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Help! My Child Is Aggressive Towards Their Sibling (And 5 Ways To Prevent It)

Updated: Apr 16

Your child can be sweet one minute then turn aggressive the next. It has hit the point where you are afraid to leave your children in a room together, near the stairs, or let your child sleep in his own room. You have no idea how much more of this you or your relationship can take as it is taking everything you have to prevent sibling violence from occurring.

You want your kids to be friends and to know that they have each other forever. But, how do you get your kids to get along when your child is currently aggressive towards their sibling?

What’s Behind Sibling Aggression?

During early childhood, your children are spending a lot of time together and competing for the same resources. Did you know preschool-aged children have actually been proven to fight every 10 minutes? This can include aggressive behaviors, name-calling, exclusion, etc.

For most children, it is pretty typical childhood behavior. However, if it involves purposeful aggression, planned out revenge, continuous teasing, and belittling of a sibling, then it may be time for therapy.

How To Know If It Is Getting Out Of Hand:

  • Is one child consistently a victim of another? I.e. is one child always the loser?

  • How frequent is the behavior?

  • Is the behavior age-appropriate?

  • Is property being destroyed?

  • Is it a normal level teasing or is it turning into belittling, demeaning, or demoralizing talk?

What Could Happen To The Younger Sibling Who Keeps Being Abused By Older Sibling:

You’ve probably observed as a parent that your children can be very monkey see, monkey do. If one child does something, the other child does it. In a lot of families, if your older child is acting out for attention, your younger child may begin to do it too. Your younger child may begin to fight back and be aggressive, bully other their sibling or other kids.

Another possibility would be that your younger child may begin to turn inward and begin to avoid being at home. Your child may become overly compliant which can be dangerous in older years and adulthood. They may also become withdrawn, have anxiety or depression in later years. You may wonder though, how can you prevent sibling violence from occurring? How can you keep both of your children safe?

5 Ways To Prevent Sibling Violence

1: Spend Alone Time With Both Children

Every day you should try to aim to spend 5-10 minutes of alone time with each child. For kids ages 2-7, 5 minutes will do. Older children will do better with 10 minutes of special time with their parents. For these 5-10 minutes, please allow them to choose what activity they want to engage in, and work on keeping a positive attitude and enjoying the time with your child.

2: Teach Your Child How To Handle Conflict

Your child most likely wasn’t born understanding how to handle conflict and manage anger, but you can teach your child how to handle conflict effectively and be calm and level-headed. You can teach your child how to voice their dislikes by saying “I don’t like it when you___,” or coping skills for when they start to get angry.

3: Work On Teamwork As A Family

Your family may have gotten into a rut of not working together or having good times together. Ways to help this rut could be having collaborative board games or engaging in teamwork activities, having family traditions such as family movie night, or doing arts and crafts together. All can help rebuild your children’s relationships with each other and with you.

4: Have Your Kids Work On Their Problem Solving

If you find yourself in a pattern of always jumping in to solve your children’s problems, practice first listening and then asking your child if they can think of a few ways to solve their problem. Have both children come up with scenarios or resolutions that are fair to both sides.

5: Praise Positives In Both Of Your Children

Often, you may find yourself in a parenting rut of giving your child negative attention and struggling to control their behaviors with positive attention alone. Try every day to praise at least five things you see your child doing that are good behaviors, and hopefully the opposite of their problematic behaviors. For instance, if your child is struggling with aggression, praise them when they are being kind to their sibling. If your child tends to whine, praise whenever you hear your child using a kind or calm voice. Praise can really eliminate attention-seeking behaviors.

Another option would be to keep a family jar where you add a marble every time you notice good behavior out of your child. When the jar fills up, the whole family could do something special together like bake cookies, go rollerskating, or go to the playground.

Do I Wait For My Child To Grow Out Of It?

If the aggression is only every now and then, not planned, and very sporadic–yes, you can wait for your child to grow out of it.

However, if the aggression is occurring more days than not, you’ve hit the point where you are afraid to leave your children in the room alone or turn your back, and your household seems like chaos–this is a good time to seek therapy before it continues to get worse.

What Therapies Can Help With Aggressive Children?

At Willow Tree Healing Center, we recommend Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) for kids ages 2-6.5 who are suffering from aggression, defiance, temper tantrums, cursing, running away, and other attention-seeking behaviors. PCIT will work to calm your child and help them to choose better behaviors. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy will also help to strengthen your relationship with your child and help you enjoy being around them again.

For older children, we recommend family therapy with an emphasis on teamwork, relationship building, and learning coping skills for when angry. Family therapy can help the whole family learn how to work together and communicate more effectively.

For more information about therapy, call our office at 757-296-8794.

If you are looking for family counseling, Mary Willoughby Prentiss is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virginia who provides online therapy for Willow Tree Healing Center. She enjoys transforming the lives of women, college students, kids, tweens/teens, and families through providing communication strategies, coping skills that work, allowing a safe space to be heard, and actively working towards helping you with your challenges. She is certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (ages 2-7) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counsels substance abuse in teens and adults, and practices Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.

Please sendan email to to explore working together.

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