I grew up in a family with five children, all very close in age. Sibling rivalry was a common occurrence in our home, as is the case in most families with multiple children. Especially between my little sister and I, who could often be seen with a bit of a growly face in family photos, one hand sneaking behind to pinch or poke at the other sister. We must have worried my poor mother to tears.

If your household has been wracked with sibling chaos, it can get better and we can help. The Babienet parenting community is here for you with helpful information and these 5 parenting tips to help you nip the sibling wars in the bud.

What is sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is tension, arguing, fighting, and general disruption that occurs between siblings.

You may be seeing:

  • Hair pulling
  • Nit-picking (Pinching, poking, aggravating the other sibling)
  • Hitting and pushing
  • Name-calling
  • Manipulation to get the other sibling in trouble
  • Teasing
  • Jealousy
  • Blaming
  • Lying
  • Breaking another sibling’s personal property
  • Stealing or hiding another sibling’s personal items

What causes sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is rooted in competition between siblings for the attention of the parents (or other people) and the competition for resources. It is a normal occurrence (as an ecological survival skill) but it is stressful for the whole family. There are ways to discourage this behavior, parental discipline techniques that can help, and family habits that can set the stage for a more peaceful interaction between siblings.

What NOT to do

  • Compare your children to each other
  • Reward bad behavior
  • Give negative attention
  • Show favoritism to one child over the other

5 tips to resolve or avoid sibling rivalry

Tip #1 Create an equal environment with structure for your children.

Having rules and expectations for your children’s behavior, and keeping these equal between the children will create an environment of equality. Consistency is very important to make sure the children know what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if they violate the family rules.

One common mistake parents make with this is when one child has special needs or is gifted and parents “make exceptions” for them or bend the rules. It is better to have rules that all can follow and enforce them consistently.

Tip #2 Recognize each child for their own unique qualities and talents

While you do not want to show favoritism, which makes sibling competition much worse, you do want to make sure that your children are receiving adequate praise for their own unique qualities and accomplishments. Having a general attitude of praise and encouraging your children to celebrate each other will help. When one child does something praiseworthy, the other children can be praised for their positive reaction or for noticing the good behavior. This way both children receive praise for their part.

For example:

Suzie colors inside the lines for the rist time and recognizes the names of all the colors of crayons she has in front of her.

Robert notices his sister’s accomplishment and says something nice to her about it. Both children receive praise for this. Celebrate Suzie’s accomplishment and Robert’s kind words equally. Both children receive praise and one is not left to feel jealous that the other is receiving the parent’s attention.

Tip #3 Evenly distribute privileges

When children argue, there is often a “something” they both want that generates the argument. When I was a kid, it was riding in the front seat next to Mom. Setting a predetermined rotation of this privilege (and others like pushing the button first, or sitting in a certain seat, or choosing the television show) will help to cut back on the arguments and petty fights that can erupt over these situations.

Make note of what your children are arguing over and make a plan to take turns so that each child gets to enjoy it when it is their turn. Keeping these situations as equal as possible, fair, and pre-allocated will help to eliminate the competition and subsequent arguments that can disrupt your day.

Tip #4 Make sure each child gets time to themselves and with you

One thing that will help is to make sure each child gets some time to themselves, and that you take time with each child individually to talk with them or do an activity with them. When each child is having their individual needs met, they often won’t feel the void of attention that often causes them to fight amongst themselves.

Some children need alone time to read or play without being disturbed. Others need constant interaction. These individual needs can spark arguments. Address the needs of each child and make sure they are not being pushed to uncomfortable limits that will erupt in arguments.

Tip #5 Put toys in Time Out

Yes, toys can have a Time Out. If children are fighting over an item, put it in Time Out and offer another toy that can be equally shared, such as a box of blocks or Legos. The toy can come out of Time Out when the situation has calmed or when the children make a plan for how they will fairly allocate time with the toy. This encourages them to work together and seek solutions to their problems.

This can be difficult when the toy belongs to one child and not the other. If the children’s personal toys are a problem between siblings, encourage the children to play with shared toys when they are together and to use their individual time to play with items of their own.

Above all, keep your cool!

Sibling rivalry tests you. It is a frustrating situation for all involved, but if you are able to think ahead of the problem you can avoid many tears and arguments. If you can keep calm it will help to lower the tension of the situation.  Be a little strategic and generously patient, and you can ease the sibling wars into something much more manageable. Seek outside help such as your pediatrician, a support group, or online communities such as the Babienet parenting community.

For further reading:
20 Tips on Parenting and Discipline
Child Discipline Methods & Effective Parenting Styles

Center for Parenting Education

Christina M. Ward,

Babienet blog contributor

Proud mother of 3 and  grandmother of 2

5 Parental Discipline Techniques to Discourage Sibling Rivalry provides parents with valuable information about sibling rivalry as well as actionable parenting techniques to discourage this behavior.