Sibling Rivalry: How Can I Help?

sibling rivalry

I always hoped that sibling rivalry wouldn’t be an issue with my children because they are different genders and 2 years apart. Boy was I wrong! I feel like my children are constantly at each other, and I just don’t know what to do! If this sounds like your home, then this post is for you. If the fighting and constant rude comments between your children are wearing you down and impacting your life negatively, read on for some tips that may help you along the way.

Is Sibling Rivalry Normal?

Sibling rivalry includes, but isn’t limited to, disagreements, envy, resentment, verbal, and even occasional physical fights. This is normal.

As humans progressed, we have had to learn how to compete to survive. If food was scarce, you would want to be the strong sibling/parent in order to obtain food for your family/children. It is human nature to want/need to provide care to your loved ones.

If your child(ren) is regularly being verbally and/or physically abused to the point that it is affecting their well-being, then you will likely need to seek external help with the relationship. If your child(ren) is regularly getting hurt or you worry their mental health and/or physical health is in danger, you should seek out professional help.

Family Dynamics

Your family dynamic is a huge contributor to how our children feel secure and valued, which can greatly impact sibling dynamics. Below are some examples of various situations that can impact your child:

  • How much physical time a parent has to devote to a child (Do they work full time? Care for another person’s medical needs?)
  • Adult to child ratio (Are there two children and two parents? Or one parent to three children?)
  • The amount of emotional availability the adult(s) have.
  • The physical space of the home. Does each person have a safe place that is theirs alone? Is your house cramped? Do children share a room?
  • How defined are the family roles? Is one child clearly viewed in the lime light? Another as a big brother/big sister and role model? Are the expectations set to high? OR perhaps one child is competing for the same role as another child?

Have you noticed a pattern to the sibling rivalry? Do they behave better when mom and dad are not around? What is each child’s personality? Are your children strong willed? More laid back? Individual temperaments really affect the dynamics of the family relationships.

Signs of Sibling Rivalry

There are some obvious signs of typical rivalry and there are signs of more extreme rivalry.


  • One-upmanship. For example, the younger sibling passes their spelling test with ease and the older sibling struggles with spelling.
  • Bickering and picking small fights with one another about trivial things (what side of the counter is theirs in the bathroom).
  • Indifference. For example, in children this could be a lack of support when their sibling is facing a big event in their life, and their needs are placed on the back burner for a time.

Extreme Rivalry

  • Clear lack of empathy, constant verbal abuse from one sibling
  • Physical assaults/fights where one or both get hurt
  • One sibling showing dominance over the others

Why Don’t My Kids Get Along?

Children often fight because of insecurity. Children need to feel safe and secure. Sometimes children feel that their security is at risk by the sheer presence of their sibling. Kids often feel this subconsciously,and it can heighten their feeling of parental rejection.

These feelings and fears are realistic to a certain extent. For example, the arrival of a new baby will mean that you get less of your parents’ attention (resulting in the feeling of rejection). However, if your child is feeling insecure, remember that it is not your fault. Children of all ages and stages go through periods of insecurity.

So Much Fighting!

Why do my children fight so much? The answer to this is complex and also includes a combination of factors. Some of these include:

  • Personalities (incompatible or too similar)
  • Family environment (space, responsibilities, roles)
  • Parental approach (do you unwittingly encourage competition by celebrating good grades?)
  • Level of family stress
  • Birth order and age

Can Sibling Rivalry be Good?

Sibling rivalry can have benefits and is positive for development. Some of the positive reasons for this include:

  • Competition can be healthy. Competition can set high goals for children and can allow for them to become high achievers.
  • Rivalry can get children to practice important social skills in a safe environment. It allows children to work on conflict resolution and how to prepare and manage adult life.

How Can I Help?

Here are some effective strategies to help in managing and resolving conflict between siblings.

Firstly, Reward Cooperation

Despite sibling rivalry being normal, we can still work on and reward cooperation. We can bring out more of the behaviors we want to see by encouraging, labeling, and rewarding the behaviors we like to see. The more practice a child gets in cooperation skills, the more they will be able to follow through in the future.

For example, if you are making cookies at home give one child the job to turn on the mixer each time a new ingredient is added and have the other child place the ingredients into the bowl. If they achieve the goal of making cookies and following through with their roles, let them know how proud you are! The key to letting them know how proud you are is to make sure you “label” what it is that they have done well. Make sure you plan family activities that require the cooperation.

Secondly, Plan Parent Child Time to Decrease Sibling Rivalry

Parent Child Time is one on one full direct attention to one child. Make sure that there are times when your children do not feel that they need to compete with others for your attention.  This means scheduling one on one time with each child. This allows them to feel special and valued. This can help with reducing the feelings of insecurities and, in return, decrease the need to compete for attention.

Lastly, Give Them Different Roles

Give them different roles. Sibling rivalry occurs when siblings actually feel they are rivals. Altering this dynamic by changing the way they see themselves can help. Talk to your children about their unique roles within the family dynamic. It also really helps children if they can help teach others. For example, “Can you teach your brother how to transform the car into the robot?”

Hopefully after reading though and understanding sibling rivalry, you can begin to implement some of the provided strategies to implement at home. If you need additional guidance, one of occupational therapists can help!