“As children, my sister and I were so jealous of each other,” said Claire, as we sipped our lattes. “I thought my sister was so much more beautiful than me.”

I raised my eyebrow. In my mind how could my friend not have seen her beauty. Claire has a fair complexion, smooth blond hair and neat features, and she has a radiance that makes me smile just thinking about her.

“My sister had dark curly hair, dark, dark eyes. I thought I looked insipid compared to her. I was so envious of her looks. We fought most of our childhood,” she sighed. “Imagine – all those years we could have had a great sibling relationship. It was only when we got to be adults that we talked it through and discovered we were both envious of each other’s looks.”

So many parents despair because of their children’s constant bickering and fighting. Perhaps you are a parent in that situation too, concerned about the sibling rivalry in your home – perhaps you are wondering how to respond to sibling jealousy.

Three Key Aspects to Counteract Sibling Jealousy

1. Create Opportunity to Listen to How Your Children Are Feeling

To stop the fighting we need to think about what might going on underneath the surface that is causing the turmoil. Like adults, children are influenced by the thoughts they dwell on. They are not likely to respond in a kind, compassionate manner when they are thinking:

“She’s prettier than me.”

“He’s better at sport than me.”

“She’s cleverer than me.”

“Mum and Dad love her more than me.”

“Just because she’s the baby, they let her get away with it.”

Very often when anger surfaces there are feelings of fear or disappointment underneath the blanket of the aggressive behaviour. These emotions are fueled by envious, or jealous thoughts. Until we acknowledge and respond to our children’s feelings and thoughts, we are likely to find ourselves dealing with the fallout of sibling rivalry. The thing is, jealous thoughts are like woodborers – if they are ignored, they slowly erode the fabric of the relationship.

“Jealousy and envy distort the truth of what is essential for satisfaction or genuine happiness in life.”

Sibling Envy

This quote is from Normile and Alley’s book “Overcoming Envy and Jealousy Therapy” 

When sibling rivalry erupts your children need you to help them to restore equilibrium. Focus on creating a safe space where your children can process what’s going on for them. To quote Dr Dan Siegel: “Connection calms.”

2. Help your children to think about what their envy might be telling them

Children often feel frustrated, irritable or fearful because they imagine they are at a disadvantage to the other.

Think about the expression we hear kids use – “I’ll get even!”

This statement says so much  – when there is sibling rivalry at least one child is not feeling equal to the other.

Perhaps your child’s envy is tied in more with admiration of his sibling than a feeling of resentment.

We can’t stop the envy, but imagine if we could help our children to take ownership of their envy and to turn this around to be a helpful tool. Have you come across the term “frenvy”? It’s a term to describe “friend envy” – that sometimes we envy the character traits or achievements of the very ones we like. When we listen supportively we can help our children figure out what their envy is really about, and it can spur them on: “If she can do it I can too!” We can help them turn the green-eyed monster into a helpful ally – to be the best they can be.

3. Build your children’s self esteem

When there is strong sibling rivalry it is often connected to low self esteem. A key aspect to easing sibling rivalry is to build your children’s self esteem.

“Jealousy and emptiness are related, not twins, but born of the same emptiness within you.” Normile and Alley

To discover practical ways to boost children’s self esteem see 7 Useful Tips On How to Build Self Esteem In Your Child.

Bringing positive change to levels of self esteem and softening the intensity of sibling rivalry is a long steady haul to healthier, happier relationships. And, as parents, our consistency counts.

"creation calms." Dr Dan Siegel

Photos Acknowledgement: © Redbaron | Dreamstime.com

What are your thoughts? If you have any questions or comments about sibling envy please post them below.






Last edited August 04th 2017

This evening (12 November) Val Mullally is the keynote speaker at Douglas Community School, sharing some helpful insights and practical tools re how  parents can support their teens’ emotional well-being.

Last edited November 12th 2013

What to do when your child’s being bullied

For any parent, to see your child’s pain because other children are shutting him out of the group, or worse still, directly bullying your child, is heartbreaking and infuriating. You’re hurting to see your child hurting.

