Sibling rivalry

A brother and sister play fighting on a sofa

What is sibling rivalry?

It’s normal for all children to argue with their sibling(s). In fact, parents and other caregivers can expect siblings to argue and fall out on quite a regular basis. The relationship that exists between siblings, including the ups and downs, will help them learn social skills, problem solve and establish other relationships.

Sibling rivalry becomes problematic when it disrupts family living and when it causes physical or emotional harm.

What causes it?

Siblings can argue for several reasons:

  • Age difference or being very close in age
  • Different interests
  • Being the same gender
  • Competing for attention from older siblings or parents
  • Competing for toys or electronics
  • The birth of a new sibling

Can it be prevented?

While some rivalry is expected between siblings, there are actions you can take to help lessen rivalry and arguments.

  • Evaluate if you, your partner or any other adults in the children’s lives frequently bicker or fight in a disagreement. Children learn and copy adult behaviours.
  • Create a cooperative environment – try to get them to work together.
  • Praise positive behaviour e.g. when they play nicely and share, or when they apologise and resolve conflict.
  • Don’t compare the children with each other or give labels e.g. “more sporty”, “the fussier one” or “the quiet one” – this can generate competition and make a child feel stuck in a category.
  • If separation and time-out are needed during an argument, try and teach them to resolve the problem after they’ve calmed down. Use words like “I feel”.
  • Arrange some time to spend with each child regularly so that they have your undivided attention.

How is it managed?

Sibling rivalry can be difficult to manage for parents but there are ways to manage it. Some parents may find it helpful to consult a child psychologist if sibling rivalry is causing significant disruption and distress to family life.

Which specialist helps with sibling rivalry?

A paediatric psychologist can help parents and their children manage sibling rivalry.

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