Two Year Old with Sibling Aggression

I have a 6 year old and a 2 yrs old. They are at odds with one another and a big problem is out of the blue the two year old will hit and pull the 6 yrs olds hair causing a total drama situation!! I have tried being calm with both parties to time outs nohing is working.any deas?


Dear parent,

It sounds like you believe that your children can play without fighting, as you have tried different ways to “teach them” to get along better. What I suggest departs sharply from any attempt at changing the children or teaching them anything. You are observing that they do not get along some of the time. Accept and respect this fact and don’t ask them to be with each other beyond their ability.  

Children learn to get along not by being taught. Being taught is actually showing them a fight because you are fighting against their way of being. If we expect the impossible, children feel failing and inadequate and learn to go against others in the same way. 

When children have the condition whereby they experience themselves content and getting along, they identify themselves with this peaceful experience and learn to get along in their own time. This means that we, as parents, must see to it that the child has the conditions that promote peace with others. 

Right now there are three of you fighting: They are fighting each other, and you are fighting them. They are learning from you to control others and to want the other person to change; a prescription for NOT getting along. They are also learning that one of the them is the vicim and one the bully and that gets mom to come and take sides.

To teach peace be peaceful with the way they are, loving them unconditionally, including loving the fact that they cannot play together peacefully for more than a limited amount of time. Find out why they are right when they hit, pull hair or struggle and assist them, or prevent the whole set up that leads to these struggles whenever possible.

Your older child is most likely frustrated with his loss of autonomy and privacy. Protect his space/possessions and if his little sibling is running over to bother him, be quick to catch the toddler and take him away from disturbing his sibling. He is not the parent and does not have to give up his life for the baby.

The toddler may feel helpless next to the older child and needs to feel powerful. How do I know? I learn from the child. You say that he pulls his sibling’s hair for no visible reason. This tells me that he is trying to feel powerful by eliciting a scream and a reaction. Read in my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, about playing power games with children, and provide your toddler with such games so this need is met without hurting your older child.

Know that such young children are not able to get along all the time and should never be scolded, put in time out or use any other manipulation to teach, punish or control them. Instead, it is your job to learn how to make it easier for them to stay content. 

Still, some sibling rivalry is unavoidable. When it happens be helpful rather than manipulative and don’t take sides. Just take care of things. If the toddler pulls his sibling’s hair, rush over, uncurl the little fingers that hold the hair and release the hold. Then take the toddler in your arms joyfully and provide something else to pull on while you provide the “noise.” Or simply hold and occupy with something else. If the older is hurting the younger, remove the younger, and help the older restore her autonomy.

You are not the judge, but the loving helpful mother.

To help yourself, consider finding a teenager mother-helper to play with one child some of the time, so they are not “stuck” with each other in this “imposed marriage” for too long, while you be with the other child.

If you would like to tell me more specific details, which I cannot guess, you may want to set up a phone session so I will be able to give you guidance that relates directly to what happens between your children. I will be happy to assist you. You can sign up for a phone session with me, on my counseling page:


Naomi Alodrt


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