‘Shall I go and talk to the teacher or the principal? Or will that make it worse?’

And  to receive either an unsympathetic reaction or promises that things will change and nothing does only exacerbates your frustration.

Bullying is nothing new. Isn’t that what the classic fairytale ‘The Ugly Duckling’ is all about? School Anti-Bullying Policies wouldn’t have developed if there wasn’t a need for them. (Actually, I prefer to think of ‘Mutual Respect Policies’.)

So what does work, what is needed and how does a parent get that support for their child?


Phrases that are NOT helpful.

1. ‘It’s just a phase.’ / ‘He’ll get over it.’

Neither the bullying behaviour nor the pain caused by it is going to just disappear of its own accord. Your child needs and deserves support. I doubt if there’s any one of us that doesn’t remember a hurtful comment somewhere along the line. I’ve talked with fifty year old men still deeply hurt by the bullying they endured at school.

2. ‘He’s telling tales.’

What else is a child supposed to do! We can’t expect children to be able to handle the quagmire of bullying behaviours that would probably be legally labeled as harassment or abuse if they were adults. If the child is reporting something, he’s trying to let you know that something is not ok. Children need adult support to deal with these challenges.

3. ‘He needs to suck it up / get over it.’

To expect a child to suppress or deny his feelings is asking him to suppress or deny his very self. His feelings are his ‘inner barometer’ letting him know something is not okay. When parents and teachers are skilled in developing children’s Emotional Intelligence, they have a key tool to supporting children, especially in challenging situations.


What Can be Helpful in Bullying Situations

Here’s a few practical tips and insights:


1. YOU can make a difference – for everybody’s sake.

It makes sense that what you’re focused on is your need for your child to be treated the respectful way that any person deserves to be treated. Despite your justifiably angry feelings, your wise, courageous and sensitive handling of the situation can bring the change that’s needed for everyone. Until the issue is addressed at its roots, if it’s not your child being bullied, it’ll be someone else’s. Ask yourself  ‘What really matters here?’ for your own child and  also ask yourself  What really matters here?  re the long term community perspective.


2. Bullying is a community issue.

Bullying isn’t just about the children directly involved in the particular incident/s. We need to create healthy environments that nurture every child’s well-being. Mary Gordon’s ‘Roots of Empathy’ work is a great example of how, when a climate of caring and understanding is deliberately nurtured, children not only practise kindness but  they will also take a stand against bullying behaviour. The amazing thing about Mary Gordon’s work is that it’s not focused on bullying. It’s a programme where a baby and parent ‘visit’ the class each month through the school year. A trained facilitator helps the children to understand about the baby’s level of development, what the baby might be trying to ‘tell us’ and how we can give the baby what he needs. Children not only become compassionate and tuned in to what the little one needs – but this empathetic awareness ‘rubs off’ on one another.  they learn to care about one another’s feelings and experiences.


3. Choose to Keep Your Cool When You Have a Meeting with School Staff /Parents

Whilst it makes sense that you’re upset, do whatever helps you calm down before you go into the meeting so that you can cooly and coherently explain what has happened and discuss what’s needed. If you go in with guns blazing people will ‘dive for cover’ and not hear what you really want them to hear. If you feel your anger rising during the meeting, focus on your breathing, (Breathe in up to the count of 7, then out 8-9-10-11).  Remember that if you go into ‘attack’ mode, people will go into ‘defence’ mode. Choose to model the behaviour you’d like your child to receive.

4. Refer to ‘bullying behaviour’ rather than to ‘the bully’.

It’s easy, especially when we’re angry and upset if our own child has been hurt, physically or emotionally, to label the other child. But remember that it could have been your child doing the bullying.  Labelling the other child is likely to  cause the other parent or staff member  to react defensively. You can choose to respond in way that is likely to instigate cooperative interaction between the involved adults, to bring healthy change in the community.

Rather than saying, ‘He’s a bully,’ state:

  • the facts of what happened,
  • that you see this as bullying behaviour,
  • what you need for your child.

