Sibling Conflict and Rivalry

By | November 2, 2013

Sibling conflict is a natural part of family life and of growing up. Often sibling jealousy extends into adult years and can crop up in arguments between siblings many years later. However, during childhood, while it may cause a great deal of annoyance and stress to parents, sibling relationships with all their stress can be a source of learning for children. The most common causes of sibling conflict are a need for attention, resentment when one child thinks the other is being favored, boredom, or even the personality of each child.

Different Stages of Sibling Rivalry

Sibling relationships changes over time, depending on the child’s growth and learning. Shouts of “It’s not fair” can change to “She’s always in my room, trying out my clothes” as young children grow into preteens and teens. During the toddler years, sibling conflict can start as children learn about concepts such as “mine” and “yours”. Most toddlers become possessive about almost everything around them at this point, and can resent another child trying to share or take away something that they perceive as theirs, including parental attention.

Later, during school years, sibling jealousy takes different forms as children begin to develop interests in hobbies or subjects that they have been exposed to at school. A sense of individuality begins to grow, and they are keen at this stage to show what they’ve learned or achieved. Siblings who take attention away at this point can become a cause for sibling jealousy. The teenage years are often most difficult for the first child. As teens grow into adults and want to assert independence from family and sibling relationships, younger siblings who still treat them as children cause a great deal of stress.

How to Solve Sibling Conflict

  • One way to maintain smooth sibling relationships is to spend time with all children and offer individual attention to each one. When children don’t enjoy the same activity but each wants you to participate in their hobbies or activities, it is a good idea to separate them. Sending one child to the park with his grandparents allows you time to read or color with the other child, keeping both happy.
  • Sometimes during weekends or holidays, sibling conflict is just a reaction to boredom or irritation, and children tend to take it out on each other. If you see this happening, getting them involved in a common activity such as making something or doing something that is fun, they will forget their reasons for fighting.
  • Make it a point, during more relaxed moments to let children know how special and unique each one is to you. Sibling jealousy can be turned into respect for each other with a little tact and a lot of patience. Use concrete examples of their achievements or talents, and do this in front of the other, so that they learn that each is loved and cherished in their own right.
  • Avoid comparisons between siblings as much as possible. Telling one child that if their brother or sister can do something, they should be able to as well is a reason for sibling jealousy, rivalry or a fight later on.

Remember that sibling jealousy teaches children a number of qualities that will stand them in good stead in their adult lives. Learning how to listen to another person, learning to express anger in appropriate ways, learning how to control aggression, understanding family dynamics and their own relationship with each other – all these can be learned if sibling conflict is handled carefully.


1. Sibling Rivalry – Kids Health

2. Sibling Rivalry – University of Michigan Health System

3. Seven Ways to Solve Sibling Rivalry – PBS Parents

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