Keeping the Peace: How to Manage Sibling Rivalry

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Portrait of two sisters at home

If you have more than one child, chances are you’re experiencing the stress and frustration of sibling rivalry, like many of our parents. Despite your best attempts at harmony, brothers and sisters (or brothers and brothers, or sisters and sisters) seem to incessantly fight over toys, tattle on one another, argue, tease and compete for your attention.

As annoying and upsetting as sibling rivalry can be, it’s quite normal.

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

A certain amount of jealousy and friction between siblings is all part of growing up, and in our experience, this often starts after the birth of the second child. Most likely, your kids’ relationship will eventually develop into a close one, but in the meantime, negotiating between what seems like two (or more) warring camps can be a thankless job. The upside is that when your children learn to work things out with their sibling(s), they’re developing important skills such as cooperating and being able to see another person’s point of view.

Why does rivalry occur?

Rivalry between two, three or more siblings, of the same or opposite sex, is a competition for your attention and love. You as their parent are crucial in their lives, and they would rather not share you with anyone, particularly a brother or sister. Other contributing factors are: the individual personalities of your children, their mutual or differing interests, their ages, the amount of time they spend with one another and with you, and any perceived favoritism (however unintentional) you or your partner may show toward one child.

10 things you can do to help your kids get along better

1.      Don’t play favorites.

2.      Try not to compare your children to one another. For example, don’t say things like, “Your brother gets good grades in math, why can’t you?”

3.      Let each child be who they are. Don’t try to pigeonhole or label them.

4.      Enjoy each of your children’s individual talents and successes.

5.      Set your kids up to cooperate rather than compete. For example, have them race the clock to pick up toys, instead of racing each other.

6.      Pay attention to the time of day or other patterns in when conflicts usually occur. Is it before naps, bedtime or when your kids are hungry? Perhaps a change in your routine, an earlier meal or snack, or quiet, individual activities when the kids are at loose ends could help avert fighting.

7.      Teach your kids positive ways to interact with each other. Show them how to share their belongings and toys.

8.      Being fair is very important, but it is not the same as being equal. Older and younger children may have different privileges due to their age, but if children understand that this inequality is because one child is older or has more responsibilities, they will see this as fair. Reassure your kids that you do your best to meet each of their unique needs.

9.      Plan family activities that are fun for everyone. If your kids have positive experiences when together, this hopefully can lessen the tension when conflicts arise. It’s easier to work it out with someone you share warm memories with.

10.  Make sure each child has enough time and space of their own. Kids need opportunities to do their own thing, play with their own friends without their sibling, and have their space and property respected.

 We can help with the sibling situation

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve dealt with lots of siblings over the years and we’d like to help you with yours. We urge you to come in and talk with us about any aspect of your children’s sibling rivalry or any other behavior that is concerning you. We’re ready to help with information, advice and guidance. Together, we’ll try to make this often stressful time easier and more harmonious for everyone.

Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball