Rivalry Between Cousins

Updated on February 22, 2011
K.G. asks from Wrentham, MA
11 answers

We are very close to my brother and his family, but lately things have been very strained and uncomfortable. His 3 1/2 year old does not like my 1 1/2 year old and is very obvious about it. My niece comes right out and says she doesn't like my daughter and complains about her a lot. There have been some physical instances, but mostly verbal (but it hurts me a lot either way). Both children are girls, so it isn't a gender thing. It is almost like sibling rivalry. Since my daughter was born, my niece hasn't liked her...and says it often. They don't play well together at all...lots of trouble sharing, etc. It makes my husband and I very sad. We love my niece and brother's family very much and used to love spending time together, but now it is uncomfortable to get together. We are all on edge about it and it is starting to strain the adult relationships as well. My husband gets mad about it and thinks my niece is old enough to know better, but I keep reminding him that she is just a little girl and doesn't get it. I hate seeing my niece be so mean to my daughter and really want to help, but I don't know what to do about it. How can I mend the relationship, help the girls become friends (or at least friendly), and keep from losing my brother and sister in law as friends as well.

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answers from Providence on

Seems a little odd to me for a 3 1/2 yr old to say that about her cousin. It seems as if someone is telling her to not like her cousin either by their actions or what they say to her?

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answers from Boston on

First off, I think it's a mistake to write off mixed-gender conflict as being okay, natural or acceptable. Secondly, I think the 3 YO is not "old enough" to know better if no one corrects her. She is absolutely entitled to her feelings but she is not entitled to constantly tell people about them in public. You can't do anything to make her like her cousin, nor should you try. She may be jealous of the little one's attention, or her toys, or may resent your daughter using her toys, who knows? That's all normal. But she's continuing with this behavior because she's a) not being corrected and b) getting some sort of payoff for it. It could be the negative attention, but it's attention. She may even enjoy your reaction. Maybe she doesn't like the fact that, when there is a visit, she doesn't have her own parents' undivided attention.

If she doesn't like to play with her cousin, simply say, "Fine. You play over there and Susie will play over here. You choose a toy and Susie won't play with it, then Susie will choose her toy and you won't play with it. Just keep your distance." Then go back to your conversation and don't focus on her. Or have the dads take one kid in one room, and the moms take the other kid in the other room - something like that. Once the 3 year old doesn't have all 4 adults in the room focusing on her, it will stop. Especially if you tell her that, "Since you don't want to play with Susie, I'll take Susie in the other room." You can't discipline your niece but you can let her know you aren't interested in hearing her complaints. I'm not sure what her parents are doing in the meantime, but they should do the same or similar. Just stop the negative interaction immediately by removing the cause - the disputed toy, the video, whatever.

I'm not sure why this is straining the adult relationships - the adults should take control of the situation. I think the less you all react, the better - just be matter-of-fact and end the conflict. A child (3.5 or 1.5) is not in charge and doesn't get to dictate the tone of gatherings, whether or not they occur, or anything else. Their choices to play separately can be honored, and their feelings can be honored, but not their right to constantly be rude. You can also tell your niece you know she doesn't like your daughter but you don't want to listen to it any more. Tell her your daughter is much younger, they can play separately and with different toys, and there will be no conflict. Tell the 3.5 year old to take her own toys if they are too special to be shared, and walk away from your daughter. Perhaps she can play in her own room and you'll keep your daughter in the living room with you, and so on. Just stop engaging her.

Maybe the others are reacting to you and your husband being so upset and mad, and they don't know what to do. Maybe they are embarrassed by their daughter and don't know what to do. I think if you take the lead and show that you aren't upset and consider it normal 3.5 year old behavior and you just aren't going to be part of it, they'll relax and do the same thing with their kid. They really need to say to their daughter, "Okay sweetie, we all know how you feel. We want you to stop saying it and interrupting us. Find a toy to play with, or feel free to play in your room where Susie can't go." Then go back to your visit.

You always have the option of leaving and saying you'll get together another time when the girls are feeling better, but that may be what the 3.5 year old wants - for you to go home. But if you do leave and she has no one to play with, it might teach her too. Depends on what her parents think. If you are bringing your own toys, those toys will leave when you leave, so she might get the message.

What would happen if you talked to your brother about it? Does he get mad/defensive? Or is there something that can be worked out so you are all united? Try to take the personal feelings out of it so that you are not so hurt by his child - you should actually be more annoyed with him that he does not intervene to correct his child. But I don't know what he's like and what would happen if you tried this.

Good luck! And be aware that, whatever the conflicts now, they may play very well together in another year or 3 or 7!!! Their age difference is so pronounced now and won't be as time goes on.

