Sibling Rivalry

Debbi Carberry Anger, Children, Parenting

Many parents who come to see me will comment on how their kids seem to fight or not get along a lot of the time.  Sibling rivalry can drive parents crazy and can make home a battle zone.

However sibling rivalry serves a useful purpose for children.  At home with their siblings they learn to deal with disappointments, negotiate relationships, set boundaries and to learn that not everything in life can be fair or equal.  These family issues help to prepare your kids for life outside of the home.

As a parent you may want to head trouble off at the pass – stop them fighting before things really escalate.  If you are able to let your kids attempt to work things out.  You will provide them with the opportunity to learn the importance as well as the skills required to sort out problems independently.  This really will build resilience, help your child to respect other people’s feelings and gain a sense of belonging.

What are some of the causes of Sibling Rivalry?

Most kids feel a level of jealousy and competition with their siblings (especially in larger families) and this is often the cause of squabbling and fighting.


  • Siblings who are close in age and of the same gender tend to squabble more.
  • Personalities and temperaments can play a big part – some children are more flexible and less likely to get upset than others.
  • If there is an ill child or a child with a disability in the family who requires more attention from parents the other children may become resentful and this can manifest in anger and frustration.
  • Modelled behavior by parents can also impact, if parents squabble or fight a lot their children are more likely to squabble as well.
  • Some children fight to get attention from a parent.  Some parents get involved in the fighting as soon as it begins – this can accidently reinforce the behavior as kids are then getting lots of attention when they fight.

What to Do When the Fighting Starts

Whenever possible, try not to get involved (at least not initially) as your kids are  learning important social skills when they work it out themselves.   If things are getting out of hand it might be wise to separate kids until they calm down.  This will stop the fighting from escalating and will provide an opportunity for emotions to die down. Later you might discuss the fight with the parities involved and help them understand what happened and how they might do it differently next time.   Get them to come up with the answers to resolving the problems.

Parents should be aware of their own feelings and try to remain fair, even when feeling more frustration towards one child.  It may be difficult to not take sides but anyone who is party to the squabbles shares some responsibility.

Try to help your children listen to each other’s feelings and concerns and work out how they are going to move forward.   Don’t put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame. It takes two to fight.

If they are unable to resolve things by themselves then assist them to work it out and problem solve which will help with the sibling rivalry in the longer term.

Once the dust has settled encourage the kids to have some space until they are all feeling a bit calmer.  Do not rehash the conflict once things are finally calm – otherwise the fight can escalate again.  If you want to make this a learning experience wait until the emotions have died down.

Things to remember

  • Things don’t always have to be “fair” and “equal” – there are times when one child will need more than another.
  • Try to give each child some one-on-one attention that is directed at an interest or need that they have.
  • Remember that children will need time apart from each other and the family dynamics so try to arrange separate play dates or activities for each child from time to time.
  • Have some basic family rules – no hitting, no yelling no name calling  – are all good ideas.
  • If possible give them all some space and time to do their own thing.
  • Try not to compare your children with one another.
  • Have fun together as a family to provide shared experiences and memories for the future.

Families can be just like a sports team who are playing the game of life together.  Conflict occurs in all families just because siblings are born into the same family doesn’t guarantee that they will get alone – some siblings can go through stages of  not even liking each other.

Encourage family values around respect and treating others the way they would like to be treated.  Have a few family rules about how conflict is managed.  In addition it is really important for parents to model good relationship skills, show respect for others needs and problem solve when there are disagreements, the way you behave in front of the children will have a much greater impact than anything that you say to them.

I hope you found this blog helpful.  If you are concerned that your children have high levels conflict or excessive sibling rivalry then please book in an appointment with me using the scheduler at the bottom of the screen  …

Until next time ..