When siblings fight, it pushes all the mama bear instinct buttons. We can’t help but jump in and try to stop it. But our natural impulse – to angrily confront the one who “should know better” – can set up our squabbling sibs for even more friction down the road.
On last month’s Masterminding Monthly call, I got the opportunity to coach a mom struggling with how to respond to a classic sibling dynamic. Younger kiddo worships the older one, and wants to be around them all the time. Meanwhile, older sib doesn’t want a chatty shadow following them everywhere. The drama between your kids might have a different shape, but the tools I teach in this episode will help you begin to defuse the situation without contributing to the tension between them.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why it’s so common for older kids to feel resentful of their younger siblings.
- Where to focus your attention so you don’t reinforce that competitive framing.
- When to address behavior that crosses the safety line, and when to let your kiddos work things out themselves.
And much more!
As always, thanks for listening. Head over to Facebook, where you can join my free group Mastermind Parenting Community. We post tips and tools and do pop-up Live conversations where I do extra teaching and coaching to support you in helping your strong-willed children so that they can FEEL better and DO better. If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it!
About Randi Rubenstein
Randi Rubenstein helps parents with a strong-willed kiddo become a happier family and enjoy the simple things again like bike rides and beach vacays.
She’s the founder of Mastermind Parenting, host of the Mastermind Parenting podcast, and author of The Parent Gap. Randi works with parents across the U.S.
At Mastermind Parenting, we believe every human deserves to have a family that gets along.
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[00:00:00] My name is Randi Rubenstein, and welcome to the Mastermind Parenting Podcast. At Mastermind Parenting, we’re on a mission to support strong-willed kids and the families that love them.
Hi, everyone. Our topic for this week is the lovely topic of sibling fighting. Sibling fighting. In fact, I hear two siblings fighting in their crate in the back of my closet. I’m like, you guys are being noise polluters. I am locking you up. And now, there’s some shenanigans going on in there. And as of right now, it’s not my business. It’s between the two of them.
So this topic about siblings fighting, if you’ve got two kids where it seems like your older kid despises your younger kid. If it seems like your younger kid, you’re worried that their feelings are constantly hurt, that this is going to affect their self-worth, that they’re saying things like, why does she hate me so much? Why does he hate me so much? Like, you can see the hurt on your younger child and you know they have stars in their eyes for their older sibling and the older sibling treats them like dirt. This is an impossible situation for any mom to be in, for any parent, but especially moms, like this gets us at our core. I know it does me.
So that’s what this week’s episode is about and it was inspired by… as y’all know, I’ve been reading the Judy Blume books, and I reread Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, which as a kid, to be honest, I didn’t really… like none of the Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, um, anything that involved the Superfudge books, right?
Peter Hatcher, he was the star of Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing. He was the fourth grade, and his younger brother Fudge was a toddler, and Fudge was constantly just doing ridiculous things that were just not okay.
And the same theme in Judy Blume’s books, where the parents were a bit clueless and the child seemed like they were more with it than the parents. The parents, it’s like, how are you guys not seeing that this situation is not okay? And you just so see it from the fourth grader’s perspective, where the younger sibling is just constantly like, going into his room, crossing boundaries, messing with his stuff, and there’s, there’s no consequences.
The parents don’t back Peter up and there’s times where Peter’s like, that’s it. I’m running away. And the parents do what all the parents did back then. Do you need me to pack your bag for you? And it’s like, no, I need you to get a freaking clue and teach this kid that there are certain things that are not okay. And that just doesn’t happen.
And so then the Superfudge series came about because I think, so, you know, sibling fighting has been an issue forever. And I think there was such a huge fan club for this book that she went on to write several Superfudge books all about the younger brother and all about the sibling fighting issue. And how the two eventually became friends, right? But not in this book. They really didn’t become friends in this book.
So I was reading this book and I was super annoyed with the parents and I was thinking, I think that’s why I never read any of the Superfudge books or… because in my family growing up, I have a very close relationship with my siblings, my older brother’s two years older and I for sure had stars in my eyes for him most of the time. Um, I still do and I’m sure I was a little bit annoying and probably a lot of bit annoying, but he was like the rare older brother that was mostly sweet.
