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Sibling Rivalry: What is It and Why Does it Happen

Published : 2013-07-03 - Updated : 2021-04-09
Author : Thomas C. Weiss - Contact: Disabled World (

Synopsis: Article looks at sibling rivalry with a focus on a child with disabilities or one who is ill and may require more time from a parent than their brothers or sisters. Your child's individual temperament, their unique personality, mood, adaptability and disposition play big roles in how well they get along. Fights between siblings are definitely not pleasant for others in the home, even if sibling rivalry is common. A family can only take a certain amount of conflict at home.

Main Digest

Sibling rivalry is something families often times experience, and while many children are fortunate enough to become best friends with their siblings it is common for them to fight. It is also common for them to swing between loving each other and simply detesting one another. Many times, sibling rivalry begins even before a second child is born and continues as the children grow and then compete for everything. As they reach different stages of development their needs may significantly affect how they relate with one another as they evolve and grow.

Parents may feel upset and frustrated as they hear and watch their children fight with each other. A home that is filled with conflict is stressful for everyone involved. It can be difficult to know how to stop the fighting or even whether to become involved. There are steps parents can take to promote peace and to help their children get along with each other.

The Reason Siblings Fight

A number of things may cause children to fight with each other. The majority of sisters and brothers feel a certain amount of competition or jealousy and this may end in bickering or squabbles. Other factors might also influence how often children fight with each other, or how severe the fighting becomes such as:

Their Evolving Needs:

It is natural for children's anxieties, changing needs, as well as their identities to affect the way they relate to each other. Toddlers are protective of their toys or belongings. Children who are school-age many times have a strong sense of equality and fairness and may not understand why siblings who are other ages are treated differently and may feel as if one child is receiving preferential treatment. Teenagers are developing a sense of independence and individuality and may resent helping with responsibilities around the home, spending time together, or providing care for younger siblings.

Children with Disabilities:

At times, a child with disabilities or one who is ill or experiences a learning or emotional issue might need more time from a parent. Other children in the family may pick up on this and act out in order to receive more attention, or out of fear of what the child with a disability is experiencing.

Individual Temperament:

Your child's individual temperament, their unique personality, mood, adaptability and disposition play big roles in how well they get along. If one child is easily upset while another is very relaxed they may fight. A child who seeks love and comfort from their parents may be resented by siblings who see this and desire the same amount of attention.

Role Models:

The way parents themselves resolve disagreements and issues presents a strong example for children. If parents work through conflicts in ways that are productive, respectful, and are not aggressive, they increase the chances that their children will use the same means of resolving the issues between themselves. If children see their parents routinely slam doors, shout, or argue loudly when they have issues - they are more likely to pursue those methods of dealing with issues.

Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way. - Pamela Dugdale

Reacting to Sibling Rivalry

Fights between siblings are definitely not pleasant for others in the home, even if sibling rivalry is common. A family can only take a certain amount of conflict at home.

How can parents react to the fights between siblings?

If at all possible, do not become involved. Do not become involved unless there is a danger of physical harm. If you always get involved you take the risk of creating additional problems. Children might start expecting you to help and wait for you to rescue them from their fights instead of learning to work out their issues in their own way. If you intervene as a parent you also take the risk of making it seem as if one child is always somehow protected - something that could promote even more resentment. A child who feels, 'rescued,' might feel they can, 'get away,' with more because you, as a parent, are always saving them.

As a parent, if you become concerned with name-calling or the language being used it is appropriate to coach your children through what they are feeling through use of appropriate words. Doing so is different from stepping in or intervening and separating them. Even then, encourage them to resolve their issues themselves. If you do get involved, attempt to resolve issues with your children and not for them. When you become involved there are some steps you might consider such as:

1 - Separate the Children until They are Calm:

At times, it is best to simply give them some space for a period of time and not immediately attempt to resolve a conflict - the fight may escalate again.

2 - Do Not Place Too Much Focus on Finding Out Which Child is to Blame:

It takes two people to fight and anyone involved is in part responsible.

3 - Attempt to Set Up a Win-Win Situation:

Try to make it so that each child gains something. If they both want the same toy, maybe there is a game they could play together for example.

Bear in mind that as children deals with disputes they also learn skills that are important and will serve them in their lives, such as how to value another person's perspective, to control aggressive impulses, negotiate, and compromise.

Preventing Fights While Promoting Peace

There are some simple things you can do as a parent each day to prevent fights between siblings.

One of the things you can do is to set some, 'ground rules,' for behavior that is acceptable. Tell your children to keep their hands to themselves and that name-calling, cursing, yelling, or slamming doors are not acceptable. Ask for their input regarding the rules as well as the consequences should they break them. What this does is teach children that they are responsible for their actions, despite the situation, as well as discouraging attempts to negotiate in regards to who was right or wrong.

Do not allow children to make you believe that everything always has to be equal or fair.

At times, one child needs more than another. Be proactive in giving your children one-on-one attention that is directed at their particular needs and interests. If one child likes to spend time outside, go to the park or take a walk with them. If another child enjoys reading, spend time reading with them. Make sure your children have their own time and space as well to play with their toys or friends without a sister or brother, or to have fun doing activities without having to share it with a sibling.

Tell and show your children that your love for them is not something that has limits.

Let them know that they are important, loved, safe, and that their needs will be met. Have fun together as a family, whether it is time you spend watching a movie, playing a game, or just throwing a ball around - it is time you are spending establishing a peaceful way for your children to spend time together and relate to one another. Doing so can help to ease tensions between them while keeping you involved. Attention from parents is something many children fight over and enjoyable family activities can help to ease conflicts.

If your children fight a lot over the same things, such as the TV remote or video games, put up a schedule that shows which child has control over these kinds of items at what times during the week. If they keep fighting over them; however, take the items away entirely. If fights between school-age children are frequent, have weekly family meetings and present the rules concerning fighting. Review past successes related to reducing conflicts. Consider establishing a program where children earn points toward an enjoyable and family-oriented activity when they work together without fighting.

Be aware of when children simply need time apart from one another.

Attempt to arrange separate activities or play dates for each child on occasion. When one child is pursuing an activity, spend time with the other one. Bear in mind that at times children fight to get attention from a parent. If this is the case, consider taking a time out of your own! When you leave, the incentive for your children to fight disappears. When your own patience is becoming short, consider getting help from another parent whose patience might be greater than yours at the moment.

Seeking Professional Assistance

A small number of families find that the conflicts between siblings are so severe that it disrupts the family's daily functioning, or affects the children psychologically or emotionally. When this happens it is wise to pursue assistance from a mental health professional. Parents in this situation should pursue help for sibling conflict if it becomes so severe that it is leading to marital issues, is damaging to the psychological well-being of family members, creates a danger of physical harm to a family member, or is related to other significant concerns such as depression.

About the Author

Thomas C. Weiss attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Thomas C. Weiss. Electronic Publication Date: 2013-07-03 - Revised: 2021-04-09. Title: Sibling Rivalry: What is It and Why Does it Happen, Source: <a href=>Sibling Rivalry: What is It and Why Does it Happen</a>. Retrieved 2021-06-20, from - Reference: DW#319-9797.