What Causes Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling rivalry is a common phenomenon that occurs in families with more
than one child. It refers to the competition, jealousy, and conflict that can arise
between siblings while they vie for attention, resources, and parental affection.
Understanding the underlying causes of sibling rivalry can help parents and
caregivers address these issues effectively and promote harmonious
relationships among siblings. Don’t lose site that sibling relationships are
unique and complex. They are characterized by love, camaraderie, and rivalry.
It is not uncommon for siblings to engage in occasional disagreements or
Definition of Sibling Rivalry
Siblings share a special bond that is unlike any other. They grow up together,
experiencing similar family dynamics and environments. This shared history
can create strong emotional ties and connections that last a lifetime.
Sibling rivalry is a complex emotional and behavioral interaction between
brothers and sisters. It can manifest as verbal arguments, physical fights, or
constant bickering. While some degree of competition is normal, unresolved,
and intense rivalry can create long-term emotional and psychological effects.
Common Causes of Sibling Rivalry
Age and Developmental Differences
Age gaps between siblings can lead to varying interests and abilities, causing
feelings of disconnect and misunderstanding. Younger siblings might feel
inferior, while older ones might feel burdened with responsibility or
overshadowed by the attention given to the younger siblings.
Competition for Attention
Children naturally seek love, attention, and resources from their parents.
When they feel their siblings receive more attention, it can trigger jealousy and
resentment, leading to rivalry.
Parental actions and attitudes play a significant role in shaping sibling
relationships. Favoritism, comparisons, or inconsistent discipline can fuel
jealousy and resentment not only among siblings but can end up affecting the
parent’s relationship with their kids.
Also, inequality and unfair treatment is quickly detected by our kids. Perceived
inequality in parental treatment can be a major source of sibling rivalry.
Children are quick to notice discrepancies in rules and ultimate
When parents expect siblings to have a close bond, the pressure of the
parent’s expectations can create tension and resentment if the kid’s
relationship cannot meet those hopes.
Children observe and learn from their parents’ behaviors and model that
behavior. If they witness conflicts or arguments among their parents, they may
mimic similar behaviors in their own interactions with their siblings.
Children perceive love as a finite resource, leading to competition for parental
affection and validation. Parents have got to share the love equally with kids.
Each child has a unique personality, and clashes can occur when their traits
and preferences clash. For instance, an introverted child might be frustrated
by the extroverted and outgoing nature of their sibling.
Sibling Roles and Birth Order
Birth order can influence sibling dynamics. Firstborns might feel displaced by
the arrival of a younger sibling. Older siblings may assume a protective or
bossy role, while younger ones might become rebellious or competitive for
attention or want to show their independence. Siblings at different stages of
development may not understand each other’s perspectives, leading to
misunderstandings and disagreements. At the same time, they may have a
lack of conflict resolution skills because they have not been around long
enough to develop effective communication and conflict resolution skills,
making it quite challenging for them to resolve their disagreements peacefully.
Also, in many families, certain roles are assigned to each child, such as the
responsible one takes charge, or the peacemaker brings the kids together or
the troublemaker is always in the doghouse. These roles can become self-
fulfilling prophecies, leading to conflict.
Sibling jealousy can also arrive when one sibling excels in a particular area
such as sports or music and obviously receives praise for achieving success
which has other siblings feeling left out. Siblings may fight as they try to
establish their unique identity within the family. This is common when they feel
compared to each other or feel overshadowed by the achievements of their
more successful sibling.
Limited Resources and Changing Family Dynamics
Competition can arise when siblings have to share limited resources like toys,
space, or even parental time. Also, keep in mind that children may not have
developed yet, adequate conflict resolution skills, which just leads to
escalating the tension in sharing limited resources.
Family dynamics are constantly changing, but significant changes in the family
structure, such as the birth of a new sibling, parents divorce or a family
relocation, can create stress and may lead to increased conflicts among
Strategies for Minimizing Sibling Rivalry
Encouraging Bonding Activities
Spend quality time with each child individually, engaging in activities they
enjoy. This helps strengthen the parent-child bond and reduces competition
Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills
Helping children learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully can improve their
relationship. The top conflict resolution skills include teamwork, problem-
solving, emotional intelligence, communication, and Stress Management. Now
little kids are not going to understand these adult concepts, so if you can
teach your children how to just start talking to each other and learn how to
solve problems together, you have started them on the right path.
Make a concerted effort not to compare one sibling to another because it will
breed resentment and insecurity. Promote fairness to ensure rules and
consequences are applied consistently and reasonably to all siblings.
Celebrating Differences and Achievements
Encouraging each child’s unique qualities and accomplishments can lessen
rivalry. Acknowledge and celebrate each child’s wins, no matter how small, to
instill a sense of pride and reduce rivalry. Also, encourage siblings to support
each other during challenging times to foster a sense of unity.
Establishing Clear Boundaries
Setting boundaries for acceptable behavior can reduce conflict and promote
respect. Personal space is just beginning to be learned at an early age, so
helping each child understand how to honor their sibling’s personal space can
go a long way in avoiding conflicts.
Be a Positive Role Model and Teach Empathy
Our children are sponges watching everything we do, and more times than not
imitate what we do. If we are on our cell phones constantly or watching TV for
hours during the day, I can guarantee our children will show the same
behavior. We, as adults, must model respectful and compassionate behavior
towards others, demonstrating how to build healthy relationships.
We must teach our children empathy. Helping children at a young age to begin
understanding each other’s feelings and perspectives, will go a long way as
they become teenagers and then adults.
Make sure you avoid playing favorites. Be mindful of displaying favoritism
towards one child over another, as this can intensify feelings of resentment
Encourage your kids to laugh together and find humor in conflicting situations.
Humor can diffuse tense situations and lighten the mood. Siblings that can
laugh together establish experiences together that will last them a lifetime.
Sibling fights are a natural part of growing up and establishing individual
identities within a family. Understanding the root causes of these conflicts can
help parents and siblings navigate them more effectively. By promoting open
communication, empathy, and understanding, families can foster healthier
sibling relationships that last a lifetime.
It’s important for parents and caregivers to address sibling conflicts calmly and
help children understand and express their emotions constructively.
Encouraging empathy, teaching conflict resolution skills, and setting clear
boundaries can promote healthier sibling relationships. Additionally, spending
quality time as a family and individually with each child can reinforce positive
connections and reduce rivalry among siblings.