And my younger sister, our younger sister, she’s six years younger than me and eight years younger than my brother. And so really, I thought my mom was giving birth to my own real baby alive doll, like the real thing. And so I did not feel… like I thought my younger sister, up until I was a teenager and then I didn’t have any more patience and I didn’t want to include her in my life. But up until from, you know, from like six until 13 ish, yeah, she was my favorite person in the world. I wanted to change every diaper and I wanted her to sleep with me and I was obsessed with her.
So I didn’t identify with these books then and now reading them, I’m like, Hmm. And, I’ll tell you, the number one thing people come in asking about is about the sibling fighting issue. And I tell everyone when they come into my programs, sibling fighting is our most advanced program because it really is about helping your kids to resolve conflict peacefully.
And most of us, we’re not that great at confronting situations that are problematic. I mean, most of us. It’s hard, conflict resolution is very difficult.
So what I am going to include here is our last Masterminding Monthly, which is our monthly free call. It’s a free coaching call where I teach a little something, and it’s a targeted topic. You know, just something that feels relevant. So last time it was sibling summer stress. So the whole call was about sibling fighting. And I taught two pieces of my sibling fighting tool.
My sibling fighting tool. It’s a whole program. It’s a four week program. And if anyone’s interested in it, just know you can join my mini masters, go to my website, mastermindparenting.com/minimasters, all one word. And you can take that sibling fighting program and do it as a self-study. So putting that out there.
But I taught in the Masterminding Monthly, the biggest game-changing part of the tool that I teach. And I’ve never heard anyone else teach about sibling fighting in the way that I do.
A lot of what was informed actually came from my daughter getting old enough to weigh in on all the ways I had screwed it up and what she would have preferred and what would have actually helped her and the thing that did eventually help her. So my daughter really helped to inform this tool. I’ve never heard anyone else teach sibling fighting the way I do. And I think it is one of the greatest things that I teach.
So, what we’re including here on the podcast is an excerpt from our Masterminding Monthly call where I teach, I think, the most important part of the sibling fighting tool, and the thing that really makes me different from the way other people coach parents on how to help their kids resolve conflict.
So enjoy listening, and I hope this really helps you out. And, I also hope that you sign up and come to our next Masterminding Monthly call. It is August the 17th and I hope that you join us live for that one. These calls are, they’re becoming the highlight of my month. They are so much fun. So enjoy this episode.
This is a game changer. Okay? The other thing in my extensive four-week program, four-week program sibling fighting tool that I teach is. You go… if safety is jeopardized, who do we normally go to?
When you walk in and one kid is smacking the other kid, one kid did something to make the other kid cry. What do you typically do? Who do you typically go to? What do you typically do? I would love to hear anyone cop to what we all do. What is that primal, mama bear instinct? What do we do, when you see one kid who’s just made another kid cry?
Right? The oldest, I’m always saying your brother’s four. What the heck? I used to say that. I have eight years between my oldest and youngest son. You’re twice his size. I made the same mistake. All the tools I teach are mostly informed by the mistakes I make just to make anyone here feel better. Okay.
Blame. What are you thinking? What are you doing? I can’t believe you, right? You just said what? Why are you always so mean? Why are you always hurting your sister? Why are you? So we typically attack the aggressor, okay?
And this is what we’re going to change. We’re going to put our energy on the injured party, for a ton of reasons that I can’t get into, but this is a game changer, and that’s why you got to walk away and do the little tapping thing and get yourself to a place of regulation so that, if and when it gets heated and safety is being jeopardized, you can remember injured party, injured party, injured party. You go to the injured party.
What we focus on grows. When we continue to put all of our energy and all of our attention on the child who did the hurting or the most hurting, we’re going to get more hurting.
When we put our attention on the healing by going to the injured party – and now notice, I don’t say the victim – the aggressor and the more injured party. I do not say victim because when we go and attack the aggressor, we treat our other child like they are a victim, and then they become a victim. And then they, guess what victims don’t know how to do. They don’t know how to stand up for themselves. They don’t know how to have boundaries. We’re not able to teach them new skills.
So when we start to see the sibling relationship as an opportunity to teach our kids skills, like how to have boundaries, how to stand up for themselves, how to believe that they can stand up for themselves. We’re teaching such valuable, amazing tools. Right?
