole says...

    I recently started following Dr. Becky on Instagram, and I find her advice so helpful. As a mom of 3, one of the things that has surprised me most about parenting is how non-intuitive I find it. In order for me to not lose my s*$t on my kids all day long, I have really had to be more intentional with how I respond to my kids and my own triggers. I have really learned so much from her!

    • Betsy says...

      YESS!!! This is so true. I also love Dr. Becky, and her ideas and suggestions are so helpful, but I agree, I have to work very hard at it!

    • AN says...

      i am 100% with you. i thought i would be a wayyyy more chill/cool mom, and then i realized parenting is non-intuitive for me, too. i have to try really hard to keep calm and i repeat mantras to myself and remind myself of little parenting wisdoms i’ve learned along the way. i have learned that THAT’S OKAY, because for a while i was so hard on myself about it! not everything we do has to come easy, and parenting hasn’t for me! i have also learned a lot from her IG.

  49. zivar says...

    what’s most important? get to know your kids and begin to understand what their particular needs are in the family. no two are a like. i have daughters and they are radically their own person. simply be present, pay attention. and honor their feelings. it sounds hard but the more we practice, the easier it becomes. my eldest was in so much pain when her sister arrived, a lot of grief to move through. it was wild and also gorgeous to watch her express and fully feel her feelings. how many of us adults truly know or feel safe enough to do this? i think attachment parenting supports this very much and while it is definitely inconvenient for my sleep and work schedule, i would not change it. these early years are pivotal.

  50. Jenn says...

    Joanna, are you in my house?!

    My boys have been fighting so much lately (both learning virtually and home all the time). Instinctually, I knew some one-on-one time would help, so my parents took one kiddo last weekend for a special night and we treated the other to some uninterrupted time with mom and dad. As soon as my 10 year-old was gone, predictably, they started missing one another. This Friday, we will switch and my 6 year-old gets a special grandparent night and my other son will have us to himself.

    I feel so relieved that professional advice mirrors what we did/are doing. I’m an only child, and the squabbling just travels right up my spinal column and burrows into my brain. But they love each other so much. I’m glad they have one another.

    Thanks for the great post!

  51. Jill says...

    Obsessed with Dr. Becky. She’s come to speak to my team at work a few times and I always find her insights 100% helpful. Her podcast is great too.

  52. JJ says...

    Since my now-3-year-old was born, and especially since his now-1-year-old sister came along, I’ve been reading more and more about the respectful approach to parenting similar to Dr Becky’s advice.

    One thing that crops up a lot is a child’s need to be seen and heard. And yes, that certainly seems to be the case with little ones, but it’s also so, so relevant for every single person!

    Wouldn’t it be so refreshing to have someone really take the time and see and hear you, not just politely wait their turn to talk (or talk over you, as is often the case?)

    All the people commenting about whether adults could use this too? I’d say most definitely, all our inner children want to be seen and heard, no matter what age.

    • Anna Castellano says...

      ❤ JJ right on!

    • m says...

      Yes! This immediately brought to mind (and validated my feelings about!) a situation that has recently been playing out for me with my parents and older brother. Everything about this situation (my brother and I are now co-owners of property that we are managing on my parents’ behalf)–from how it came to be in the first place, to how it’s playing out–has brought back all the unresolved issues that go back to my place in the family as the youngest, and the girl. Long story short, parents: following this advice now might save your children future distress as well!

  53. Tara says...

    Yesss!! As a school counselor, one of my classes on play therapy talked ALL about this! The main part really is that the child is in charge and the parent is following their lead and not focused on anything else. Our play therapist instructor would often say do this 1-1 time for 30 mins a week and give it 6 weeks and your family will be different.

  54. LW says...

    This reminds me of this post, which helped me so much when I had toddlers: https://cupofjo.com/2016/09/how-to-stop-tantrums/

    Now that I have bickering school-age kids, I’m excited to try the same thing! A good reminder that true quality time together is a great first solution to try.

    • Michaela says...

      I cannot believe this post was five years ago! I don’t have kids but this one has stuck with me for when I do. Just another time I’m grateful you share your family and parenting journey with us (thoughtfully and selectively).

  55. Andrea says...

    I have been thinking recently about my grandmother who would come and stay with us for months and constantly bring up how our cousins did XYZ better than us. I just had a lightbulb moment this week that she also treated her own daughters that way. To this day, my aunt’s interaction with my Mom is really fraught and competitive and my Mom would like to have nothing to do with her sister.