Then wait for their response.

If you use language that addresses the incident, rather than labels the other child, you’re likely to find it easier to achieve your desired outcome to create a happy environment for your child.


5. Focus on the favourable outcome you’d like to create.

Think ‘resolving the challenge’ rather than ‘punishing the perpetrator’.  And be prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that all the children in your community have the safe environment they deserve.

It makes sense that you’d like ‘that child to get a taste of his own medicine’. Over my years in teaching I’ve noticed that when children are hurting inside they’re likely to cause hurt on the outside. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily the ‘fault’ of the parent – it may be related to some other issue. What I’m saying is that the child who is bullying needs support too. And when you model compassion as well as justice you set a powerful example for your child.

One of the greatest challenges is to champion your child. In other words, rather than your child feeling a victim, give the type of support that he will come through this knowing that he’s a champion.


For pdf of this CLICK HERE.

For print version CLICK HERE.

Val Mullally MA is an accredited Parent Coach and offers one-to-one coaching, as well as  workshops for parents and for staff to create healthier, happier environments.

Val offers training in various topics including:

– What’s Needed When Bullying Erupts: and how to champion your child

– The Greatest Key to Your Child’s Success in Life: developing children’s emotional intelligence

– Nurturing Children’s Self Esteem: from ‘survive’ to ‘thrive’

– How to Listen so Children will Talk – the unique Koemba -CONNECT model






Last edited April 03rd 2012

I’m tweeting every day for five days as a gift to Parents this Valentines. I wish I’d known this when my kids were young!

* Hubby could tell me 100 x a day ‘I love you’ and I’d still enjoy. But his love language is Acts of Kindness – that love is SHOWN!

* How would you know if ur child’s love language is acts of kindness? They are the HELPERS.

* It’s really important to thank the ‘Acts of Kindness’ child. S/he needs to know you see their loving action.

* Children whose love language is Acts of Kindness thrive on you doing things for them that show you care.

* For child whose love language is Acts of Kindness, to refuse / procrastinate help can be very hurtful.

* Hubby asking ‘Any pancakes?’ OK Val stop tweeting – go practise what you preach! Acts of kindness show love!

* Many little acts of kindness is no little thing.

For more helpful tips and insights please check back here tomorrow or join me on Twitter


Last edited February 12th 2012


What makes your child  FEEL loved? 

Here’s a summary of my tweets today re the child who thrives on ‘Words of Affirmation’

* We tend to give to our children the same sort of love that makes US feel loved but our child’s ‘love language’ might be different.

* Ask yourself : Did my child experience my love today?

* Some children experience love especially thru affirming words. How would u know? Listen for frequent comments eg ‘I love u’ ‘You look pretty’

* You love your child, right? But does your child FEEL loved? Sometimes as parents we miss the plot.

* What makes me feel loved doesn’t necessarily make my child feel loved. I love words of affirmation but my son puts value on quality time.

* Its challenging to give our children what THEY need to feel loved, rather than giving them what makes US feel loved.

* Avoid OTT ‘You’re terrific / brilliant’. Rather give descriptive praise e.g. U picked up the books and put them on the shelf. TY’

* Even positive labels like ‘good girl’ can be unhelpful for our children. Read my story about this.

* Labels can limit us to seeing just some aspect of our child’s behaviour, as though that is who the child IS.

* It’s not just what we say to our children. It’s HOW we say it.

* Mum gives out to 4 yo who responds: ‘Mummy who don’t you use your telephone voice to me?’

* To the child whose love language is ‘words of affirmation’ harsh criticizing words can be soul wounding.

* The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. – Peggy O’Mara

For more helpful tips and insights please check back here tomorrow or join me on Twitter.

Last edited February 11th 2012

Teenage Freedom?

‘How do I give my twelve year old freedom but also keep an eye on her without her thinking that I don’t trust her?’

What’s helpful when teenagers are pushing  for freedom and you’re worried about their safety?

As parents we develop strategies to try to keep our teens safe – but not all are necessarily helpful.

