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Dad and daughter making a puzzle together on the floor

Sibling Strategies: The Eliza Rule

Since becoming a big sister, Keira has done a good job adjusting to her new role. She is helpful with her younger sister, and they play well together for the most part. But there are times when Keira can become frustrated by Eliza’s behavior.

For example, when Keira is attempting to complete a puzzle or a building activity, and her sister comes in and knocks it down or takes it apart, she gets frustrated. Frustration is a typical reaction as the older sibling thinks the younger sibling is purposefully sabotaging their game or activity. It may be more purposeful now, but back when Eliza was younger, she was often unaware of her effect and just wanted to be part of the activity. Since noticing Keira’s frustration, we’ve been working on ways to improve her tolerance.

One strategy was creating the Eliza Rule. One day, as Keira and I sat down to complete a puzzle, I informed her that more than likely, her sister was going to come and disrupt our game. I said, “When she does, let’s just laugh about it and then try to put the puzzle back together as quickly as we can.” Keira agreed and was up for the challenge. We started the puzzle and, as predicted, Eliza became interested and wandered over to us. “Remember the Eliza Rule,” I whispered to Keira. Sure enough, Eliza crawled through the puzzle as we were near completion, disassembling most of the pieces, and went on her way. Keira and I just laughed and raced to reconstruct the puzzle before she returned.

Using the Eliza Rule or a similar word or phrase with your child works because it does a few things. First, it prepares them for a potential trigger. As a parent, you are aware of the things that are likely going to cause frustration or upset your child. Preparing a child can help lessen distress. Whenever Keira is doing an activity that might be interrupted by her sister, I remind her of what could happen. This puts her on the ready and often times decreases the intensity of the emotion because she is prepared for it.

Secondly, it equips them with a coping skill. When I say, “Remember the Eliza Rule,” Keira is able to remember to use humor to diffuse her feelings of frustration. I’ve taught Keira to prevent getting upset by moving away or letting a parent intervene. Children are not always aware of their options, so as a parent, it is our responsibility to help them brainstorm and identify which ones work best for their present situation. The great thing is that this can all be done with a simple agreed upon word or phrase. We’ve since shortened the phrase to “remember the rule.”

Another important element is that I often model the behavior when Keira and I are playing a game. I validate that it is OK to feel frustrated, but there are always positive options and she is capable of coping with distressing feelings. The hope is that she is able to transfer the skills that she is learning to other situations and experiences as she gets older.


A new sibling can be both exciting and challenging for the big brother or sister. Learn ways to help your child cope and cooperate with changing family dynamics at CHKD’s Parent Academy class: What About Me? Build Positive Sibling Bonds from Day One. The next class will be held on Tuesday, September 10, from noon to 1 p.m. Register online or visit

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the founder of Mylemarks, an online company that develops social-emotional resources to use with kids and teens. Through that company, he creates content such as digital downloads, workbooks, and children’s books. He’s an adjunct professor in the Human Services department at Old Dominion University, and serves as the Fatherhood Consultant for CHKD’s Dads in Action program. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, and listening to music.