Oh, good. I’m so glad it’s eye-opening. So no one ever gets better at anything. You know, what do, what’s the main thing that I help women with that are all the moms that I work with? Boundaries! We all suck at boundaries. We were taught not to have boundaries. We were taught to please all the people, make sure everyone else was happy. We don’t even know what boundaries are half the time.
So when we all of a sudden see our kids bickering and fighting and the long summer days. And we’re like, yeah, conflicts are going to happen in life, like all the time. And now I have an opportunity to teach my kids how to speak up for themselves in a civilized way, in a respectful way, how to let them know they are worthy of having boundaries, right? When we start to approach it in that way, we’re going to teach them valuable skills for life.
So, when we go to the injured party. Right, when we put all of our attention on the injured party, we’re going to swoop and we’re going to take this crying child away. Safety, safety, safety. The priority is safety. We’re going to take them away. Okay?
And remember, you’ve got a crying child. You’ve got a dysregulated child. You’re going to have them on your lap. You’re going to ask them if they need a booboo bear. You’re going to be touching them. You’re going to remind them. You’re going to say, I’m right here. I got you. I got you. I got you.
We’re just going to calm down together. I’m not going anywhere. I got you. You did not like that. Something happened, it wasn’t okay with you. I’m right here. I’m okay. You’re safe. I got you.
And when that child starts to calm down, when that child starts to come down, that’s when we’re going to say, what happened over there? Something happened that you didn’t like. It wasn’t okay with you. Or was it okay with you? You may ask that question and you may have a child that looks at you like, huh? Was it okay when he, when he hit you like that?
Okay. I want you to ask that stupid question. Cause your kid’s probably gonna be like, no. You’re gonna be like, good. I want you to know it is never okay for anyone, whether it’s your brother, whether it’s your sister, whether it’s another kid out on the street, whether it’s anyone, it is never okay for someone to lay their hands on your body. Your body, your business. Absolutely. It’s not okay.
So what do you do when somebody tries to lay hands on your body? What do you do? What do you do? And they might, your kid might look at you and you say, you say, no way. Absolutely not. You may not touch my body. That is not okay. Any one of those things, because I’m glad you’re upset about it because it is not okay.
Can you imagine if every little girl received the messages at four, at seven. At 10, my body, my business. You may not touch my body. I mean, talk about using sibling fighting as an opportunity to raise empowered girls. Pretty powerful, right? Right. You’re safe. You’re safe. You’re safe. You’re safe. Okay.
So that, I mean, that was just a snippet, but those two things. We’re going to assess whether it’s our business. If safety’s in jeopardy, then we’re going to jump in. We’re going to give our attention to the injured party. Okay?
Now, it doesn’t stop there, but that’s all the teaching I can do tonight. So now I’m going to go through some of these real-life scenarios and weigh in on it.
Lauren says when one is clearly provoking the other, how do you guide this for the one getting annoyed, happy to get coaching on this. When one is getting annoyed, like they’re getting provoked, then the child who’s getting annoyed is the injured party. Okay? So as long as you continue seeing it and seeing it, seeing it, really, if safety is not in question, it’s not your business. It’s just not your business.
I would talk about it out of the moment, at a nonrelevant time. I would talk about out of the moment. Hey, I noticed that, I felt like you were getting annoyed earlier. Yeah. What do you think you could do when that’s happening?
Do you think you’ll leave the room? Do you think you say, hey, what do you want from me? Do you think you ask a question? Do you think you stand up for yourself? Let’s roleplay it.
When we don’t insert ourselves because it’s not our business. And then later on, we can tell our kid needs a little coaching. When we take the time to roleplay it with our kids, it’s kind of fun. It’s kind of fun for them because we’re like, okay, okay, you be your brother or you be your sister and do the thing, and I’ll be you. Okay? And then we’ll switch.
When we put our energy on the role-playing, we’re just teaching them skills, like important skills, for how to stand up for themselves, how to communicate when something’s not okay with them. And when we do it out of the moment, our kid’s actually in their thinking brain and they can hear us. They can take it in. It’s really, really valuable.
That’s when that, you know, we’re able to sort of shift into the coaching role, and it can really be a game changer. But I think the best thing to do is to stay in your own lane when it’s going on. And if safety is not in jeopardy, just make a mental note that your kid could use some coaching later, and then talk to them out of the moment.