    I never liked my grandmother, but now I can see even more clearly how she sewed poison through generations of our family.

  56. Illana says...

    I’ve seen this play out 100% with my 2 kids over the years. My kids are 12 and 16 now, and I still make it a practice. Here’s one other tip I learned: when one-on-with with one of my kids, I sometimes sit on the floor while they sit on the bed or chair. I read this is also a power-role thing. When my kids were tiny I would try to remember to get down to their level to talk and play with them, but even now I try to find a few times when I am looking up at them and they look down to see me. I think there’s a lot of psychology in that!

    • Allie says...

      Love this, thank you!

  57. MT says...

    I did not find this advice to be accurate. We have 3 girls and the sibling rivalry occurs despite our best efforts to give each individual kid solo attention and outing. As an example, my husband took our oldest daughter (7) on a weekend camping trip just the two of them. When she came back, instead of feeling secure in her attachment, she was more needy and demanded continuing attention. Unfortunately it had the reverse affect for us

    • Jen says...

      Just a thought as I’m sure this is just one example for you – but could it then have been your attention that she was in need of? Presumably your other children were with you? I do think just being annoying to one another is a big cause of sibling rivalry in my house!

    • Emily says...

      I understand how you feel. We have an almost seven year old and an almost five year old. When we try to give our oldest and youngest separate and undivided time, the older one always returns in competition mode–frustrated by what he didn’t get during his time that his younger brother did get (despite having an awesome time anyway). We’ve reminded him about gratitude and that it brings more joy to remember what we do have rather than feeling upset about what we don’t have. But it seems to spur on even more of the competitive spirit, even though the entire reasoning behind it is to remind how loved they are, individually.

      After talking to some friends with same aged children, we’re wondering if there’s something to the 6 and 7 ages where they are developing an understanding of this bigger world and how it doesn’t revolve around just them and that’s a scary thing to realize maybe? They’ve been newly introduced to the big world of kindergarten or first grade and it could feel unsteady–especially when seeing their younger sibling(s) soak up so much of their parents’ attention without any of those new stressors.

      Hang in there! You’re doing a great job.

  58. Claire says...

    I grew up with 5 siblings and I think this is sound advice. Wonder if it would apply to workplace culture as well? I worked in for large non-profit that had a difficult culture. Staff performance and achievements routinely went unacknowledged, and managers were so overworked they did not interact much with their staff. Reading this piece has me drawing a cause and effect connection. Some people think our workplace relationships mimic the family dynamics of our childhood, a concept that has always fascinated me.

    • Ceridwen says...

      I agree, Claire. That is so interesting. I manage a lot of people in my work (adults and young people) and time on ro one does make a difference. We notice in classrooms too. A teacher having a quick chat with students as they enter the class or out in the yard makes an impact.

  59. Ellen says...

    I recommend the book Siblings Without Rivalry (which features similar advice, in a lot of depth). It was first published in the ’80s, but the advice still rings true…

    • Loren says...

      YES! I came here to say that! Any books by those authors, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, will give you the ability to keep the emotional relationship between you and your children strong and healthy.

    • Mina says...

      Yes! This book has been a game-changer for us. Also their other book, “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk.

  60. Angeline says...

    This is all very insightful, but my life experience has been quite the opposite. Owing to mentally, emotionally and physically abusive parents — neither of whom I ever fully felt safe with and certainly did not want personal attention from lest I unwittingly “provoked” them in some way — I actively disassociated from them at a very young age and instead became attached to my 4 much older siblings. Having siblings step up to provide that stability and emotional safe harbour in the face of tempestuous and dysfunctional parents has been both a lifesaver and challenging in its own ways, because even though they were much older than I, they were still teenagers at the time with their own inevitable growing pains/issues, and we still had some sibling rivalry dynamics to some extent. It has also been confusing for me, never fully knowing how much I could truly rely on them to take care of me, especially once they started their own families and I became a strain on their resources. When they left home at 18, they took underaged me along with them and were prepared to go to court to fight my parents for custody of me, but it never got to that level because my self-centered parents saw them taking me as one less mouth for them to feed. In other words, they cared more about having one less burden on their finances than they cared about looking out for me, their own flesh and blood.

