Today’s Table Talk is by our friend Jody Capehart. She is so sweet to address an issue that more than one MOAT has raised in hopes of gaining some insight from our wise advisers. Today’s installment is Part 1 where Jody addresses the “what/why”. Next week, she will share some tips on “how”. 

Thanks so much, Jody … and thanks for walking the road with me.


siblings One of the top concerns of many parents is the issue of how to cut down on the amount of fighting that goes on between siblings.

Between work, keeping the children safe and alive, and playing referee for the seemingly unceasing fights that constantly take place, most parents find themselves too exhausted to try new approaches for handling their children.

Let’s look at the age-old issue of sibling rivalries and find ways that will hopefully cut down on the amount of referee hours you’re playing every day and add a little more energy – and sanity – back into your life.

What interests me as a parent, grandparent, and an educator is not simply how to get through a day of parenting or teaching but how to find ways of making that day successful, meaningful, and yes, even enjoyable.

But sibling rivalries take a lot out of us, and many parents just want to be told what to do to stop these.

Unfortunately, children are not cookie-cutters and parenting is complex.

Before you try any new approaches to your children, you must factor in the unique aspects of their relationship:

  • What are their ages? How far apart in age are they?
  • Are they the same gender or not?
  • Do their personalities have built-in speed bumps, such as introvert and extrovert, shy or loud, active or reflective?
  • Do they strongly dislike each other or just have problems from time to time?
  • Are there any learning disabilities involved that complicate their social interactions?
  • What’s the history with this relationship? Is it the same basic fight over and over or is this something new?

As you can tell from these questions, there is no one solution to this problem, and there is no way we can cover everything here.

What I want is to get you thinking about the specifics of your children’s relationship and then apply some general principles that will help you move from surviving the day to enjoying it.


For decades the prevailing theory for sibling rivalries was that children fought over parental attention. Newborns were viewed as disturbing the expectations and rhythms the older child had come to expect and thrive under. So from day one this new person was a rival for Mom and Dad’s time and affection.

Of course, this dynamic is present and needs to be addressed by parents. It is unwise to give one child more attention or approval and then not to expect major problems.

But most parents are aware of this, have discussed it, and have taken the steps to minimize this disturbance. Yet their children continue to fight. Why?

Recent research is showing that the ‘stuff’ is more of a factor than previously thought. We all want our children to be kind and to share. But let’s put it in a realistic context for just a moment.

If I told you that you had to share your beloved iPad with your new neighbor or colleague, how would you feel about it? Be honest. Would you be overjoyed or would you feel a sense of resentment, territorial, and fear of it getting ruined?

While relationships are vitally important and children have to share precious time with Mom and Dad, they also have to share their prized possessions. In reality, it is hard.

Yes, the new family member might be perceived as a threat. But for a child there is also a threat to their stuff . If they turn their back for a second, it’s more likely that their younger sibling will be trying to take the toy the older one was just playing with than they will be to sneak in extra hugs with Mommy.

Sharing a toy turns out to be more difficult than sharing Mommy. With Mommy, she is in charge and hopefully shows both children equal love and affection. But toys cannot assert themselves like Mommy can, so it is up to the siblings to determine a winner and a loser.

On the flip side, the older one will often seek out ways to assert their dominance, whether it is getting to the car first, down the stairs fastest, or up the tree the highest. For them, the younger sibling is a means by which they can find fresh, daily opportunities to create the much-desired benefits of being on top.

The dynamic between the two is typically formed in the beginning of their relationship. If you get an older child that is sweet, understanding, and inclusive, count yourself blessed! More likely, the oldest will be a bit bossy and controlling – even if they are kind and gentle in all their other relationships.

A good predictor is to see how your children interact with their friends. However, even good-natured children will show uglier tendencies toward their siblings.

(to be continued…)

For more information check out Jody’s website and blog: for terrific articles and books on the subject. Also, check out The Pantry to purchase some of her books.

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