How to manage sibling rivalry
07 June, 2023
Siblings can swing from best friends to worst enemies and back again – and that’s just before breakfast! While tension between siblings can drive you crazy, rest assured, it’s completely normal.
Every parent hopes their children will be the best of friends. After all, you’ve given them a playmate they can have sleepovers with every single night! But growing up in close proximity means there are sure to be times when siblings just don’t get along. And that’s ok.
What is sibling rivalry and why does it occur?
Sibling rivalry is when siblings compete, argue and fight. Sibling rivalry may manifest as name-calling, arguing over toys or other belongings or physical wrestling or hitting. Experts agree sibling fighting can be a way for each child to establish their place within the family unit and can include competition for parental attention, approval and love. It can also be prompted by feelings of jealousy or insecurity around changes in the family, such as a new baby, or it may be caused by other stresses.
Tips for managing sibling rivalry
Feeling at a loss about what to do when one sibling hates the other? Try not to pull your hair out. When they’re hating on each other, your job is to keep loving them. Equally. That’s the most important – and effective – thing you can do. Here are our top practical tips to help you navigate sibling conflict:
- Love equally – Parents can reduce the opportunity for sibling rivalry by treating children fairly and equally. Children are less likely to compete for love and attention if they feel secure in their family relationships. Make time to show each child they are loved and valued and be careful not to show favouritism.
- Set clear expectations and rules for behaviour – Clear expectations help children to understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Set clear family rules and be sure children are aware of them. Standard expectations may include not hurting each other and respecting each family member by asking before using someone else’s things.
- Create a cooperative environment – Avoid activities that promote sibling rivalry and provide toys and games that encourage cooperative play and teamwork. Siblings can work together to build a fort or a tower and then take turns knocking it down. Doing a puzzle together teaches teamwork and problem-solving. Games like Dominoes or Hopscotch give siblings practice at taking turns, while role-play games such as shops or schools help siblings develop communication and negotiation skills. Siblings can also work together to complete a chore, like setting the table for meals or feeding a pet.
- Teach and model conflict resolution skills– Role play can be a powerful (and fun!) way to demonstrate conflict resolution skills to children and give them tools to avoid sibling fighting. Pick a scenario that causes angst in your house and involves the children in acting it out. Be sure to talk through the scenario and offer the children options to resolve the conflict. This may include asking for someone to “stop”, negotiating a compromise or simply walking away. And of course, be sure to model positive conflict resolution in front of your children when real conflicts arise too.
- Remain impartial, don’t take sides – Try not to intervene in sibling fighting. Give siblings space to resolve their disagreements. Learning how to get along, or agreeing not to, is an important life skill. Try not to intervene when siblings disagree and definitely do not take sides. Of course, step in if there’s a risk a child may be hurt.
Managing sibling rivalry in childcare
Here at Edge Early Learning, we help children learn to cooperate and grow their conflict-resolution skills every day. If you have siblings that are going through a rough patch and you’re concerned about how they’re behaving towards each other at childcare, be sure to talk to our educators and we’ll do our best to support you.