Sibling Rivalry: Psychologist shares school holiday survival tips


A psychologist who works with children on Sydney’s northern beaches says that while it is normal for children to occasionally become bored with one another, time spent with siblings is an important part of building family relationships and teaching kids to co-operate, respect, and compromise with others.

Child psychologist tips for managing sibling rivalry

According to psychologist Linda Gilford from Kids First Chidren’s Services in Brookvale, brothers and sisters can be great friends and playmates, but by the second half of the school holidays, even the closest of sibling relationships can become strained.

‘Many parents spend a lot of holiday time and money rushing from one activity to the next trying to keep their children amused,’ Linda said.

‘Before they know it, everyone is overtired, overstretched, and overspent. It’s easy to forget that the holidays are about being together.’

‘Kids don’t always want material things. More often than not, all they want is to be with you.’

The key to harmonious school holidays

Linda suggests that keeping kids happy and occupied during the holidays requires creativity and planning.

‘Children aged between 5 and 12 are used to the structure of their school day and sometimes the lack of routine during the school holidays can unsettle them,’ she said.

She recommends that each day should contain a combination of indoor and outdoor activities so that children have a healthy mix of active and quiet play.

Sibling rivalry - Child psychologist tips

Combine indoor and outdoor activities

“In warm weather, kids need to swim, jump and run around, but a full day in the hot sun can result in tired children who fight and squabble,’ she said.

‘An hour or so of outside fun, broken up with short bursts of indoor activity usually helps to keep everyone calm and happy.’

In colder weather, Linda suggests that kids should rug up and play outside if the day is fine.

‘Here in Australia, our winters are relatively mild. If your child is wearing a beanie and warm clothing, the only thing that should interrupt outside play is wet weather.’

Solving sibling rivalry with outdoor play

Kids need physical activity

Linda said that children’s bodies need, and are used to, physical activity.

‘When kids are at school, their day is broken up by recess and lunch times which give them a chance to move.’

‘Even though it’s tempting to let them chill out in from of the TV, computer, or iPad on a cold day, it’s actually really important for parents to break school holiday days up with opportunities for active play because getting out and about supports children’s mood and behaviour.’

Sibling rivalry - outdoor activity ideas

School holiday ideas – Outside play

Linda’s ideas for outdoor activities include;

  • regular visits to waterside spots such as a beach, lake, or river
  • play at a nearby park
  • gardening
  • bike riding
  • walking pets
  • playing ball games in the backyard or at a local sports ground
  • flying a kite
  • going for a bushwalk

Drawing with chalk on the driveway and using buckets of water and old paintbrushes to ‘paint’ the garden fence are other creative and inexpensive suggestions for keeping children happy and engaged.

‘Cubby houses are also a perennial favourite and are great for imaginative play,’ commented Linda.

‘A beach sun shelter or tree draped with old sheets will give kids hours of fun and won’t cost a cent.’

‘Camping out in a backyard tent is also an exciting adventure for kids of all ages.’

Solving sibling rivalry - Indoor activity ideas

School holiday ideas – Inside play

Linda’s indoor activity list includes:

  • simple art and craft activities like painting, colouring, and making gift cards
  • cooking
  • jigsaws
  • treasure hunts
  • strategic, storytelling card games like Pokemon, Yughio or Magic
  • building an ‘inside cubby’ under a table covered with blankets

Playing with cars, dolls, dress-ups, board games and construction toys like Lego are also popular pastimes, as are visits to grandparents or another special friend.

Linda said that the internet is a great source of inspiration for innovative indoor play ideas.

‘All mums and dads need to do is google and they’ll be presented with lots of activities that will help keep sibling rivalry at bay.’

Indoor holiday activities for kids

School holiday socialising

Linda suggests that movie marathons with popcorn are a relaxing way to spend an afternoon and are particularly useful when kids are tired and need a break during the school holidays.

Her practical tips for parents also include organising play dates with friends, neighbours and cousins.

She recommends inviting a visitor for each child in the family so that brothers and sisters each have someone special to play with and will be less inclined to intrude on their siblings’ play.

Play dates

‘Play dates do not have to be for the whole day,’ she said. “Children get just as much enjoyment from seeing their friends for a couple of hours as they do from a full day.’

Linda advises that shorter play dates can reduce the risk of sibling conflict and often help parents get through key points in the day when children are hungry, tired or bored.

‘Sometimes, inviting a friend over for a mid-morning play and a special lunch works well.’

‘For other kids, a mid-afternoon play from 2pm until 4pm will keep them happily occupied in the period before their evening routines begin.’

Handling school holiday with kids

Get the mix right to make school holidays memorable

According to Linda, surviving the school holidays is simply a matter of getting the mix right.

‘Going to the movies, workshops and other outings are all great fun, but having the freedom to enjoy being at home is important for children,’ she said.

‘When our kids are grown up and look back on their childhoods, what they did with their brothers and sisters during holiday time will provide some of their strongest memories.’

‘With a bit of creativity and thought from parents, there’s every chance that those memories can be fond ones.’

Need support to solve sibling rivalry?

If your children are struggling, or your family needs help to enjoy positive relationships, Kids First’s psychology team is here to help. Located in Sydney’s northern beaches, our experienced clinicians are parents too, so they understand the pressures that families face. Call Kids First on 9938 5419 to make an appointment.


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