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Sibling Relationships and Avoiding Rivalry

I am not any kind of parenting expert, but we have now welcomed number 2 into our home. It has been 10 months and there is one measly little thing that I can say that I feel like I am doing well. It was a concern of mine, and many parents who are adjusting to 2, that my first son, Jack, would feel left out or jealous. I knew that Jack would have complicated feelings about my second son, Exley. I wanted to be sure not to shame him for his feelings. I wanted him to feel as doted upon as always.

This become complicated in situations when Jack does things that lead to Exley crying. Sometimes they are on purpose, like he pokes him in the eye to see what will happen or become frustrated and push him away. Other times they are by accident; Jack sees that we like to pretend to bite Exley’s cheeks and Exley laughs. Turned out Jack thought we were really biting him and so when he tried this Exley had quite the extreme reaction!

Before I begin to tell you of the thing I think works really well I want to remind you that I do shit wrong all day. My house is a disaster. We are flying by the seat of our pants and most of the time it feels totally and utterly out of control. Like “lose my shit” out of control. I am simply coming up for air to tell you something that I have found that works.


When Jack does something that makes Exley cry I put the focus on Exley. I show Jack that Exley is crying, “Do you see that Exley is crying? That means that hurt. We don’t want to hurt people. Try to use gentle touches.” Then I show him by touching Exley gently. If I yell at Jack or tell him that what he did was mean he will feel shame and eventually internalize his role as a mean bully. He will feel that I am placing more value on Exley’s feelings than his. This can lead to them feeling like they are pitted against each other and cause unnecessary rivalry.

I want to teach rather than punish. I want to show Jack the consequences of his actions so that he can learn that he has control. Yelling and punishing can make a child feel out of control. Jack is likely excited that he has the power to make Exley cry. By pointing out that the crying is happening because Exley is hurt and that hurting sucks can help Jack develop empathy.

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When Jack pokes Exley to see what will ¬†happen and Exley starts to cry I say, “See how Exley is crying? That means the poke hurt him. We don’t want to hurt Exley. Were you curious to see what would happen? Having a new baby around makes you curious!” I want to help Jack understand his own behavior as not having malicious intent and let him know that it’s OK to be curious, but not OK to hurt people. I want to teach him this without shaming him.

When Jack bit Exley and Exley started to cry Jack was surprised. He started to cry too. My husband said, “Did you think we were really biting him when we made those jokes? It’s OK, we know you didn’t really mean to hurt him.” Jack says “sorry,” and we say “thank you for saying sorry, we know it was an accident.”

And all day all the time Jack is still adjusting to this new guy. We say over and over again, “it’s hard having a new baby around,” “it’s hard to have a new baby here who needs attention from mommy and daddy,” “I love you.”

If you have welcomed a second child into your home you have likely run into situations like these. What works for you? Please share.

Abby Theuring, MSW



  1. First off, I love your posts! I myself have a 5 month old little girl and a 20 month old son. My son Emerson reminds me so much of Jack it is insane. They are both for lack of a better phrase “High maintenance”. I have found that we seem to even deal with this “sibling rivalry” the same. As a fellow tandem nursing mama I wanted to thank you for being such an inspiration. When you were writing about nursing aversion I truly NEEDED to read that someone else was going through the same thing to get through it. I hope this does not come of as judgmental, but I hope that you know you are a wonderful mother, and you DO deserve to give it out parenting advice. You’re doing a great job, and most importantly you care. You are also seeing results. What makes someone better qualified than you to give advice? I find myself in this place you seem to be often, feeling like I’m not so perfect so who am I to give advice. We need to stop doing this to ourselves because even though everything we do may not be perfect, or worth sharing, the things that do work we need to share confidently. Also I couldn’t help but notice in pictures your house is beautiful. Don’t belittle yourself mama!

  2. I ALWAYS carried my older son even with the baby. I didn’t want him to think that he was being replaced. When he asked me to hold him? I did. When he asked to hold her? He was always allowed. Her presence was for all of us to enjoy – he now gets frustrated over having to share toys with a little sister who can pull apart his legos but he only asked me once to put her down. He understands Mama has enough love, arms, and lap for the both of them (god help us if we have three!).

  3. Really needed this. Expecting our 2nd in a few short weeks and finding myself already feeling apprehensive about the changing dynamic in our house. Our 17 month old has become very clingy lately..I wonder if she feels the winds of change!? Thanks for sharing Abby

  4. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for this. My little guy is 2 and a half and my little girl is almost 4 months. It has been such a hard transition, mostly for me I think, because my son is in love with his new sister (for now at least) he wants to be in her face all the time and play and talk with her. Some of his favorite things to do is poke her eyes and pull on her arms. Honestly, this is a great approach that I’m going to try! I feel so overwhelmed sometimes!

  5. Hi, I really liked this post. I only have a 22 old baby boy, but I’m thinking about having a baby in the near future. It’s hard, I’m sure when you see your son trying to hurt his brother/sister, that why it’s so important the communication with your kids. Been a mother is a real journey, we learn new things everyday.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

  6. Ty we haven’t welcomed our second yet but she will be here in October and at the moment my son who is 4 and will turn 5 in October (January’s are cold in Pa lmao) is really excited to be a big brother to help as much as possible… I also breastfeed him (We weaned at 3) and love our special connection. I have been thinking about how to show him attention especially if the little one is as much of a mommys girl as he was/is a mommys boy… reading this I really agree in not shamming him for his feelings so that was a new way of thinking of things… since with his younger cousin who is two is usual his tester of what hurts other ppl im going to try it ur way since what ive done hasn’t stopped the bulling so ty again!!


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