Understanding sibling rivalry and how to deal with it

Sibling rivalry is the competition, fighting and jealousy between brothers and sisters. And while children can bring parents immeasurable happiness, they can also drive you insane with their squabbling. This

Understanding sibling rivalry and how to deal with it
  • PublishedNovember 15, 2021

Sibling rivalry is the competition, fighting and jealousy between brothers and sisters. And while children can bring parents immeasurable happiness, they can also drive you insane with their squabbling. This is why sibling rivalry is best nipped in the bud.

Sibling rivalry can take different forms and can be caused by a couple of reasons. The forms of sibling rivalry include name-calling, lying, stealing, throwing things at one another, hiding toys, and hitting each other.

Why do siblings fight?

They may fight to get your attention, feel powerful and even break from humdrum activities. Sometimes they may simply want to get physical contact or become the parent’s favourite by painting the other sibling as bad.


The following are some of the factors that influence sibling rivalry:


When siblings are close in age they will often be in each other’s faces. They have more contact among themselves. Since they have access to each other, competition is higher compared to the siblings who have longer spacing between them. The siblings who are further apart age-wise, spend less time together and thus they see no need for competition as they are interested in different things and do different activities.

Temperament differences

Siblings who are well behaved may be treated differently by parents than siblings who are difficult to handle. Those who are temperamentally more challenging to parent are often given less attention and viewed as annoying. The ones with good behaviour or temperamentally easy to parent become parent-favourite. If there are differences in how parents react to their children, this could increase the intensity of the competition between them.

Image: PureWow


Sometimes a child of one gender may be born to a family that wanted the opposite gender. If it is a boy in a family that wanted a girl, he may feel left out and thus act up because he may be treated with indifference, compared to the other sibling of the desired gender.

Parenting style

Parents who dominate their children through controlling them and giving them little room for self-expression can cause the siblings to acquire their traits and treat each other the way their parents treat them– with an iron fist. Apathetic parents alike contribute to sibling rivalry because they show no interest in what their children do. Lack of attention stimulates the need for the rivalry to capture the caregivers’ attention.


Now that you know these factors, it is equally important to know how to deal with sibling rivalry:

Show your children how to handle conflicts positively

When siblings are shown how to engage in conflict management in a positive manner such as by listening to each other’s points of view and not in name-calling, they will develop a mindset that hitting or any form of aggression is wrong. This way they will grow into responsible adults who can solve their conflicts positively.

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Emphasize that sibling harmony is at the core of the values of the family

Explain to your children that the family thrives when there is peace from all fronts including the way they treat each other. Any quarrels in the family will break down its foundation and let them know that this is an undesirable outcome. Through teaching peace, they are inclined to maintain it.

Incentivize the siblings to get to the root of the problem

Encourage the siblings to focus on what bothers them rather than focusing on each other. If one sibling is bothered by the way the other always chooses what to watch on TV, ask him or her to state the problem rather than attacking the other child. If it is about who spends more time on the PlayStation compared to the other, teach them that hitting and name-calling is not the solution.

Sibling rivalry is inevitable. As a parent, you need to understand your children and see how best to intervene in their conflicts. More importantly, guide them with love and compassion.

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