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Sibling Rivalry

Whilst sibling rivalry is common, it can be nonetheless upsetting for all involved.

As a parent and as someone who deals with children on a daily basis, I've both experienced it first hand and have had numerous conversations with parents who are struggling too.

So, why do siblings squabble? There can be many reasons -


It's almost inevitable that when siblings spend a lot of time together (and often in a confined space) little petty irritations can escalate into full blown rows. As such it's important to make sure that your children have some time and space apart - doing different activities, playing with different friends etc. Often a little time apart can make for a much more harmonious relationship when they do come back together.

Differing Needs

Children of different ages of course have differing needs, and this can affect how they relate to each other. For example, toddlers often struggle with the concept of sharing - which can make playing with toys difficult. Likewise, your reaction to the differing needs of your children may also breed resentment. For example, if an older child feels that you give more time and attention to a younger sibling, then this can cause problems too.

It's therefore really important that you acknowledge the differing needs of your children, and try to ensure that you give individual attention to them all. Try organising some one-on-one time with all of your children individually - spend some quality time with them, doing the things that they enjoy - e.g. a trip to the park, reading a story etc.

Also, take the time to chat to your children about how they feel about their sibling(s) - by talking through the issues with them on their own, you'll gain a clearer understanding of what the issues are; of course you can also talk through some strategies to resolve the arguments.


Often siblings will clash because they have very different personalities; or indeed because they have very similar ones! Personality clashes are a part of every day life and learning how to get along with people is a really important life lesson.

In this instance, keeping the lines of communication open is key. Once again, talk to your children individually about why they think that they squabble and encourage them to think up ways that they might resolve their differences.


Sometimes, there can be intense competition among siblings for recognition and the attention of their parents. This often stems back to when a baby is introduced to a family and the older sibling fears the baby will replace him or her. The older child may become jealous and this can manifest itself in aggressive behavior toward the baby or regressive acts like bed-wetting or baby talk. This regressive behavior is often seen as the older child's way to try and reestablish himself in a dependent role with his parents and, like anything, this can become an unhealthy habit.

The best way to deal with competition for your attention is to ensure absolute even-handedness between siblings however hard it can be to balance their often-competing needs.

Tips to deal with squabbling siblings:

  1. Establish some house rules about what is and is not acceptable behaviour - e.g. no shouting, pushing, hitting, kicking, name-calling etc. If squabbles degenerate into this sort of behaviour separate the children and give them a chance to calm down.
  2. Try to let them resolve their differences themselves. Ultimately your children will need to learn to resolve their differences themselves, rather than relying on you to do it for them. As such you may need to act as a moderator to allow the children to discuss their differences, but try to allow them to come to a mutually agreeable resolution.
  3. Don't play the blame game. Try not to focus on who started it. Instead focus on working towards a resolution.
  4. Try to encourage activities which encourage cooperation rather than competition - e.g. encourage the children to build or make something together, rather than compete against each other to build or make the 'best' version of something.
  5. Ensure you treat all your children absolutely equally and are seen to do so. It's easy for children to slip into roles as 'aggressor' or 'victim' and it's really important not to fall into the trap of labelling.

So how do you deal with sibling rivalry? Got any tips of your own you'd care to share?


Image credit Ken Wilcox

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