by Cheryl Jackson Friday March 16, 2012

I was sitting at the kitchen table when my three-year-old daughter approached our barely one-year-old daughter as she was tottering towards me.  The three-year-old bent down and hugged the baby. Really hard. Then harder. The baby's head was bulging above my older daughter's arms. "I love you soooooooo much," said my older daughter.  Ack!  "Stop hugging her!" I said. "That's a little too much love for your baby sister."  We had to have a discussion about babies and sisters and what's acceptable and what's not.

I thought it was quite ingenious, actually.  My daughter knew she couldn't say she hated her baby sister.  And she couldn't hit her.  But she could love her to death.  I'm happy to report that many years later, although they still have screaming fights about clothes and other things, they are the best of friends and turn to each other every day for love and support. Whew.

Apparently the arrival of a new sibling is prime time for an eruption of sibling rivalry. Makes sense. Kids compete for resources in the family, and a new baby takes up a lot of attention and resources. Sibling rivalry at all ages is normal, but sometimes it can get so out of hand that people get hurt, emotionally or physically.

I sat down with psychologist Oren Amitay to talk about this. When is a spat normal, and when is it the sign of a problem? Why do some families seem to suffer from so much sibling rivalry, and others not? How can parents help keep the peace? Or should they get involved at all?  These are just some of the questions I asked Oren. He repeatedly said, "It depends on how parents handle it."  So I asked him to explain. He also shared his own family's experience - he has a 14-year-old, a 10-year-old and a two-year-old, so he's in deep.  Here's that interview. Good luck, and may all the sibling rivalry in your home be normal.