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#94 Easing Sibling Rivalry-Part 1

Season #2


“ My oldest craves more of my time and attention and takes out his frustration on his siblings, especially his younger brother. He is very dismissive and even insulting to his brother.”- Caitlin, Mom of 3 boys

In this special episode of The 3D Parent Podcast, I’m going to help out Caitlin, a devoted mom of three, whose eldest son feels a bit left out lately. He's craving more attention and sometimes ends up picking fights with his little brother. 

Feeling stretched thin and overwhelmed, Caitlin wonders how to fill each child's emotional bucket without stirring up more competition. How can she offer one-on-one time without igniting jealousy? And in the chaos of sibling squabbles, how can she intervene effectively?

As a fellow parent of multiple children, I know the feeling of being pulled in all directions and I'm here to lend a hand. Using my 3D Parent approach, we'll start by gaining clarity on the situation: Is it Caitlin, her children, or their dynamic as a family unit that needs attention? Let's dive in and make sense of what is going on in this family so we can move towards finding some practical solutions to ease the tension and restore harmony in Caitlin's household.


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Today's episode is a special one where we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at a coaching session. I'm excited for you to see how we tackle real parenting challenges head-on.

I'm thrilled to welcome my special guest Caitlin, a devoted mother of three from Redmond, Washington, who recently shared her heartfelt struggles with sibling rivalry in a candid discussion on a parenting podcast. In a touching submission, Caitlin opened up about the challenges she faces as her oldest son seeks more attention and lashes out at his siblings.

The scenario Caitlin described is a familiar one for many parents—her oldest child's longing for attention manifests in behavior that is dismissive and even hurtful towards his younger siblings. Despite her efforts, Caitlin finds it difficult to sympathize with her oldest son's actions, leading to a cycle of tension and conflict within the family. Recognizing the need for support, Caitlin and her son have both embarked on separate therapy journeys to address these issues head-on. However, Caitlin finds herself facing her own past experiences with sibling rivalry, which only adds more layers of complexity to the situation and leaves her feeling overwhelmed with guilt.

As Caitlin navigates the delicate balance of meeting each child's needs while maintaining harmony in the household, she seeks guidance on effective strategies for fostering positive sibling relationships. Her questions reflect the common dilemmas faced by parents in similar situations: 

  • How can she ensure each child feels valued without inadvertently favoring one over the others? 
  • How can she carve out quality time for individual bonding without exacerbating jealousy or competition among her children? 

My 3D Parent Coaching approach began with helping Caitlin find her sense of direction as she pondered my 3 “Scan the Situation” questions: "Is it me? Is it my child or children? Is it us?" These questions allowed for a deeper exploration of her parenting challenges. With refreshing honesty, Caitlin admitted feeling stretched thin and overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood. She candidly admitted, "I think I'm definitely a piece of the puzzle," acknowledging her feelings of being stretched thin and grappling with guilt over not spending enough time with her children.

One of Caitlin's primary concerns revolved around imaginative play, an area where she admittedly struggles. "I don't really know how to “pretend play," she admitted, highlighting the discomfort she feels when engaging in activities like building Lego sets or embarking on fantasy adventures with her children. I reassured Caitlin that she's not alone in this struggle, emphasizing that each parent has their own strengths and challenges. As Caitlin delved deeper into her concerns, she uncovered her belief in the value of independent play for children. However, she realized that her desire to foster creativity sometimes clashed with her instinct to intervene. 

The conversation also touched upon Caitlin's past wounds related to sibling rivalry and her instinctive "mama bear" response to conflicts among her children. Amidst the challenges, Caitlin expressed her deep longing for harmonious family moments. "I just want everyone to get along," Caitlin admitted, reflecting on her desire for unity within her family.

 Next, we dove into the second question, “ Is it my child/children?” Caitlin opened up about her eldest son's struggles with separation anxiety and intense emotions, shedding light on his behavior shaped by his drive towards seeking contact and closeness since infancy. Despite his articulate nature, he tends to bottle up his feelings, masking his inner turmoil. This emotional intensity often translates into verbal outbursts directed at his younger siblings.

As we discussed the final facet of our exploration– the, "Is it us," question – I introduced Caitlin to the concept of the “Karpman Triangle”, a psychological framework for understanding a common dysfunctional family system. Caitlin recognized the roles she, her children, and her husband often fell into: the rescuer, the victim, and the victimizer. "It's like we're stuck in this cycle," Caitlin lamented, acknowledging the detrimental impact it had on their relationships. Breaking free from this cycle required intentional effort and awareness, which I assured Caitlin was possible.

We also addressed Caitlin's perception of a scarcity mindset, particularly with her attention and affection. Her "mama bear" reactions stemmed from fears and insecurities, influencing her responses to conflicts among her children. By confronting these fears and adopting an abundant mindset, Caitlin could create a nurturing environment for her family. Handling sibling conflicts was another concern for Caitlin, who often felt panicked and unsure of how to intervene effectively. To help her manage these situations, I introduced the concept of "incident management" and outlined three essential steps: do no harm, take charge, and circle back later.

Part 1 of our coaching session concluded with a message of empowerment, as I  reassured Caitlin that she possessed the tools to overcome her challenges. "You and your husband are the answer," I affirmed, emphasizing the importance of self-reflection and proactive problem-solving in parenting.

Now, I know after hearing this parent coaching session and all of the nuanced details of what is likely causing all the conflict for Caitlin and her family, you might be ready to hear some proposed solutions. I’ve got them, but you will just need to be a little patient and tune in next week for Episode 95, Part 2 of this recorded parent coaching session where we will discuss ways to alleviate the struggles Caitlin and her family are currently facing.