When my kids were small my daughter used to bash my son.

Not badly, but regularly.

She was almost exactly two years older than him.

She did it whenever it was time to share something: she pushed him away and took it, even if she didn’t really want it.

There was obviously some jealousy there.

So we did what every parent does.

We explained to her that we loved both our children exactly the same, so there was no reason to be jealous about anything.

But she still kept taking things away from him and pushing him around.

By the time she was around six, and he was around four, I thought I should do something about it.

The first step is always the same, in advertising or anywhere else.

Explore the brief.

Come at the problem out of a question, not out of an answer.

I bought a book ‘Siblings Without the Rivalry’ by Faber & Mazlish.

Straight away it made a very interesting point.

What parents do wrong is explain that they love both children equally.

Exactly what we’d done.

The book said put yourself in the child’s place.

Imagine you were the first child.

You’ve got everything to yourself, your parents give you 100%.

Then someone else comes along and immediately gets 50%.

Half of everything you had is given to them.

How would you feel?

And suddenly my daughter’s behaviour made sense.

She didn’t feel like she was being given half of everything, she felt like half of everything was being taken away.

It wasn’t fair.

Now I understood, she felt threatened.

Okay that was the brief sorted out, now to come up with a solution.

I had to present equality as an opportunity not a problem.

I took my son aside and said “Your big sister was here first, so it’s fair that she gets slightly more isn’t it?”

And he said yes, of course.

I said “And it’s fair if she gets first choice isn’t it?”

And he said sure, that made sense.

Then I went to my daughter and said “You were here first, so it’s fair if you get slightly more than your little brother isn’t it?”

And she said a very big definite yes.

And I said “As the big sister it’s fair if you always get first choice, isn’t it?”

And her whole face brightened and she said yes.

Now of course nothing really changed.

They both got whatever they wanted, but we always made it clear that she got first choice.

In fact only one thing did change.

She stopped hitting her little brother almost straight away.

In fact she became protective of him and started looking after him.

He stopped being an intruder and became her little brother.

She wasn’t threatened, she felt validated.

And it worked exactly the way people work.

When people are left out of conversations they can feel threatened.

People need to feel validated and respected.

They often don’t actually need any real change in their physical circumstances.

Sometimes what they really need is recognition.

Sometimes it just takes a different way of presenting the same facts.

Just like doing an ad.


It’s worth remembering that if you’re running a department.