Handling Sibling Rivalry

Handling Sibling Rivalry

Siblings don't choose the family they are born into and they don't choose each other. They may be of different sex, they are probably of different age and temperament, and worst of all, they have to share the one person or the two people they most want for themselves: their parents. 


Why do siblings fight?

Basic needs are not met: When kids are tired, hungry, or bored they may not feel cheerful and cooperative.

Need for attention: If children are not getting attention by doing positive things, they learn quickly that they will get the attention they want by acting out.

Need companionship: Some children need companionship but do not know how to get it from their sibling. When they start a quarrel with that sibling, they easily get their attention.

Power: Part of growing up is learning about personal power. Competition between siblings can sometimes make children feel very insecure and intolerant. 


What else contributes to sibling rivalry?

  • Children feel they are getting unequal amounts of your attention, discipline, and responsiveness.
  • Each child is competing to define who s/he is as an individual. As they discover who they are, they try to find their own talents, activities, and interests. They want to show that they are separate from their siblings.
  • Children may feel their relationship with their parents is threatened by the arrival of a new baby. 
  • Your children’s developmental stages affect how well they can share your attention and get along with one another. 
  • Children may not know positive ways to get attention from their brother or sister, so they pick fights. 
  • Family dynamics play a role. For example, one child may remind a parent of a relative who was particularly difficult, and this may subconsciously influence how the parent treats that child. 
  • Children will fight more with each other in families where there is no understanding that fighting is not an acceptable way to resolve conflicts. 
  • Families that don’t share enjoyable times together will probably have more conflict.
  • Stress in the parents' lives can decrease the amount of attention parents give the children and increase sibling rivalry. 
  • Stress in your children’s lives can shorten their fuses, and create more conflict.


How can I help my kids get along better?

  • Never compare your children. This one is a “biggie”.
  • Don’t typecast.  Let each child be himself/herself. Don’t try to pigeonhole or label them.
  • Don’t play favorites.
  • Set your kids up to cooperate rather than compete. For example, have them race the clock to pick up toys, instead of racing each other.
  • Pay attention to the time of day and other patterns in when conflicts usually occur. Perhaps a change in the routine, an earlier meal or snack, or a well-planned activity when the kids are at loose ends could help avert your kids’ conflicts.
  • Teach your kids positive ways to get attention from each other. Show them how to approach another child and ask to play.
  • Being fair is very important, but it is not the same as being equal. Your children need to learn that you will do your best to meet each of their unique needs. Even if you are able to do everything totally equally, your children will still feel as if they’re not getting a fair share of attention, discipline, or responsiveness from you.
  • Plan family activities that are fun for everyone. If your kids have good experiences together, it acts as a buffer when they come into conflict. It’s easier to work it out with someone you share warm memories with.
  • Make sure each child has enough time and space of their own. Kids need chances to do their own thing, play with their own friends without their siblings, and they need to have their space and property protected.
  • Let your children decide whether they want to share. Children don't always want to share everything. They like to feel ownership.
  • Try to spend individual time with each child. Give each child time according to need.
  • Praise your children for who they are as well as what they do.
  • Help your children accept their frustrations. Help them solve their problems.
  • Praise your children for any improved behavior. Coping with their frustrations is a lifelong process.
  • Remember that your language affects how your children communicate. Use appropriate language and a caring attitude when you talk. 


Be there for each child

  • Set aside “alone time” for each child. Each parent should spend one-on-one time with each kid on a regular basis. Try to get in at least a few minutes each day. It’s amazing how much just 10 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time can mean to your child.
  • When you are alone with each child, consider asking what they like most and least about each brother and sister. This will help you keep tabs on their relationships, and also remind you that they probably do have some positive feelings for each other!
  • Listen—really listen—to how your children feel about what’s going on in the family. They may not be so demanding if they know you at least care how they feel.
  • Celebrate your children’s differences.
  • Let your children know that they are special—just for who they are. 


Resolving Conflicts

  • Research shows that while you should pay attention to your kids’ conflicts, it’s best not to intervene. When parents jump into sibling spats, they often protect one child (usually the younger sibling) against the other (usually the older one). This escalates the conflict because the older child resents the younger, and the younger feels that s/he can get away with more since the parent is “on their side.” 
  • Help your kids develop the skills to work out their conflicts on their own. Teach them how to compromise, respect one another, divide things fairly, etc. Give them the tools, then express your confidence that they can work it out, by telling them, “I’m sure you two can figure out a solution.” Don’t get drawn in.
  • Don’t yell or lecture. It won’t help.
  • It doesn’t matter “who started it,” because it takes two to make a quarrel. Hold children equally responsible when ground rules get broken.
  • In a conflict, give your kids a chance to express their feelings about each other. Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings. Help your kids find words for their feelings. Show them how to talk about their feelings, without yelling, name-calling, or violence.
  • Encourage win-win negotiations, where each side gains something.
  • Give your kids reminders. When they start picking on each other, help them remember how to state their feelings to each other. Don’t solve the problem for them, just help them remember how to problem solve.
  • If you are constantly angry at your kids, no wonder they are angry at each other! Anger feeds on itself.  Learn to manage your own anger so you can teach your children how to manage theirs. 
  • Teach and model conflict resolution skills during calm times.


And perhaps most importantly, reinforce your children for getting along. Offer praise and positive feedback when you observe them playing cooperatively, sharing, and being nice to each other.