A Parent’s Perspective to Handling Sibling Rivalry


Sibling rivalry is a type of competition or animosity among siblings, whether blood related or not.

discouraging sibling rivalry

Siblings generally spend more time together during childhood than they do with parents.

The sibling bond is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as parental treatment, birth order, personality, and people and experiences outside the family.


  • Sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age and of the same gender and/or where one or both children are intellectually more gifted than the other.
  • The term sibling refers to children who are related and/or living in the same family.

Sibling rivalry has existed as long as families. Think back to Biblical times -Joseph’s problems with his brothers Click To Tweet or of the dreadful time Cinderella had with her stepsisters!


It seems strange that whenever the word sibling comes up, the word rivalry seems sure to follow despite the fact that there are many solid sibling relationships in families (brothers and sisters who like and enjoy one another). However, it is the rivalry that gets attention, the bad press.

Instances of Sibling Rivalry

  • The Book of Genesis in the Bible contains several examples of sibling rivalry: the story of Cain and Abel tells of one brother’s jealousy after God appears to favour his sibling, and the jealousy ultimately leads to murder.
  • Jacob tricks his brother Esau out of his inheritance and blessing;
  • Sisters Leah and Rachel compete for the love of Jacob;
  • Joseph’s brothers are so jealous that they eventually sold him into slavery.
  • In literature,
  • A number of Shakespeare’s plays display the incidences of sibling rivalry.
  • King Lear provokes rivalry among his three daughters by asking them to describe their love for him; in the same play, Edmund contrives to force his half-brother Edgar into exile.
  • In The Taming of the Shrew, Sisters Kate and Bianca are shown fighting bitterly.
  • In As You Like It, there is obvious sibling rivalry and antagonism between Orlando and Oliver, and also between Duke Frederick and Duke Senior.


Occasionally real-life instances of sibling rivalry are publicized in the mass media.

Siblings who play the same sport will often be compared with each other; for example, American football players Peyton and Eli Manning, or tennis players Venus and Serena Williams.

Musicians Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis are portrayed as having a turbulent relationship, similar to that of Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks.

What causes sibling rivalry?

  • Position in the family, for example, the oldest child may be burdened with responsibilities for the younger children or the younger child spends his life trying to catch up with an older sibling;
  • Children may feel they are getting unequal amounts of their parents’ attention, discipline and responsiveness.
  • Children fight most in families where there is neither any understanding that fighting is not an acceptable way to resolve conflicts nor any alternative way of handling such conflicts; in families in which physical fighting is forbidden but no method of non-physical conflict resolution (e.g., verbal argument) is permitted, the conversation and accumulation of everyday disputes into long-simmering hostilities can have an effect nearly as corrosive.
  • Gender, for instance, a son may dislike his sister because his father seems more gentle with her. On the other hand, a daughter may wish she could go on the hunting trip with her father and brother.
  • Age, a five and an eight year old can play some games together but when they become ten and thirteen, they will probably be poles apart.
  • The most important factor, however, is parental attitude. Sometimes it’s difficult to be impartial as parents.


Because of age difference, gender, needs and personalities of each child.. As Parents, it’s important not to give in to sentiments and ‘blackmail’ e.g. crying nonstop!

My children squabble all the time, one takes something, the other wants that same thing! One child speaks in a certain way, the second wants to do the same to ensure there is no cheating. It’s a constant job keeping the peace and trying to show there isn’t any favoritism.

Many parents feel that in order to be fair they must try to treat their children equally. It’s simply not possible, and can become pretentious. If a mother feels that when she hugs one child, she must stop and hug all of her children, hugs soon become somewhat meaningless in that family.

I know I do this, because of the closeness in age between both of my children, I say ‘I love you’ to one, and automatically have to say it to the other quickly…very draining at times.

As a parent, there may come a time when you get tired and you ask yourself, how can I help my kids get along better?

You have to figure out what works best, how to strike a balance and still give out attention/affection equally. Here are some tips/pointers;

The basics:

Don’t play favorites.