Okay, Kristen, this is a good one. My older daughter hasn’t liked her little sister since she was born. Little sister worships older sister. Older sister can’t stand her. Have dealt with fighting for years. I’m so burnt out. Summers are of course harder. Thanks.
So what I’ll say to this is, for an older, the older sister, not liking younger sister since she was born, you know what that makes older sister? Um, a sociopath. I’m just kidding. It makes her the opposite of the sociopath. It makes her a normal human.
And the analogy that I like to tell all the time, it would be like, if your spouse all of a sudden came home with like a new wife or a new husband. So for me, let’s just say. I’m married to a man. If he all of a sudden came home one day and was like, oh, meet Jennifer. And I’d be like, oh, she’s staying for dinner. No, no, no. I, I married her too. She’s living here now with us. You’re like, you guys are going to be fast friends. You’ll love her. She’ll be great.
I’d be like, what in the ever living fuck is going on here? I did not, I didn’t give permission for Jennifer to come and now be a part of our family. What are you talking about?
So, that is the nature of the sibling relationship. It really is. Like, little kids are egocentric. They didn’t ask for your time to now be divided for this other, like, no. So the, the sibling dynamic, as far as the older child is concerned, it starts out as an adversarial one. It just does. And the younger sibling always has stars in the eyes for the older sibling. And, your girls are normal. Okay. Your girls are normal.
Kristen, you are Taylor Swift to the girls, and you always have been. That’s what I like to call the mama because my daughter for many, many, many years was obsessed with Taylor Swift. So you’re Taylor Swift. And older sister, guess what she learned early on? Probably around the age of three, when three-year-olds are testing all the limits. Good attention, bad attention, all attention from Taylor is amazing. Okay?
If I am at the Taylor Swift concert and I’m got front row seats and I need to stand on my chair with my underwear on my head, you know, completely naked, I will do whatever I need to do as long as Taylor is looking at me. So that’s what three-year-olds go through.
And when they learn that they can poke and prod and be nasty and hurt and harm the younger baby and all of a sudden all of Taylor’s attention is on them doing the thing that I kind of, you know, doing the opposite of going to the injured party first and swooping up the baby and taking the baby to safety when accidentally mama, AKA Taylor, has come down hard on older sibling when older sibling was just figuring out how to get all your attention. Well, now we accidentally just reinforced.
What we focus on grows, we reinforce that they get lots of our attention when they’re nasty to the younger sibling, and they see the younger sibling as the opposite team. Right? And so younger sibling gets mom’s attention. Younger sibling’s constantly getting them in trouble with mom, and they’re used to this pattern of getting mom’s attention by being nasty to younger sibling.
Okay, so you know, all change starts with awareness. So we have to see it, to be able to disrupt it. We have to see it to be able to disrupt it. So what I want Kristen to do first and foremost is to understand that your older daughter is human and normal.
And I see this all the time. This is so typical. This is so normal and we have to start disrupting the pattern and the best way to disrupt the pattern… I don’t know how old the girls are, but it doesn’t really matter how old they are. the best way to start disrupting it is injured party. Is to put your attention on the injured party and start empowering your younger daughter. Okay?
The other thing I would do is start to do some proactive, just like five minutes of proactive connecting with your older daughter by herself. And I would like it just to be mostly not anything. We don’t need to go and go on a shopping spree or take her for ice cream or play, if she’s little, play Barbies or any of that, like, that’s not what we need to do.
I want her with you on your body, um, stroking her hair, fingernails or fingertips, um, taking a sniff of her, telling her you missed her today. Um, connecting. Physical touch. I want you to connect with her. I want you to just have a little physical touch. I want her to feel enjoyed and seen and celebrated and loved on, and sister not even to be in the mix. Okay?
So if you can even just start with five minutes a day, or just a couple of little interactions, or I missed you today. It’s so good to lay eyes on you. And then you can start sprinkling in other little ways where she gets to be your little sidekick and help you do this or help you do that. Feel valuable, feel like a valuable member of the team.
So we want to start disrupting that pattern where she can get some of Taylor’s attention, um, in a positive way. And she doesn’t need to use sister as her little decoy anymore. You know, sister has been the green underwear on her head to get Taylor’s attention, and let’s disrupt that pattern.
