A certain amount of bickering among siblings is normal. But how do you know when it's going too far?

By La Colombe
October 05, 2005
siblings fighting
Credit: Greg Scheidemann

Q: My 10-year-old is constantly criticizing and teasing her younger brother. Should I step in?

A: Definitely. "Though a certain amount of conflict between siblings is normal, an excessive amount can foster resentment, anxiety, and low self-esteem in both kids," says Mary Ann Shaw, Ed.D., the author of Your Anxious Child.

"The brutal teasing between your children may be a signal that your 10-year-old feels the family rules are unfair," explains Dr. Shaw. Before you confront her, evaluate your own behavior: Do you give more support and nurturing to your younger child? Do you compare your kids a lot? Are family rules applied fairly to both? "Correcting these imbalances usually leads to less rivalry," says Dr. Shaw.

Set limits on teasing, too. A good rule: It's okay to tease, but not about shortcomings. "A child who breaks the rule should be penalized-with an earlier bedtime, for instance-to remind her that it's not okay to hurt people's feelings," Dr. Shaw advises.