    My siblings in effect became in loco parentis and they tried to raise me as best they could, with me in my full-fledged rebellious teenager phase, but it was a harder adjustment than I expected. They tried I guess but deep down I never really felt like I was anyone’s priority, the way a child in a regular family with regular parents would feel they were their parent’s priority. It didn’t help that I was shuttled around from one household to the next — often without my prior knowledge, and once my stuff was moved while I was away at college out of town — as and when one sib decided they needed the room I was occupying in their house for their expanding brood. I felt adrift and as valued as dirty laundry, to be dumped by one sibling on to the next on a whim. As a result I’ve always envied close-knit families like your loving family unit Jo, and the regular peeks into your nurturing home life is refreshing to someone like me, who grew up in an unconventional family structure, to say the least. Toby and Anton are truly lucky to have parents like you and Alex. xoxo

    • Em says...

      Thanks so much for sharing this Angeline, you sound like a really insightful and reflective person to have this perspective. I’ve also envied other people’s close-knit families, my story is different than yours, but I know that feeling. Much love.

    • CS says...

      Angeline, thank you for sharing this story. It really makes me grateful for my family, even though we went through a lot, I always felt loved. It is not your fault that you were born into a family where there was such disfunction, and that you consequently never got the love, appreciation and security that you deserve. My hope for you is that you learn to love yourself, and value yourself, and be that person for yourself. No one can take that away from you. You sound like a very special, insightful person. Sending you much love.

    • Angeline says...

      Em and CS, thank you so much. Your kind words really mean a lot to me. In hindsight, I think my siblings and I were all really unprepared for how much PTSD we carried around from experiencing such a high-stress home life, where we never knew when the next harsh word or hard slap was coming, and as the baby of the family i was constantly on edge from being cooped up at home with my parents while my sibs were out at school/college/etc. The closest analogy I can think of is how little kids manage to hold it together all through daycare, seemingly fine, and then the minute their mom appears to pick them up, they go into a nuclear meltdown and all the day’s accumulated hurts both big and small get released in a huge cry fest. Because mom is the safe harbour that they feel safe expressing all their difficult emotions to. Except my siblings took over the role of the mom for me, but they were ill-equipped to handle my storm of emotions because they were just as badly affected by our shared home life, even after we left that dysfunctional environment behind. So we were all kind of like the blind leading the blind, ha. I’ve been working on untangling all these family dynamics in therapy on and off over the years — whenever I could afford it — but it’s definitely a process. Still, I believe I’ve made progress and have come a long way since then. It can only get better from here, xoxo.

  61. emily says...

    I LOVE Dr. Becky. This is the best advice (im in the thick of it with an 18 month old and an almost 4 year old—or will i always be in the thick of it, regardless of ages???????) and i honestly need to hear this every week (maybe every day?).

    • Mina says...

      You’re probably right on the cusp of everything getting easier – hang in there! We had three kids in three years and I remember so vividly the feeling we had the summer after our youngest turned two (and our eldest was 5 and a half) – it was like coming up for air after years of feeling like we were drowning.

  62. Anon says...

    This definitely makes sense when the siblings are kids. I would be interested in reading something about adult sibling relationships. Those seems the hardest to manage in our family.

  63. Christina says...

    This is amazing advice, thank you! I think another thing to remember is that siblings often become closer as they age and it can’t really be forced. My parents both have siblings they’re extremely close to and always told us how sad they were that we weren’t as close. That just annoyed me growing up. But one day (when everyone went to college basically) we just became close and now we’re inseparable.

  64. Ramona says...

    Parenting is hard. Having siblings is hard. Parents that prefer “favorites” is hard. Early (first time/younger parents) vs. Later (many sibs later/older parents) is def a thing. Lots of dynamics in families. No perfect way. Siblings forever but doesn’t always mean “friends for life” sigh…. there were some good childhood memories but mostly I tried to avoid the way(s) my parents raised us when I raised my own children. And it had a successful outcome! (for the most part) ;)

  65. Whitney says...

    I love this piece of advice. I also find it important to give kids power to work things out on their own. My brother, sister and I are extremely close -I credit my parents for not getting in between our arguments as it can come across as a parent taking sides.
    If my kids argue I speak to them both and say, “you are best friends. Whatever you’re arguing about, you need to work it out together.” Then I give them space to do so. I respect their relationship with each other and nurture it, rather than constantly interfere or try to “fix” everything.

    • Carmen says...

