Coping with sibling rivalry

Boy making fun of this brother
Expert Sue Atkins looks at the ways parents can approach their children's relationships, and what a family can do together to build a happy, respectful team.

Sibling rivalry can apply to any children living in the same family, from step-brothers and sisters to blood-related sibling. It refers to the jealousy, competition, teasing and fighting that goes on between them. Many experts seem to agree that it stems from your child’s deep desire and need for your exclusive love, along with a need for your attention, a sense of identity, self-worth and specialness within your family.

Why do siblings fight?

There can be a number of reasons why siblings may fight. These include:

  • Attention seeking – a need for your parental attention (you naturally only have so much time, attention and patience to give)
  • Jealousy – "He got a new bike. I didn't. So they must love him more than they love me."
  • Everyday teasing which is a way of testing the effects of behaviour and words on another person: "He called me..." "But she called me...first."
  • Competition – they are growing up in a competitive society that teaches them that to win is to be better: "I saw it first." "I beat you to the water."

When teenagers fight

Teens fight for the same reasons that younger children fight. But teenagers are bigger, louder and better equipped physically and intellectually to hurt and be hurt by words and actions.

From a parent's point of view, they "ought" to be old enough to stop that kind of behaviour, but what we may tend to forget is that teenagers are under a lot of pressure from many different directions. Physical, hormonal and emotional changes cause pressures, as do changing relationships with parents and friends.

Teens may be concerned about real or imagined problems between you. They feel pressure about their future as adults and about learning to be an adult. And sometimes they feel a bit scared of it all and look for ways to get your attention or get noticed. In many ways, teens are in greater need than ever for your parental love, attention and concern and for a belief that they are as good as their siblings. They ultimately need your understanding.

Tips for dealing with sibling rivalry

  • Have a positive attitude towards dealing with this. Your attitude will shape the atmosphere in your home and the relationships between your children.
  • Think about each child and consider where the rivalry may come from.
  • Share your time equally among your children where possible, and make sure no one feels left out.
  • Help your children learn ways to resolve their differences themselves. Move away from 'right' and 'wrong'.
  • Celebrate each child's individuality – respect each child's unique talents and skills. Never make them feel they are in competition with each other.
  • Build a 'team' mentality in your household, where you pull together in the same direction, rather than in different directions. Each child must feel that they have a role in that team.
  • Learn to celebrate successes as a family so that your children don’t see their sibling's success as their own personal failure.