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answers from Boston on

My experience is not to make an issue of it with the older child and especially with your brother. It sounds like the 3 year old is just a bit jealous and that is developmental for her. I think that what you could do is treat the 3 yr. old like the "big girl" or the "big helper" have her help with the 1 yr. old with her shoes, clean up, getting dressed etc.....this will make her feel great and not so threatened. Best of luck...this too will pass!



answers from Burlington on

I have 2 kids ages 4 1/2 and 2 1/2. They have had their own fair share of sibling rivalry, but I have also been in a similar situation to the one you are in with my daughter being the older, mean one to my best friends younger daughter. It killed me,I did EVERYTHING to try to get her to stop this behavior, discipline, explaining why it was not ok, etc etc, and for those who posted about manners, I am more strict about manners than most and always have been. This is a stage, but it is awful to watch, from both sides. I found two things helped, the first is that your neice just wants your attention, she is used to having all four of you to herself, this does not make her behavior ok, but she's confused. If you can do something alone with her she would probably love it and know that you are still "on her team" and still love her. The second thing I would recommend is that all 4 parents get a plan together. When your neice hurts your daughter or says something that is clearly to get everyones attention, all 4 of you go to your daughter and give her all of the attention, on the flip side when your neice does something nice all 4 of you commend her. It will probably escalate before it gets better, but it will work, I've seen it.
I was very lucky because my friend (whose daughter mine was being mean to) just kept telling me "it's ok, she's a little kid and she is jealous" it made the whole thing much easier. The kids can read when the 4 of you are stressed and it is not going to help the situation, plus you guys are the adults, dont let your kids harm your relationship with eachother, this too shall pass. I am curious as to how your brother and sister in law feel about it?
Good luck!



answers from New London on

The same thing happens between my 8yr old son and my 4yr old neice. it is exactly like sibling rivalry and it is simple jealously from the older one. The older one used to get all the attention and now they have to share. Make sure you are giving your brothers child the same amount of attention that they always got from you before your child was born and that your brother and sister inlaw do too. As well as reminding the older child that it is not ok to treat the younger child that way. Ask the younger child why she is. At 3 and a 1/2 she is old enough to say and know why. My neice is 4 and sometimes states that we like everyone better than her which is a stage that they all go through. It will get better as they get older



answers from Boston on

You havent mentioned what your brother or his wife does about any of this behavior. At 3 1/2, she needs to be told that it isnt nice to be that way. You cant make them like each other, but c'mon, teach MANNERS!! Its terrible to think there are so many rude people out there, not to many teach their kids about manners & acting properly. Whenever i bring my kids out to a restaurant, the waitresses are taken back by there "please" & "thank you's". Encourage that they discipline her.



answers from Springfield on

I agree that she IS old enough to be taught that saying or doing those things is not okay, and that she needs to be nice even if she doesn't want to be. I also agree that she may need to be the "helper" or have some one-on-one time since she now has to share the spotlight. It just sounds like jealousy, which can be curbed. Kids need to be guided, and that's why they have parents. They won't figure everything out on their own. Best of luck to you.



answers from Raleigh on

My son and his older cousin go through this a lot, as well. He is 18 months, and she is 30 months. I really feel like this is something you need to address with your brother, but not right when it's happening and you're upset about it. Maybe grab coffee together and bring it up on neutral ground? Just be sure to not make it about *his* kid. I would address it as, "What do you think we should do to help the kids get along together better?" That way it's not being accusatory or taking sides.

If you'd like, here is my post about having the same issue with my son and niece. http://8poundpreemie.blogspot.com/2011/02/enemy-of-my-ene...



answers from Boston on


It is sibling rivalry.....before your daughter was born, your niece was the only little girl getting all the attention. Try setting up one on one time with your niece when you at your brothers....go out for an ice cream, do some girl time with her. Once she realizes that you still love her lots and lots, she might be less combative with your daughter. Its hard to go from being number one to sharing the spotlight with another.

I am assuming that their is no sibling rivalry between you and your brother....that would also be a factor.

Hope this helps,



answers from Boston on

I would think she is old enough to know better, she should be told that it is not nice to say such things. Sounds like she is upset that she is not the only little girl anymore. Letting her help you is a good idea, maybe she wont feel so threatened. What does your brother say about this, I mean your little one is still a baby. I hope it works out for you!



answers from New London on

What does your brother or sister-in-law say when something happens? One simple thing you can do is: when something happens the next time your niece picks on your girl, just grab your daughter, pull her to you, and say to one of them: "Wow, did you see that? What can we do about this?" and if they say, "Do about what?" then you can say, "Um, maybe I am not seeing things clearly. Can you tell me what YOU just saw happen between the girls??" This way you are putting it in their corner. Either way, if it continues and you still want to see them, just keep your daughter on you or your husband's lap the whole time! OR, stop seeing them altogether. Your daughter's self esteem is more important than they are. You don't want her growing up thinking cousins/other girls/people can push her around. Good luck.

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