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Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry - What it is

"Sibling rivalry can be defined as competition, animosity, and negative behaviour among brothers and sisters."Sibling rivalry is also sometimes seen as being about power struggle and according to a famous psychologist, Dr Alfred Adler, a "subconscious strive for power". Experts have found that there is no ‘perfect age-gap’, as every family is unique and different, and the family should work out what may suit the needs of the family best. However, it would also not be uncommon to find that the intensity of sibling rivalry increases from age 2 until the child reaches about 5 to 6 years. This is because the siblings begin to be more aware and start to take note of how their parents treat them and engage in comparisons.

In addition, many experts believe that the reason that siblings of the same gender experience more sibling rivalry than siblings of opposite gender has less to do with the actual gender of the siblings than it does with other aspects of the situation. For example, siblings of the same gender are often asked to share a bedroom. They may often feel as though they have little or no personal space, and that their sibling is responsible. In some cases, especially when siblings of the same gender are close together in age, they may compete even for things like who gets the bed nearest to the window.

Preparing Your Child For The Arrival Of A Baby

For very young toddlers or preschoolers, it is widely encouraged that parents prepare their older child or children as soon as the journey of their new addition begins. Assure the older child that with the arrival of the baby, his position will not be threatened and that you will continue to love him as much.

Tell your child about your pregnancy when you tell your friends. Your child needs to hear about it from you, not from someone else.

Get your older child acquainted with the new baby before birth. For example. show him pictures of a baby growing in mommy's belly. Let him pat the baby beneath the bulge, talk to baby, and feel baby kick. Replay the older child's babyhood. Sit down with your child and page through his baby photo album. Show him what he looked like right after birth, coming home from the hospital, nursing, and having his diaper changed. By replaying the older child's baby events, he will be prepared for a replay of her brother or sister.

Prepare your child realistically that the young baby will be very helpless, needs care and may even cry a lot. The older sibling should also not expect the young infant to be able to play with him until a few years later.

Prepare your child for any potential temporary separation and make the necessary caretaking arrangements in ahead of time. This is especially important where there is unpredictability in when you have to go to the hospital to deliver the baby. Involve the older sibling by giving him the responsibility of calling the grandparents to announce the baby's arrival. But do not overplay the return of the baby as it may threaten the confidence of the older child in his position in the family.

For older siblings who are of school-going age, you may also find that he is keen to be involved in the care process. Having a baby in the home also allows him a wonderful opportunity to act in a grown-up role.

Be prepared to expect some levels of resentment. Some younger children may express jealousy with blunt and frank comments. If resentment and jealousy are detected, allow your older child to express his fears and feelings but with a firm rule stating that at all times, no violence is accepted in the home.

Do not leave a young toddler or pre-schooler alone with the baby until later when bonding is more firmly established.

Sibling rivalry is perfectly normal. The battle between brothers and sisters is one of the most basic and universal of family relationships. As parents, you do not have to eliminate sibling rivalry. Rather, it can be constructive if it is managed well.


Why Children Fight

There are many reasons as to why siblings and children fight. Very often, it is not uncommon for siblings to experience some degree of jealousy or competition, this resulting in squabbles or arguments. Other factors that can cause siblings to fight include:

  • Evolving needs: Children's changing needs, anxieties and identities do affect how they relate to one another. For example, toddlers are naturally protective of their toys and belongings and are learning to assert their will. School age children often have a strong concept of fairness and equality, so might not understand why siblings of other ages are treated differently or may feel like one child gets preferential treatment. Teenagers, on the other hand, are developing a sense of individuality and independence, and may not feel happy having to take care of younger siblings, or even having to spend time together as a family.
  • Individual temperaments: Children's individual temperaments, including mood, disposition and adaptability, play a major role in how well they get along.
  • Special needs/sick child: Sometimes, a child’s unique needs due to illness or learning/emotional issues may require more parental attention. Siblings may pick up on this and act up to get attention or out of fear.
  • Role models: The way that parents resolve problems and disagreements set strong examples for their children. If parents work through conflicts in a constructive, respectful and non aggressive way, it is highly likely that their children will also adopt these methods when resolving problems with one another. If however adults routinely shout and respond to disagreements aggressively (e.g., arguing loudly, throwing things), children are likely to do the same.

Dealing With Sibling Rivalry

Useful Parenting Tips

  • Understand that sibling rivalry is a natural process of growing up. Also, it is sometimes a good learning process for children to argue and learn how to make up again. Do not be too hard on yourself as parents - do not feel overly upset or inadequate if your children are always fighting.
  • Pay attention to your children's conflicts and try to see if they can work out their own conflicts. Help your children develop the skills to work out their conflicts on their own. Teach them how to compromise, respect one another, divide things fairly, etc. If you give them the tools, eventually they will have the confidence that they can work it out themselves.
  • However, do remember that younger children will probably need the adults to intervene and help structure the problem-solving process. Also, interfere in arguments if they get violent as dangerous fights need to be stopped immediately. Separate the children when they have calmed down, talk about what happened and make it very clear that no violence is ever allowed.
  • Don’t yell or lecture. It won't help.
  • It doesn't matter "who started it," because it takes two to make a quarrel. Hold children equally responsible when ground rules get broken. It is important not to take sides and "play favourite".
  • In a conflict, give your children a chance to express their feelings about each other. Don't try to talk them out of their feelings. Help your children find words for their feelings. Show them how to talk about their feelings, without yelling, name-calling, or violence.
  • Seek professional help if necessary - If your children are physically violent with each other on a regular basis, and/or one child is always the victim, is frightened of the brother/sister, and doesn't fight back, you may be dealing with sibling abuse. You should seek immediate professional help and guidance.
  • Let each child be who they are. Don't try to pigeonhole or label them.
  • Sibling rivalry can be reduced when each child's unique talents and successes are acknowledged and praised. This can lessen their competition for parents' time, attention, money, etc. It is important to not treat them differently but to appreciate their individual qualities.
  • Set your children up to cooperate rather than compete. For example, have them race the clock to pick up toys, instead of racing each other.
  • Pay attention to the time of day or other patterns where conflicts usually occur. Are conflicts more likely right before naps or bedtime or maybe when children are hungry before meals? Perhaps a change in the routine, an earlier meal or snack, or a well-planned quiet activity when the kids are at loose ends could help avert your kids' conflicts.
  • Teach your children positive ways to get attention from each other. Show them how to approach another child and ask them to play, and to share their belongings and toys.
  • 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. However, despite your efforts to ensure fair treatment, children may not always deem your decisions as such. Hence, it is important to help your children perceive this fairness by explaining it to them. Reassure them that you do love and treat them equally.
  • Plan family activities that are fun for everyone. If your children have good experiences together, it acts as a buffer when they come into conflict. It's easier to work it out with someone you share warm memories with.
  • Make sure each child has enough time and space of their own. Children need chances to do their own thing, play with their own friends without their sibling, and to have their space and property protected.

Sibling Rivalry - Symptoms

Sibling Rivalry - How to prevent?

Sibling Rivalry - Causes and Risk Factors

Sibling Rivalry - Diagnosis

Sibling Rivalry - Treatments

Sibling Rivalry - Preparing for surgery

Sibling Rivalry - Post-surgery care

Sibling Rivalry - Other Information

The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth

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