Sibling Rivalry


Leonardo Rocker

Sibling Rivalry

Fighting between siblings, or sibling rivalry,  is a common concern among parents. A certain amount of arguing between children in families is normal, and is one of the ways that children learn the importance of sorting out problems independently, respecting people's feelings and belongings. Additionally, learning how to fight fairly without hurting each other, within the home environment, may assist children in their ability to sort out issues in future relationships.

A degree of sibling rivalry is normal as learning to live together can be difficult when dealing with the different ages, needs and personalities involved. As children reach different stages of development, their evolving needs can significantly impact on the way they interact and relate with each other.

What are the Common Causes of Sibling Rivalry?

Jealousy and competition are the main causes for sibling rivalry and fighting.

A child may feel that their sibling is receiving more love or attention from a parent, and in response may try to ‘take it out’ on their sibling. Rates of sibling rivalry are lower in families where children feel they are treated equally by their parents.

Other factors that may influence how often sibling rivalry occurs include:

  • Gender and age - sibling rivalry is most likely to occur when the children are of the same gender and close together in age.
  • Toddlers - tend to be possessive of their toys and are learning to assert their will. If a brother or sister attempts to pick up one of their toys, the toddler may react aggressively. This often contributes to sibling rivalry among toddlers.
  • School-aged children - have a strong concept of fairness and equality and may not understand why a younger sibling is receiving additional attention.
  • Teenagers - are developing a sense of individuality and independence and may resent having to spend time looking after younger siblings or helping with house work contributing to sibling rivalry.
  • Individual personalities and temperaments  - For instance, if one child tends to cling and be drawn to parents for their love and affection, this can be resented by siblings who don’t seek out or don’t receive the same treatment by their parents.
  • Sibling with special needs - a child may pick up on the amount of time and energy their sibling receives, and act out on this disparity for attention due to lack of understanding of the situation.
  • Examples parents set - the way in which parents resolve conflicts and problems has a significant impact on the way that children interact and resolve their own conflicts. For instance, when parents resolve their issues in a respectful and productive manner, the likelihood that the children of such parents will adopt these techniques is increased. As a parent it is important to manage sibling rivalry.

What can parents do to prevent sibling rivalry?

  • Spend special time with each child on a regular basis to avoid sibling rivalry.
  • Together, set ground rules for acceptable behaviour, such as no name calling, no yelling or hitting.
  • Provide children with their own space and time to do their own thing. For example to play with toys by themselves or to own something special that they don’t have to share. This will help to reduce sibling rivalry.
  • Try not to compare children with each other.
  • Be generous with affection.
  • Have fun together as a family. This will establish a peaceful way for children to spend time together. Playing board games, throwing a ball or watching a movie together are some good ways to do this.

If parents have to get involved....

  • Separate kids until they are calm. This will stop the fight from escalating and will provide an opportunity for emotions to die down. Later the fight can be revisited as a learning experience.
  • Parents should be aware of their own feelings, and to remain fair, even when feeling more frustration towards one child.
  • Try not to take sides, anyone who is involved is partly responsible.
  • Set up a “win-win” situation so that each child gains something. For example, if both children wanted to play with the same toy, suggest playing a game together.
  • Reminding children of the ground rules  will reduce sibling rivalry.
  • Help them listen to each other's feelings. If required, assist them to work out ways to solve the problem and reduce sibling rivalry.

When possible don’t get involved in the fight. As children learn to cope with disputes, they learn important skills, such as valuing another person’s perspective, how to compromise and negotiate and how to control aggressive impulses.

However, if it is evident that a child is feeling upset, help them find ways to express their feelings before a fight starts. Such as playing with playdough or water for younger children or going for a run or listening to music for older children.

Sometimes, the sibling rivalry becomes so severe that it disrupts daily functioning and can significantly affect children emotionally.

Further Reading


Making Sibling Rivalry Work for Your Family

How can the Quirky Kid Clinic help?

There are many ways we can help you to manage sibling rivalry. If you believe your family would benefit from some assistance with sibling rivalry, please contact the Quirky Kid Clinic on (02) 9362 9297 to discuss the following options:

  • Individual counselling and therapy with one of our experienced Child Psychologists.
  • Family counselling with one of our experienced Child Psychologists.
  • The Just Like When Cards are a great tool to help kids explore sibling rivalry.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Always praise your child’s good behaviour and use resources like the Tickets - a Tool to tame Behaviour by Quirky Kid

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