Many parents struggle to find ways to handle competition and bad feeling between their children. So called sibling rivalry can be down to a range of causes, and it’s vital to to understand exactly what’s going on. 

Empathy failure

 One really common reason that parents feel their kids don’t get on is that they don’t recognise that children don’t develop empathy until some time between their second and third birthdays. Expecting children to understand how others feel before this development stage is just pointless, they don’t have the emotional or intellectual capacity.

 Our best nanny candidates have a fantastic technique for dealing with children who lack empathy because they are too young – it’s the ‘play beside’ rather than ‘play with’ strategy. In essence, this means organising play activity that ensures the children don’t come into conflict with each other, so instead of playing cars together on a mat, children can be encouraged that while one plays cars on the mat, the other can be building houses with Lego that can be used to line the route. Empathy failure tends to right itself with developmental growth.

 Differences in age, development and character

 Children with different characters, temperaments, genders and ages can find it hard to get along. This is one place that a nanny can often help children much more than parents can, because children find it easier to respond to an ‘outsider’ than to a family member who is ‘inside’ the conflict. Older children can become annoyed by the constant demands for attention from younger ones, shy children can feel overwhelmed by livelier siblings and naturally demonstrative kids can easily feel rejected by more reserved ones.

 These differences can cause clashes which are not always easy to straighten out but can often be resolved over time and with consistent approaches. Parents and their nanny need to explain to the both children that different approaches to the world and equally valid – an older child can be reminded that a little sister or brother idolises them and wants to be like them, a shy child can be given a role in family activities that allows them space eg referee or question master rather than team participant and demonstrative children can be encouraged to use their skills to create a special meal or artwork that the whole family can enjoy, rather than constantly seeking affirmation from a less outgoing sibling.

 Fear of rejection

 Competing for parental affection is something only parents can straighten out, but a nanny can help a lot. For example when a parent spends time with one child, it’s great if Nanny can entertain the other, so they don’t feel left out or ‘less than’.

 Similarly a nanny can help parents recognise when they are engaging with one child (often the one who’s experiencing challenges) to the detriment of another, so they can rebalance the relationships by giving quality time to both children.

 All in all, sibling rivalry is a challenge, but it is one that can be overcome through structured approaches that are positive and designed to improve relationships – and a nanny has a significant role to play in helping move past rivalry.


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