      Can we have more advice about siblings?

      I grew up as an only child, and now I’m just a few weeks away (fingers crossed) from giving birth to my second son! I’m so nervous but reading this helped so much.

      If anyone else has some tips I’d love the help! Thanks!

    • Whitney says...

      Carmen, congrats! Brothers are so fun! Nurturing their relationship with each other from the very beginning is so important. Encouraging playtime together, and keeping a routine together helps IMO. Bath time together, story time together, etc. My daughter was born when my son was 2, and they are the best of friends. I think it’s because they spent so much time together.
      Even now, he’s 9 and she’s 7, they play make believe together all the time with their little brother. (In fact, as I write this)

    • Jenny says...

      Totally agree with this, Whitney. Feels like another “power move” to reinforce with your kids that they are empowered to solve their problems without parents refereeing.

  66. Michelle says...

    Ha, SAME at my house lately. So glad it’s not just me. I started Siblings Without Rivalry and one thing that totally works and I truly don’t understand why is just saying “I fully believe that you guys will find a way to work this out.” It’s like an immediate off switch to fighting. For now at least, ha.
    I definitely agree with the alone time with parents. It’s been so hard this year because we can never separate. Looking forward to checking out this podcast!

    • Heather says...

      Love this advice – I need to remember it!

    • Loren says...

      Isn’t it amazing how well it works? And I can often derail a fight between my two great nephews by saying, “I see two little boys who both want to play with the same toy. I have full confidence that you can figure out how to take turns.” Generally one of them will just go find something else to do. Crisis averted.

  67. Sage says...

    I only have one kid, so I’m luckily not concerned by any rivalries, but wanted to add my own perspective. I am DEEPLY connected to and CLOSER THAN CLOSE to my two younger siblings, but it was very much because we had to bond together to make it out of our childhood – it was awful, with parents who were not equipped to raise children and who hated the marriage they were in and tried actively to pit us against the other parent.

    I don’t say this to knock down any of this advice. Sounds great!! Yay affirming your kids!! :) But ultimately, I think it’s a crapshoot. If you’re treating your children well, enforcing fair limits and boundaries, and loving them with all you have – the relationships will work themselves out, or, maybe, they won’t. I don’t think it’s failure of parents if they happened to have two separate human beings that don’t particularly enjoy each other’s company, and I don’t think it’s *necessarily* due to “good parenting” if siblings are tight-knit. We beat ourselves up over so much already, that I don’t know if we should also be expecting children with age differences that often seem like HUGE gulfs at those ages to be BFFs.

    But again, only have the 1 kid so my experience is not the same. I’m sure it’s frustrating/saddening as heck to hear the little people you love most arguing or fighting. Big hugs!

    • M says...

      I really appreciate this perspective.

    • Marisa says...

      Hi Sage- just wanted to say that I feel the same way. My brother and I never had a fight while growing up, as we needed each other and were so close due to dysfunctional parents. I have 2 kids of my own, and I wanted the same for them. Also, I believe that home should be a sanctuary for everyone, and I didn’t want to live with siblings squabbling all day. Luckily, mine have also had a very good relationship, very little sibling rivalry growing up. They are both very different- one girl, one boy, so they had very little to “fight” about, in terms of toys, clothes, etc. Now, as adults, they are still close. I did start modelling this early, telling them how important they will be for each other, finding ways to celebrate their relationship, etc.

    • miranda says...

      was super super close with my brother in childhood. We fought like cats and dogs every single week, beating each other up, calling each other names. We also talked until late in our shared bedroom. The fighting went together with the closeness and our parents never interfered, leaving us to “work it out”.

      Years later, my brother became a workaholic, married someone I didn’t get on with, and became a woman! My now-sister went through depression, anxiety, suicide desires, and social isolation. We don’t talk much, not because we don’t want to, but because that bond changed and other people became more important (each one has their partner, different lives etc.).

      Agree, it is a crapshoot!

  68. Kate says...

    When we were very little (maybe 4 and 5), I once pulled out a big chunk of my sister’s hair in a fight. I still feel bad about it :(

    Thankfully, we have a very close and loving relationship now, and really always have despite the occasional squabbles. I do think that constantly being together and not even having our own identity outside of being “the girls” was probably frustrating for us. I remember fantasizing about spending time with my parents alone and vowing that when I grew up and had children of my own (no thank you) I would spend alone time with each of them.