The Checking Up Strategy

What I think isn’t helpful is ‘sneaky’ checking up.

I think of one mother who used to surreptitiously check her teenage daughter’s phone. The daughter resorted to renaming the ‘not- allowed’ boyfriend as ‘Jenny’ on her phone.

Life has a strange way of boomeranging – and if you do sneaky you’re likely to get sneaky.

One of the things that I did with my sons that was helpful was to have a policy that if they wanted to go out, we, as parents, would be phoning the parents who were hosting the event so that we could check arrangements.

They knew this was the deal and that we would not agree to them going out if there was anything that was of concern to us.

The ‘ParentPepTalk’ Strategy

I was so anxious that my sons would turn out ‘right’ that I thought it was my job to repeatedly remind them what ‘good’, responsible behaviour looked like. Now I look back I recognise that my sons had been taking ‘snapshots’ of ‘how we do life’ from a very early age. By the time they get to their teens they have a complete reference catalogue stored up –

how we do conflict

how we deal with upset feelings

what we do if we can cheat and get away with it

how we show love

what’s okay and not okay.

The endless list is already stored and the last thing teens need or want at this stage of their lives is the constant peptalk.  When my son was in his early teens he told me about boys drinking at parties,  he immediately got the  ‘That’s not okay, please don’t you ever do that, I’ll be so disappointed, blaah, blaah, blaah’ ad infinitum lecture. So what happened within a couple of years is he stopped telling me what was happening in his life. The wiser me now recognises that he was telling me because he was trying to make sense of the standards we’d encouraged. It would have been more helpful if I’d just listened to what he wanted to share and asked his opinion.

We can get so worried by what we think might go wrong that we only focus on the negatives. What I know now is that if a child has a strong sense of self-esteem she’s not going to be trying to fill the ‘hole in her soul’ with drink, drugs, sex and all the other parent nightmares.  A child with a strong self-esteem has an inner core she can rely on.

So how do we build young people’s self esteem?

Recognise that self esteem is much more than self confidence. Self Esteem is like a three legged stool and confidence is only one of those ‘legs’. Like any stool we need the legs to be of equal length and strength for a stable base.  I’m most grateful for learning this concept through Jesper Juul’s book: ‘Your Competent Child’.

So let’s look at each of these:

Confidence comes from our sense of competence.  Learning to be able to do things for yourself and to be able to figure out what’s needed is all part of confidence building.  Obviously a situation that’s too big and overwhelming and beyond the child’s control will have the opposite effect and would damage the child’s confidence. That’s why it is important that we as parents both build our children’s confidence and also set clear boundaries around what we do and don’t permit.

Confidence is built when young people can figure out their own solutions. If parents are always rushing in to solve every dilemma, how do children learn?  Ask yourself if there are times when it would be more helpful to let your child take the consequences of her action (or inaction).

Belonging In the teen years a sense of being part of the group becomes very important.  The challenge comes when your child loses a sense of ‘belonging to herself’. Our need to feel connected to ourselves (our autonomy) and our need to be connected with others is like a see-saw. Both parts are necessary and the balance will only be kept if it’s firmly grounded in unconditional love.

When you get the first ‘teenage rumbles’ rather than resort to ‘Because I said so’ or caving in, focus on seeing these as opportunities to help the child keep connected with herself and her values and to learn to negotiate with you.

Worth Your child needs to know that nothing she does can add to or take away from her intrinsic worth.  When she knows this she’ll know you are the ones to turn to when life’s uncertain.

When your child has a self esteem stool with three strong legs of confidence, belonging and worth, she has a stable base to deal with the challenges of teenagehood.

Our children are already born with incredible potential to beautiful, wise, creative, compassionate, wonderful people.

It’s our job as parents to create conditions for them to thrive. 

You’ll discover more insights and practical tools in my CD                                                         ‘Helping Your Child Cope in the Real World’.  Also available as MP3.

Helpful books on this topic:

Your Competent Child Jesper Juul

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families   Stephen Covey

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls Mary Pipher

Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood William Pollack



Last edited January 17th 2012

If you’re anything like I was when my children were young  – those words filled me with anxiety.

