Sibling rivalry

Got kids? Then you’ve got squabbles, rivalry and even a few throw downs to cope with. As soon as your children enter the elementary years, you’ll be watching them enter a new phase of rivalry
The Community By Roselou Warren
Published on March 1, 2014
Sibling rivalry


COMPETITION: Children want to compete to define who they are as an individual. As a child observes what the other is being praised on, he or she will try to do the same things or perhaps the opposite for attention. This way, the child wants to show that he or she is different but just as better — than the sibling — if not the best.
COMPARISON: Family members, especially parents, play a big role in sibling rivalry. Dr Tahir said parents unintentionally compare children with one another. Giving statements like: “Why can’t you be like your brother” or sometimes “look at your sister, you should be like her” trigger jealousy and the close bonding between the siblings are affected.
FAVOURITISM: Parents must not play favourites, this is the ‘biggie’ in sibling rivalry. Parents often do not realise that they are playing the ‘favourites’ when they praise one child more than the other, or spend more time with one child than the other. Parents need to keep in mind that they must spend equal time with every child.
INTERFERENCE: When children fight, parents mustn’t get involved. As long as it does not lead to physical abuse, parents must learn to back off. Let the children resolve their problems.

Not all children are lucky to become the best of friends with their siblings. In fact, there are many who often fall prey to jealousy and rivalry. While it’s quite common for siblings to fight, their moods may constantly swing back and forth from adoring each other to detesting one another. It’s frustrating to watch and hear your kids fight. It’s also hard to interfere and try and bring peace between them. Dr Muhammad S. Tahir, General and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Medical Director & Manager of Health- Call DHCC Dubai and The Head Of Psychiatry Health-Call DHCC Dubai said, “There is always some kind of rivalry between siblings. It is not formed in the initial stages. However, the seed of rivalry is almost always there from the start.” Rivalry starts even before the second child is born and continues as the kids grow up and compete for everything — from toys to attention. As children reach different stages of development, their evolving needs significantly affect how they relate to one another.


Though it’s common for brothers and sisters to fight, the noise can be irritating. And a family can only tolerate a certain amount of conflict. So what must be done when the fighting starts? If the issue is not too bad, having a family meeting will help, as parents and children will spend time together, listening to each other and knowing what goes around in their daily lives. This way, the parents will get to know more of their children needs, and the children will learn more from their family members. In the process, the family will know how to handle future problems that will come along, without having to throw tantrums at each other.

Parents should rephrase statements into: “Perhaps you can do something similar that you find interesting and be good at it” or “don’t you like how your sister looks today? Maybe you should try it; it might suit you too.” This way, the child will not feel the comparison. Instead, he or she will feel the concern and care from the parents. As parents it is your role to know what your child likes. Make sure your children have their own spaces and time. Have fun together as a family. By spending quality time with your children, you’re establishing a peaceful way for your kids to spend time together and relate to each other. This will help ease tensions between them and keep you involved. If you lose your patience, consider handing over the reins to the other parent, whose patience might be greater at that moment. However, do not take the side of any particular child. Regardless of who you think is wrong, you must let the kids know that they are both wrong and right in their own ways. When there’s an issue between siblings, talk to them on a one-on-one strategy and try to understand what’s wrong. As you listen to your children, make them understand that as siblings there should be more love than hate. That is it normal for brothers and sisters to fight, but it’s not normal to hold onto a grudge. After you have pointed out your issue to the siblings, make them talk to each other. Have them voice out their concerns, what they liked and disliked or hated in the argument — why they acted the way they did. Both need to understand each other’s side.


Don’t focus on figuring out which child is to be blamed. It takes two hands to clap and everyone who is involved in a fight is responsible. Try to set up a “win-win” situation so that each child gains something. If they argue over a toy, tell them to play some game together. Keep in mind that when kids cope with disputes, they also learn important skills like how to compromise and negotiate, how to control aggressive impulses, etc, which go a long way in their lives. When physical fights begin, set ground rules for acceptable behaviour. Let the children know they should keep their hands to themselves and that there’s no name-calling, no yelling, no door slamming and definitely no cursing. Be sure to ask them their opinion on such rules, and tell them the consequences of break them. This teaches them that they’re responsible for their own actions, regardless of the situation or how provoked they felt, and discourages any attempts to negotiate regarding who was right or wrong.


According to Dr Tahir, sibling rivalry if not resolved early, it might lead to trauma. Children, who experienced favouritism, comparison or were belittled by parents, may soon have inferiority complex, anxiety and low self-esteem as adults. The good news is, there is no such thing as “too late” in resolving sibling rivalry. Therefore, no matter how old your children are, the issue can be fixed. In some cases, a child might need professional help from a counsellor or from a specialist to help them release the pain that they have kept within themselves over the years.

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One comment on “Sibling rivalry”

  1. April says:

    I should let my parents read this!

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