    One other thing that helped quell the fighting: when we were teenagers and started bickering, our step-dad told us to take it outside and have a real fistfight in the yard. Those were our only choices, either fisticuffs or quit bickering! Even though our arguments as teenage girls could get nasty, we never opted to “take it outside” and often stopped fighting when faced with the choice haha.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “One other thing that helped quell the fighting: when we were teenagers and started bickering, our step-dad told us to take it outside and have a real fistfight in the yard. Those were our only choices, either fisticuffs or quit bickering!” = haha that’s awesome. :)

    • Joy says...

      While I love the fist fight idea and see how it could work, it would not work for my children and it is actually one of my parenting struggles. My son is very physical and for that reason will get physical in fights very fast as well. But my daughter is not like that at all. We told her we will not punish behaviour we have not witnessed, so if she told her brother to stop and he does not stop, she can feel free to hit him back.
      But it is just not how her head works and it makes her very uncomfortable. It does not happen that often luckily but I find it difficult to manage this!

  69. margaux says...

    i definitely relate to this. a few months ago, i noticed that our 6- and 9-year old girls had been arguing more, and my oldest was acting out, so i started scheduling mommy and me dates with them — taking one to swim at the public pool, taking the other to an outdoor lunch, watching a special “big-kid movie” with just my oldest kid. it has made a difference, but i can’t always do BIG things with them, so it helps to know that it can just be 10 minutes.

  70. Amy says...

    I love Dr. Becky! Her podcast is so helpful.

  71. Heather says...

    Such a great post- I love Dr. Becky!!! She is one of the most helpful IG follows for me. Thanks for sharing.

  72. Abbie says...

    I have three boys (5, 7, 9) and their relationships have been the “center” of our focus since birth. We regularly tell them “your brothers are the most important people on this planet, they will be there for you after dad and I are gone, and they are here for you now.” They definitely bicker and argue but they are best, best friends and we have, and always will work hard to foster the strength of their bond in every way we can. They hug and tell each other “i love you” often and with ease and we consistently help them model verbal communication when they feel unseen – often by each other more so than us. My siblings are some of the people I cherish most on the planet, and I hope they find in each other that same sense of joy and safety.

    • Abbie says...

      *they being my kids

    • Jenny says...

      Totally hear you, Abbie. One piece of advice we got when our two boys were both under 3 was to remind them, early and often, “you guys are on the same team.” I think it not only helped them resolve conflicts (and believe they could) but it let them know that in our four-person household, there are “teams within teams,” that their dad and I are also a team, for example. That REALLY comes in handy on date nights : )

  73. Agnès says...

    It is so enlightning and makes SO much sense. I finally understand why my siblings don t get along!!

  74. Anna says...

    I agree with this 1000%%%!!!

    My daughters are 5 and 4 – just 18 months apart – and I’ve always had a more complicated relationship with my oldest.

    A couple years back I was talking with a mom friend and her mom about how she (my oldest, then 4) had become very aggressive with me – hitting, pinching, head ramming, etc – usually what felt like out of nowhere. I said – only half joking, “I’m afraid she’s going to murder me in my sleep someday.”

    My friend’s mom looked right at me and said, “She needs more of you.”

    Huge lightbulb moment, and from then on whenever things feel like they’re spiraling I ask myself, “When was the last time I really *saw* her.” More times than not, it’s been too long.

    The other thing I’ve started doing with my girls is asking “Who can work it out?” when they’re bickering, versus stepping in and mediating it for them. I’ve noticed that the fights overall have gone way down as they’ve improved their problem solving skills.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, that is amazing, Anna. what a great realization.

      it was really interesting — last week, toby got into a middle school for next fall and we were celebrating it verbally throughout the week — telling my parents, our babysitter, etc. and overall feeling and acting excited for toby. meanwhile, the boys were arguing a LOT and could barely be in the same room together. I did not see how that was connected at all until Alex was walking Anton to school and, out of nowhere, Anton said, “I could be hanging from the Empire State Building by my fingernails and no one in this family would be proud of me.” LIGHTBULB MOMENT! we suddenly realized that all the fanfare over toby was making Anton feel overshadowed and unacknowledged. we ended up spending some one-on-one time with Anton and focusing on things he was working on and excited about, and it seemed to help him feel better and, in turn, the boys get along better.

      all these dynamics/family systems are so interesting!