I needed my child to be happy at school so that I could feel okay about it.

So how to respond in a way that’s actually helpful?

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own anxiety that our response is actually about trying to calm our own anxiety – rather than responding to him.

Here’s some of the tactics we parents use in our attempt for ‘smooth entry’.

Parent: Unhelpful Tactic 1

We try to do is convince him he thinks /feels otherwise.

‘Of course you want to go to school – you love school.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 2

Change the subject.

‘Oh, look.  There’s Johnny.  Let’s go to the park together.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 3


‘Your sister loves school.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 4

Try to reason.

‘You’ll be home in just a few hours.’

‘But last week you said you really wanted to go to school.’ (Maybe he did – but that was last week –not now!)

Parent  Unhelpful Tactic 5


‘Be a good boy and go to school and I’ll buy you an ice-cream on the way home.’

Parent Unhelpful Tactic 6


‘Big boys all go to school.’

These tactics aren’t helpful because:

* Your child’s not feeling heard or ‘feeling felt’.

(When his emotions aren’t calmed, he won’t be able to figure out how he can handle the challenge).

* When he experiences his parents ignoring what he’s experiencing, over time he might begin to doubt or ignore his own inner experiences /  thoughts and feelings.

* If he can’t share these worrying emotions with you because you ignore / divert him then  he might  start thinking that he can’t share  other concerns him with you.

* He might feel resentful towards a sibling (just because she likes school, why should that mean he does?)

* And if he figures that bribes get him rewards, you’re creating a situation where he’s more likely to complain about more things. (‘Mentality: ‘The more I complain the more ice-creams I get!’)

* Shaming a child might get the immediate result you want, but it means he’ll just be stifling his worries, rather than learning he’s got a supportive mum / dad who will listen and help him figure out what’s needed.

So what can be helpful?

* Be aware that, even if you’ve been careful about what you say, your child ‘reads’ you – your body language, tone of voice, muscle tension, facial expression. If he senses you’re tense/ worried/ anxious/ don’t want to ‘let your baby go’  – he’ll cooperate with you – and give you the behaviour that you are subconsciously  ‘asking him for’. This means making sure you’re settled and calm about the situation. (And sometimes one parent copes better at the school gate than the other parent – try to plan it that way if possible).

* Respond to what your child’s experiencing – not to your own needs.  It’s so easy for us to so want for it to be okay, that we’re trying to soothe him for our own sake, rather than being tuned in to what’s actually helpful for him.

* Respond to his words.‘ So you don’t think you want to go to school today. Tell me more.’ Often just having a chance to talk about it, knowing someone’s really listening, may be all he needs to do. And maybe there IS something that’s not okay, that he’ll need your support to sort out.

* Empathise. Notice his body language and facial expression as well as his words. Try to ‘get into his skin’ and feel what he’s feeling. Naming the emotion helps him to ‘name’, ‘claim’ and ‘tame’ the emotion.

‘You’re feeling sad/ worried about going to school?’ If you name the emotion, he’s more likely to have a sense that his experience is normal / understandable to others and this makes it easier for him to deal with overwhelming emotions.  He’s more likely to calm down when he ‘feels felt’.

Our culture tends to give a message ‘big boys don’t cry’ but our tears when we are upset are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. Our ‘upset tears’ contain stress hormones – so when we’ve ‘had a good cry’, we feel better / more able to cope. Having said that, there’s a time  (Like going into the school gate) when tears most probably aren’t going to be helpful. Time to be listened to beforehand can reduce risk of tears at the gate.And avoid expressions like ‘Don’t cry.’ (All he’ll hear is ‘Cry’!)

Even young children can learn to use focusing on their breath to contain themselves. (Great at the dentist or doctor’s) Remind him of something that will be encouraging or reassuring. (‘I’ll be right here to meet you at home time.’)

