How to Handle Sibling Rivalry in Your Home


Ah, that age old problem, sibling rivalry. Damn you Cain and Abel!

kids and sibling rivalry

The causes of sibling rivalry varies from family to family, and child to child. Factors such as jealousy, competition for time, attention, love and approval, personality differences or dysfunctional family dynamics, can all play a part. A parent’s inaction, being close in age, sex, and hierarchy in the family, also factors in.

Putting it simply, some siblings can’t and don’t get along. Just like we don’t choose our parents, (Cher and I would’ve made a great mother-daughter team) we don’t choose our siblings either. A child’s needs, anxieties, and unique identities can cause him or her to push their siblings’ buttons. A child’s temperament, mood, and disposition, can irritate his or her sibling, to the point where listening to them breath is reason enough to fly off the handle and throw a Dr. Sholl’s sandal at their head.

What part does the parent play in how well the children relate to one another? Are they role models? How are their conflict resolution skills? Are they respectful? Aggressive? Do they fight fair or do they shout, slam doors, and argue loudly? Guess what? The children are watching and listening.

The fact that siblings spend an inordinate amount of time together growing up, plays another part in rivalrous behavior. Even young children need their alone time. Stress can shorten children’s fuses, and inhibit their ability to tolerate frustration, which may lead to more contention with their sibling.

We know that it’s common for siblings to fight, and while it’s no picnic for the parents, in most cases, it’s nature at work. Siblings will often go back and forth between loving and despising one another. And while society, and most parents, would like to believe that their kids’ relationship with one another will eventually develop into a close one, it is not always the case.

Parents, and society as a whole, need to see things as they are, not as how they wish they were. My parent’s still wish my brother and I got along like Donny and Marie, but that just isn’t going to happen. Ever.

Approximately one-third of adult siblings, who grew up fighting and bickering, will describe their childhood as humiliating, hurtful and distant, when referring to their sibling. In some cases, the unique identities, and individual differences between siblings, are too great, and close relationships are impossible. These siblings don’t get along, have little in common, spend limited time together, and are often locked into old patterns

What to do, what to do. Therapists, Analysts, Psychiatrists and parents, from Anchorage to Papua New Guinea, struggle with this question. While there is no clear cut, universal, black and white answer, the following might be helpful and a good place to start.

Let them work it out

Try not to get involved and see if the siblings can work out the scuffle for themselves. This isn’t always easy. However, a parent must also know when a fight has escalated and needs to step in, especially if one of the siblings is in harms way.

Don’t be swayed by arguments

“It’s not fair.” Try not to be swayed by this argument. It’s not about being fair, it’s about about what’s best for that sibling.

Separate the kids

Separate the kids, if they can release their grip on the other one’s hair. This will give everyone a chance to cool down and then when it’s calm, a discussion can be started.

Don’t pick sides

Try not to favor. I’m not sure how a parent can be impartial but it’s probably best to at least make an effort.

No disrespect

In order for this next suggestion to work, the siblings must respect the parent. If they respect their parents, but not one another, you can try laying down the law, and rules for acceptable behavior. Children need to know that there are consequences to their actions.

One-on-one time

Because siblings are often vying for the attention of a parent, it’s important to give each child some one on one time.

Don’t compare

It’s not fair to a sibling to compare him or her to their brother or sister. Saying things like, “Why can’t you be smart like your sister?” is not productive and may lead to jealousy and conflict between those two siblings.

Family meetings

Family meetings weren’t big when I was growing up, back in the day, but it can be an opportunity to show the children how to talk about their feelings, without yelling, name-calling, or violence. Grievances can be aired in a safe, and controlled environment.

The last resort: Seek professional help

If sibling rivalry gets to the point where it disrupts the daily functioning of the family, or affects any of the children emotionally or psychologically, perhaps you want to seek professional help.

According to an article in Psychology Today, “We have no rituals that make, break, or celebrate the sibling bond. And family experts have underemphasized the sibling relationship, instead concentrating on parents and children and husbands and wives. Small wonder that sibling rivalry is accepted as the normal state of affairs.”