Well, what are your takeaways from this episode? Pretty good change up, don’t you think? It’s almost like it’s counterintuitive. Everyone I know, like you, one of your kids is in some way hurting the other kid or acting like a jackass. Of course, you’re going to go after that kid.
It’s counterintuitive to put your attention and to focus on the injured party. Right? And. It’s an interesting reframe and you’ll get the hang of it. The more you practice, the more you practice, the more you practice. We’re focusing on the healing. This is really positive psychology. Okay?
Naturally, that human negativity bias has us seeking and looking for all the, all the negatives, all the areas of danger and you know, anything that we can immediately jump on that it feels like it’s compromising our safety. So when we stop ourselves, and we choose to put our energy towards the positive thing, empowering the injured party. I mean, this is why the field of positive psychology is so cool.
It’s like, yeah, yeah. Thanks, primal wiring. We’re not cave people anymore. We’re going to take it from here. So yeah, I want you all to practice this and I can’t wait to hear if it does start to help you guys make some shifts.
O ur next Masterminding Monthly call is August the 17th. It is a free coaching call. Our next, and it’s, I do it in the evening and I love for you guys to come live.
And I know I’m not supposed to say guys, I’m supposed to say y’all, which does come naturally for me being from Texas or folks. And sometimes I still say guys, so excuse me for that.
Our next Masterminding Monthly topic is going to be about school mornings and it’s August the 17th. So all the things from school mornings, um, the pressure, right? Like the pressure, oh, we got to give them a good, we’ve all heard, we’ve got to send them off with a good, good, nutritious breakfast. And then you have the kid that won’t eat anything, or then you have the kid that only wants to eat sugary cereal or crapola. And so you’ve got all this pressure to feed them the right things.
Uh, the anxiety about not being late, not being, that was one for me. For me, it was always about… so it’s like not being late for the bus or not being late when the carpool arrives or not being late if you’re the one driving carpool or not being late if it’s just you driving your kids, getting your butt out the [00:25:00] door, and then you have little kids dra… Or anyone dragging feet.
Or if you have teenagers, you’ve got clothing drama, maybe even for little kids like my strong-willed son, highly sensitive son. When he was about three, three or four, I remember I had to like cut all the tags out of the shirts. Like he would, they would itch him and it would be drama in the morning and it would be intense. Last-minute clothing changes or hair drama.
All that pressure and that intensity and all the things that make school mornings sort of dreadful. That’s going to be our topic. I’m going to coach you on it and we are going to walk away having some shifts, having some plans, thinking about things differently.
And I’m really excited because I think this is a super relevant topic and this causes so many people stress. Like every single day. It’s like starting the day off with this kind of stress. And it’s just like day after day after day. It can just zap you of your energy. So I’m really excited for this topic and to support you guys on this. So sign up for our Masterminding Monthly call. You can go to mastermindparenting.com/monthly. The link will be in the show notes.
And, again, if you would like to take our entire sibling fighting program, it’s a self-study program. It’s on Evergreen. You can sign up for it. You just go to mastermindparenting.com/minimasters, and that is our self, the self-study way that you can take part in all of the Mastermind Parenting programs.
And even though it’s a self-study, we do give you some support. We do have office hours. We answer questions. You come to our Masterminding Monthly meetings, you get coached live. So we do still interact with you, but mostly it is a self-study way to take our programs.
So that’s what I’ve got for you this week, and that’s sending you off with love and support. And you’ve got this. I know school new school years are hard. We’re going to do this. We’re going to do it together. Bye for now.
Thanks for listening today, guys. I hope you picked up some tips, tools, maybe some baby steps for creating more balance and boundaries in your life. And I just wanted to let you know, if you want to continue moving the needle forward in creating this for yourself, having a happier household, I want you to go to my website and check out mastermindparenting.com. We have three beginning programs, and if you need some accountability and more support then please look for the one that would be a good fit for you.
And, as always, we’re on all the social channels under mastermind parenting, on Instagram it’s mastermind_parenting. And, you know,
[00:28:00] periodically I do pop up on different Instagram lives, Facebook lives where I give you teaching and coaching and I love engaging with you live to help you help your strong-willed kids so that they can feel better, because when they feel better they do better, and I love, love, love getting to know you guys.
So thanks for listening. If you like this podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review. Super super appreciative