* Some children battle to be away from the parent. Some token object to ‘keep safe for me’ or ‘so that you know I’m thinking of you’ that he can tuck into his pocket can give him something tangible to feel and reassure himself at times when he might need to calm himself during the day.

* Giving a choice can be helpful.  Perhaps as you get close to the school your child becomes increasingly clingy. ‘Would you like me to walk to the classroom door with you or do you want to say goodbye in the hall?’ Not going to school isn’t being offered as an option – but, by making a choice, your child doesn’t feel powerless in the situation

*  Daily transition times – home to school – can be stressful. Do what you can to minimize stress, like having everything ready beforehand, know where the car keys are, leaving five minutes extra early. A calm start to the day can make all the difference.

*  Keeping still (comparatively) and concentrating and cooperating all morning is stressful for young children. Plan for a healthy breakfast to start the day and an opportunity to work off a bit of energy. (Can you walk to school?)  Likewise, time to work off energy on returning home is needed.

In my years as school teacher/ principal I found that Monday morning blues after the first weekend is very common, even with some children who started school happily for the first few days. Forewarned is forearmed.  Be extra aware of what might be needed after the weekend so that you can respond helpfully before meltdown happens!

I’d love to hear your experiences.

Happy schooling!



Last edited September 03rd 2012

It’s only a tin can

It’s a fantastic Irish summer day and everyone’s enjoying the beach.

A young family is walking towards me. The child’s swings his head towards a  discarded drink can.

‘Don’t jump on it,’ says the mother.

Her words transform  him into a guided missile that locks onto the drink can lying on the pavement.

He’s jumps on it. The force of his body squashing it in the middle.

The mother resorts to sarcasm.

‘Oh great, why don’t you dance on it!’

The boy, of course, complies!  Waving his arms, wiggling his bottom as he performs multiple jumps on the can.

So what’s would be more helpful to create more cooperative behaviour?

Here’s my three suggestions:

1. Limit the limits you set.

The fewer the better.

Put your energy into  maintaining those limits that really matter.  (Your kid’s got far more energy than you have – so preserve yours for what matters!)

How do you know what matters?

I figure that limits need to be around safety and respect.

Is this action going to hurt him / anyone else/ any animal or any thing of  importance in any way?

Is this action disrepectful to him/ you or anyone else?

If the answer is ‘no’ to both these questions, I can’t see the need for a limit.

In my books, jumping on an old can is the sort of things boys do. I don’t figure it’s hurting him or anyone else . He works off a bit of energy and feels good that he can SQUASH a can!

I would have commented ‘Wow – you squashed that can right in the middle!’

You could even encourage his awareness of environmental issues by encouraging him to put his squashed can in the recycle bin. (Keep hand sanitiser available).


2. Don’t say ‘don’t’. Rather say what you DO want.

Children are so active, they don’t hear the ‘don’t’ –  they just hear the action word.

So if you say ‘Don’t jump on the can’ – they hear  ‘jump on the can’.

That’s the behaviour that you’re likely to get!

So if this had been a  potentially dangerous situation, I’d start with his name to focus his attention and say something positive that would hopefully redirect his attention.

In a case like this, it might be,’

‘How many seagulls can you count?’

and at times when you’re wanting a different behaviour, figure out what would be more helpful.

For example, rather than ‘Don’t run’ say, ‘Walk.’

Instead of  ‘Don’t shout’ say ‘Talking softly’.


3. Avoid sarcasm and rather use words that create connection.

Young children don’t ‘get’ sarcasm. Older children are hurt by it.

When children recogonise that your words are not sincere and connecting, they will experience your behaviour as ‘attack’ – and then you’re likely to get defensive behaviour in retaliation.

Other related articles:

‘When Emotions  Get Heated’

‘Negative instructions’



Last edited July 04th 2016

Do you sometimes:

– feel concerned whether your children will turn out okay?
– wonder if they can hold their own in social settings?

Then you want to listen to “Helping Children Cope in the Real World” to discover key insights and practical tools to build your child’s self esteem.

Click here to download the Discussion Questions for this Audio CD. (PDF file)


Last edited June 25th 2012