    • Anna says...

      Sweet, sweet Anton! I am proud of him for such a creative visual! So glad you worked it out and yes, there seems to always be another unexpected chapter in the Adventures of Parenting.

  75. LKB says...

    I love this, but it makes me so sad too. It can be so hard to get that 1-on-1 time. My 1.5 yo is so demanding–she will shove my 6 yo off my lap (we’re working on it). And I know that I take advantage of how old my boys are (6 and 9)–they seem so independent, but they’re still little bitty guys!

    The other night, after I finally got the baby to sleep, I went into my 6 yo’s room to cuddle. I’d already tucked him in and said goodnight, so this was a surprise. He said “I thought you came down to check on the laundry”, but when I told him I was only there for him, he lit up and just glowed. I need to do that so very much more than I do. It was so good for me, but oh, even better for him.

  76. Mullica says...

    This was so helpful for my own personal healing. I have a younger brother and we are not close. We fought a lot and today that’s translated to not really talking at all. I always wondered what my parents could have done differently or how I could avoid the same fate for myself and my future family.

    • Colleen S says...

      I have three younger sisters, and one of them I don’t get along with at all, and never really have. I’ve cut her off, much to my dad’s annoyance, but I’m better off not having her around. I don’t think my parents would have done anything differently. My dad has always took her side, let her get away with things the rest of us could not, and treats her like she’s the victim when her other sisters think she is out of her mind. It’s great when it works for others, but I’d have been better off if she had never been born.

  77. celeste says...

    Ooh, there’s a podcast episode on screen time. On it!

    This makes sense to me. I spend one on one time with my kids, but my husband works a lot and I think they are missing that relationship with their dad. I can definitely tell in busier weeks, one on one time goes by the wayside.

  78. A says...

    I agree with this advice 100%.

    I grew up with two siblings, and we are all very close in age. My parents both worked a lot, and it was always a competition to spend time with them. My sister had learning differences (which were never explained to my brother and me), and it felt that my parents spent more time with her and that she was also allowed to follow different rules. My brother, sister, and I fought a lot as kids and teens, and I’m not proud of how I treated my sister. Our relationship as adults is polite, but that’s about it. I wonder how things might have been different. I don’t have children (and don’t plan to), and part of the reason is because of the relationship that I have/had with my parents and siblings.

    • k says...

      So random that you mentioned something I was JUST thinking about crowdsourcing insight on – handling parenting differently per kid. COJ community for the win. We’re starting to see many ADHD signs for our older son; little bro is 3.5 and starting to catch on to the attempts at minimizing chaos at home. Sure the “each kid has different needs that we must meet” works in grand scheme, but for a It’s Not Fair kid, I need clearer talking points.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      K, the sibling workshop actually talks a lot about the “it’s not fair!” idea. (“He got bigger pancakes than I did,” “you went out for ice cream with him yesterday, now you have to take me out for ice cream,” etc.) It was really really helpful for Alex and me to hear her thoughts and scripts on how to handle those moments.

  79. Megan says...

    LOVE Dr. Becky!!!

  80. I’m 1 of 5 kids and there was a whole lot of conflict growing up! I remember on Mother’s Day and my mom’s bday, she said all she wanted was no fighting/for everyone to just get along. I hadn’t thought about this, but I did completely see my siblings as competition. I’ll have to keep this in mind with our boys. They are 3y and 5 months so don’t have much of a relationship yet, but I know the 3y gets VERY jealous of the baby, like when I played peekaboo with the baby yesterday, the 3y was NOT happy as he sees that as his game. So we have been trying to be intentional about giving him one-on-one time with each of us, but we’ll have to keep this up even when we are out of this adjustment stage.

    I love Dr. Becky. Her new podcast is wonderful and her IG account is a great one to follow!

    • marcella says...

      I definitely remember being 6 and being SO mad that he took up all my mom’s time!! my mom said she remembers me saying “baby baby baby all you care about is the baby!!”, haha. although sometimes my brothers and i just used to argue because they were so dang annoying, not necessarily competition, lol.

  81. Lauren says...

    I found this fascinating and so helpful – both in thinking about my kids’ relationships and my own relationships with my siblings. Love this approach. So nice to be able to focus on something positive and very within our control as parents. Great post, thank you.

  82. Emilie says...

    This is so interesting! From an attachment perspective it makes a lot of sense, and I’m sure it pans out on a subconscious level.

