How to Cope with Siblings who Annoy, Bully or Fight

This podcast focuses on talking to kids about ignoring it when siblings are driving them nuts. We will be discussing how to deal with siblings who annoy, pester, bully or fight using the “Ignore It!” system developed by Catherine Pearlman.

Special Guest: Catherine Pearlman

Now, I want you to imagine your kids are in the same room. You are trying to get something done, because, well, you’re a parent, teacher, coach or someone who has to do tasks to keep life going in the right direction. You start to hear whining, some raised voices and then- the play by play “Ben is touching me!” “Emma took my (insert in the blank),” “Sarah made a mean face!” Petitions: “I want a turn!” or “Stop making that annoying noise!” “Just leave me alone!” And then…wait for it…MooooooooooooM! Daaaaaaaaaaad! Or whatever your name is to these kids. Has this ever happened to you? Perhaps you’ve seen it happen to the families you work with and you can feel the stress envelope the parents and the kids? Sibling rivalry is typically the unwanted gremlin that can spoil even the most enjoyable moments within families.

So what are we to do? Punish? Reward? Break up the fight? And what should we advise our kids to do when their sibling is driving them nuts? My next guest says, in no uncertain terms, when it comes to annoying behaviors we must “IGNORE IT!” And we are going to find out why, how and exactly what to do the next time you find yourself in the midst of a sibling argument. I know, if your kids are anything like mine, it probably won’t be too long!

Catherine Pearlman is the founder of The Family Coach and the author of Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction. Catherine writes the nationally syndicated Dear Family Coach column and her work has appeared in US News,, Good Housekeeping and more. She’s a licensed clinical social worker, an assistant professor at Brandman University and a mom of two kids and a dog. She’s a New Yorker living in southern California.

The podcast provides:

  • Why siblings annoy each other on purpose?
  • How kids can implement Ignore It! to improve sibling behavior?
  • How parents can implement ignore it to assuage sibling rivalry?
  • TIPS: Beyond saying “ignore it,” what adults/parents can do to support kids while they manage sibling relationships.
  • Scripts: What can we say to our children to help them deal with the intense irritation of an annoying sibling without losing his or her mind?
  • Responding to “Pushing it.” How we can ignore it when our sibling is in our face, singing loudly, dancing, yelling and putting arrows on him or herself so that we do pay attention.

Important Messages:

  • Why do siblings annoy each other? Because it works.
  • Even if it’s negative attention- kids will do whatever they can to get attention.
  • When we don’t give any attention to the bully- bullying goes down. Same with siblings.
  • Ignore the behavior even if it’s in your face. Then listen once the behavior is done. Reengage once it’s all over. Repair the relationship. Express yourself.
  • When parents intervene, they are actually providing reinforcement.
  • Tell your child; “go ahead and resolve it yourselves.”
  • When we react- we reinforce and reinforced behavior gets repeated.
  • Role play with kids so that they can practice ignoring it.
  • Teach kids to turn their back, don’t make eye contact, don’t say anything.
  • Give a sign to indicate to the child who is being irritated that they need to “ignore it.”
  • Make sure our kids know that we understand their frustration—it isn’t easy to ignore annoying behavior!
  • Hold both kids accountable- if you pick one over the other, you reinforce the problem.
  • Have the kids work together to earn something they really want—it will keep them from fighting.
  • Set up the expectation and the consequence in advance so everyone is clear about what will happen if the child does not do what s/he is supposed to do.
  • Provide reward charts. Allow for natural consequences.
  • Hold everyone accountable.

Notable Quotables:

  • “Why do siblings annoy each other? Because it works.”
  • “It’s normal to respond. When someone is yelling at us, we yell back. When someone is harassing us, we harass them back. Once kids learn that that is the point- that when we respond, the other gets what they want, they can learn to NOT react.”
  • “Try to give each kid what they need when they need it instead of worrying about keeping things even and keeping score between siblings.”
  • “How do parents resolve sibling rivalry? Stay out of it!”
  • “Every time you react, you reinforce. Every reinforced behavior will be repeated. That’s why when it comes to sibling rivalry, we have to teach kids to ignore it.”
  • “You can start ignoring the behavior now. Just because you didn’t do it last time doesn’t mean you can’t do it this time. You can start now.”
  • “A lot of the time, parents get involved in situations when if they hadn’t, the kids might have found an amicable solution on their own that actually worked.”
  • “Sometimes parents need to think of the opposite of providing unwanted attention for the negative behaviors and instead provide positive attention for behaviors that we want.”
  • “Most kids typically respond extremely well to positive attention. But if they don’t get attention the good way, they’re going to get it the not-so-good way- by harassing, whining, complaining and negotiating and picking on siblings.”
  • “I want parents to stop reinforcing the negative behavior and start reinforcing the positive behavior that they want to see. That’s really what “Ignore It” is all about.”
  • “Parents need to set up the expectation and provide the consequence if the child doesn’t do what s/he is supposed to do.”
  • “Stick with the consequence and don’t give in. You have to let your kids have that moment of unpleasantness even if it’s bad for all of us. One moment of pain can solve a lifetime of pain if you just follow through to the bitter end. Resist giving in. Be thoughtful about what you choose to be the consequence but once you put it into play, you’ve got to follow through.”