This is a no-no!

Try not to compare your children to one another. For example, don’t say things like, “Your brother gets good grades in math—why can’t you?”

Let each child be who they are-Enjoy each of your children’s individual talents and successes.

Set your kids up to cooperate rather than compete- Picking up toys, doing chores in harmony.

Teach your kids positive ways to get attention from each other.  Show them how to approach another child and ask them to play, and to share their belongings and toys.

Being fair is very important, but it is not the same as being equal.

Older and younger children may have different privileges due to their age, but if children understand that this inequality is because one child is older or has more responsibilities, they will see this as fair.

Even if you did try to treat your children equally, there will still be times when they feel as if they’re not getting a fair share of attention, discipline, or responsiveness from you. Expect this and be prepared to explain the decisions you have made.

Reassure your kids that you do your best to meet each of their unique needs.

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 sibling, and to have their space and property protected.

-Set aside “alone time” for each child, if possible.  Each parent should try to spend some one-on-one with each kid on a regular basis.  Try to get in at least a few minutes each day.  It’s amazing how much even 10 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time can mean to your child.

When you are alone with each child, you may want to ask them once in a while what  are some of the positive things their brother or sister does that they really like and what are some of the things they do that might bother them or make them mad. 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 each child know they are special in their own way.

Resolving conflicts:

Research shows that you should pay attention to your kids’ conflicts (so that no one gets hurt, and you can notice abuse if it occurs). Try to see if your children can work out their own conflicts, but remember that younger children will probably need you to intervene and help structure the problems solving.

Try not to take sides and favor one child over the other. Get them settled and calm first, then ask questions about what happened before dispensing discipline.

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.  If you give them the tools, eventually they will have the confidence that they can work it out themselves.

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. Sharing toys, snacks, chores.

Give your kids reminders and advance warnings (for example, counting to three).

When they start picking on each other, help them remember to state their feelings to each other.  Help them solve the problem themselves. You can offer suggestions, but let them decide what the best options are.

If you are constantly angry at your kids, no wonder they are angry at each other! Anger feeds on itself.  Learn to manage your anger, so you can teach your children how to manage theirs.

Teach conflict resolution skills during calm times.

Model good conflict resolution skills for your kids when interacting with them and with other family members. Click To Tweet


Involve your children in setting ground rules.  Ground rules, with clear and consistent consequences for breaking them, can help prevent many squabbles.

Here are a few ideas:

In a conflict, no hurting (hitting, kicking, pinching, etc.) is ever allowed.

No name-calling, yelling, or tattling is allowed.

If the kids fight over a toy, the toy goes into time-out.

Any child, who demands to be first, will go last.

No making fun of a child who is being punished, or you will also be punished.

No fighting in the car or you will pull over and stop until all is calm again.

If arguing over who gets first choice of bedtime stories or favorite seats in the car is a problem, assign your kids certain days of the week to be the one to make these choices.

If borrowing is a problem, have the child who borrows something from a brother or sister put up collateral—a possession that will be returned only when the borrowed item is returned.

I know every child isn’t the same but your treatment of each child should be relatively the same, there is no hard or fast rule, different strokes for different folks. Just make sure you are doing more than your average best…that’s my motto.

In the end, siblings love each other, it would shock you the possessiveness they have over each other. Even when I scold my daughter, my son warns me later ‘mommy don’t do that again ok’…my answer ‘ok’!

Never ignore each child’s needs and wants because that could be the beginning of the rivalry Click To Tweet, trying to outdo one another, take the case of Cain and Abel in the bible…we all know how that story turned out. If we teach them how they should relate with each other, they definitely would try to live up to expectations too.

I see you shaking your head, I know you must have fought quite a lot with your siblings. Lol.

Kindly share your own resolution tips. Do you have young kids or teenagers who are rivals for attention and scores? Do share, we all need the experiences and tips.

Thanks! Erl


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