    Funnily enough, while my sister and I were almost always fighting as kids, I recall HATING alone time with my parents. I love them, but did not enjoy being the sole focus of their attention and tried to avoid those circumstances at all costs (though I was a very “good” straight edged kid, so there was nothing negative in their attention).

    I particularly recall my mum taking me on drives just the two of us, where she would want to discuss “the big topics” (boys, bras, etc.) which all filled me with unendurable embarrassment and which I would avoid at all costs. I remember once getting out of the car at an intersection to spare myself the excruciating experience of such conversations! Sorry mum and dad, haha, felt your love in many other ways!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that’s so funny! it can be so hard to be a kid! maybe the difference here is that your mom sounded like she would try to talk about big topics, whereas the one-on-one time that dr becky recommends is completely child-led. so, for example, maybe you would have wanted to read on the sofa and your mom could have just read her own book next to you, or whatever would have felt cozy and connected to you. xo

    • Em says...

      Emilie, this is interesting! I’m wondering if could be because your attachment style was set when you were really young (like a baby). And then, your experience of hating alone time with your parents when you were a bit older…. perhaps that reaction was simply your ingrained attachment style playing out? I’m not an attachment expert but I think it’s super fascinating and the truth is that all children innately desire attention and connection with their parents. So when the child is resistant to that (like hating the attention), it’s likely the prior attachment wound popping up and interfering with that innate desire. (I am insecurely attached myself and like, forever working on that in therapy so I don’t come from a place of judgment, just curiosity!)

    • Joy says...

      My mom did this too and at 42 years old, I still break into a sweat when it’s just us two in the car together.

    • Emilie says...

      Thank you, Joanna and Em, for the replies!

      I think you’re both likely right – I was lucky to have great parents, so Joanna, your point that for me, together time that did not involve embarrassing topics or forced conversation would make me feel attached and secure is likely true, and I had a lot that. Cooking with my mum, sports with my dad, etc. It was any probing conversation or “direct” attention that would horrify me.

      Though Em, on the attachment point (also not an expert!), I have spoken with my older sister about how my arrival on the scene was stressful to her as a 4YO, and she remembers becoming very needy and felt like she annoyed my parents, demanding their attention when I was an infant. So there may be something deep seeded there wherein any attention on me as a baby resulted in negative emotions from my sister in the household? So I preferred attention on her/elsewhere in order to feel peaceful on the home front?

      Fascinating discussions, as always! xoxo

    • C says...

      Emilie, SAME! Like exact same. I think it was because my parents were so intense when it was just me and them/one of them. They always wanted to talk about something big or serious and it was certainly never taking any cue from me about how I wanted to spend that time together. They are truly wonderful people but I hope to not have that same dynamic with my kid(s). It’s heartbreaking to think about honestly. But also like you I felt their love in many other ways! :)

  83. Sarah says...

    Thank you so much for writing about this. I sometimes feel like a huge failure when my boys fight. They can be truly vicious and I feel helpless in explaining anything in those moments! I will check out her materials.

  84. Rach says...

    Love this! I only have one baby, but I’ve learned so much following Big Little Feelings on Instagram. I’m not sure that I’ve heard them talk about this in terms of sibling rivalry before, but they refer to this practice as the 10 minute miracle, and say that it helps tremendously with meltdowns and clinginess. My older sister and I used to fight so much- she never liked me it seemed until she went to college. We were talking about it recently, and she reflected that she felt neglected since she’d been the baby for so long, and then I came around (6 years later- accidentally). So this totally makes sense- especially since she was old enough to be pretty independent by the time I was born.
    Thank you for sharing!

  85. Calla says...

    How fascinating! This never would have occurred to me. I have two siblings that I fought with plenty and while I have no specific memory of not feeling safe and secure in my place in the family maybe that had something to do with it

  86. Isabel says...

    Thanks for this helpful advice (as a mother of three, it certainly comes in handy).

    I didn’t know about the relationship between sibling fighting and one-on-one time with parents, but it makes a lot of sense. I try to make it a priority to spend alone time with my kids because my most cherished memories from my childhood are from times where I was alone with with either of my parents. Most were while doing simple things, like driving shot gun in the car and talking. It’s those conversations, or the feeling of going places together, what I remember the most. I remember those more than special events or nice vacations. It was in those little moments were I felt seen and where their words were most transformative.