Sibling Rivalry

Growing up as a younger child meant navigating the world painted by my sister’s constant accusations. “You did this!”, she’d say, pointing an accusatory finger at me over a spilled cup of water in the living room. I would jump to my feet and indignantly say, “No, you did that!” I would eventually bring this injustice in front of our mom, who would then have to hold court with her feuding daughters. The hearing usually began with a “she started it!”, followed by lots of “no!”s, and ultimately, a sobbing “it’s not fair….” As a parent, sibling rivalry forces you to become the judge. And as cute and harmless it might seem, it isn’t something you can simply sweep under the rug.

So what’s the best way to handle sibling rivalry?

First, put yourself in your kids’ shoes. In a case with introducing a newborn, don’t assume that the elder child would feel the same way about the new member of the family as you do. If the new baby is garnering all of your attention, your older child may simply see her as a threat and a competitor for your love. Worse yet, she might feel that she is being replaced.

Since it is unreasonable to think that you can give equal attention to your children, here are some helpful tips from Dr. Laura Markham about how to effectively deal with sibling rivalry.


#1. Teach Negotiation Skills

Goal: Help your kids learn skills to handle conflict.

  1. Trading: “I’ll give you this for that”
  2. Sweetening the deal: “I really want that, so I’ll trade you this, this, and this.”
  3. Taking turns: “I can’t give you this now, but you can have your turn after 5 minutes.”
  4. Dividing the treat: “If you divide, I pick.”
  5. Teamwork: “Let’s clean up together, so we can go to the park sooner.”
  6. Making agreements or rules: “If you promise not to disturb my phone calls, I promise not to bother you while watching TV.”
  7. Write agreements: “Let’s put that down on paper and sign on it.”


#2. Teach Emotional Intelligence Skills

Goal: Help your kids understand their emotions

  1. Empathize with kids’ emotions
  2. Teach / model blame-free communication
  3. Teach each child to:
    • Identify and state their needs
    • Listen and respond to their siblings’ needs
    • Set fire limits


#3. Help Ease Sibling Competition

Goal: Proactively reduce insecurity and competitiveness among siblings.

  1. Acknowledge and empathize with any feelings of unfairness, without actually agreeing.
  2. Buy material possessions based on need. Give love unconditionally.
  3. Avoid labels
  4. Make losing palatable
  5. Discourage gloating
  6. Don’t get hooked into comparison and competition
  7. Don’t assign roles based on gender or age
  8. Appreciate/praise each child individually
  9. Find games that require teamwork, instead of competition
  10. When possible, allow kids to “defeat” you instead of siblings


(Sources: afineparent.com/sibling-rivalry “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings” by Dr. Laura Markham)