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Sibling Rivalry

It’s pretty inevitable that kids will bicker and argue. While sibling rivalry can be harmless, parents should know when to step in and how to help their kids work through the arguments they encounter.

When you bring a second child home, you introduce a new set of dynamics to your household. Siblings spend more time together than most other people and compete for different resources within the same home. Resources can be your attention, the last yogurt in the fridge, or which show to watch on the iPad.

Kids will inevitably bicker and argue. While sibling rivalry can be harmless, parents should know when to step in and how to help their kids work through the arguments they encounter.

What is Sibling Rivalry?

Mott Children define sibling rivalry as “the jealousy, competition, and fighting between” siblings. While a sibling rivalry is often shown in movies as a life-long competition that keeps them from being friends, that is not a usual case. Siblings will naturally argue and clash from time to time, but that does not stop them from building a healthy relationship.

If you have siblings, you can likely relate to the back and forth between wanting to do everything with your sibling and then wanting them to leave you alone right after.

According to the Center for Parenting Education, these arguments help kids learn valuable life skills, such as conflict resolution, negotiation and compromise, and managing power struggles.

What can Create Sibling Rivalry?

There are so many factors that can contribute to fighting and jealousy between kids, which can change as children go through different developmental phases.

Some common reasons why kids can begin fighting include:

  • Shared Spaces and Resources: From toys and electronics to attention, siblings are continually vying for shared resources. Sometimes these items will become the center of an argument when kids are still learning to share or are not getting what they want.
  • Changing Identities: Your kids are growing up and trying to assert their individuality and develop into their unique personalities. If your teen is trying to be more independent, they may resist spending more time with a younger sibling or feel annoyed by them more easily than before.
  • Role Models: If the adults in your children’s lives can model good conflict management and resolution skills, it is more likely that your kids will do the same. If you struggle to argue productively or are in a high conflict co-parenting relationship, kids might have a harder time working through their fights.
  • Stress: If you have a deadline at work or are late to a meeting, your temper is likely to be a little shorter. The same principle goes for kids. Helping them to develop coping skills for stress, showing them how to organize their time, and mitigating these stressful times can help avoid a stress-triggered argument.

What to Do if Siblings are Arguing

Many experts recommend staying out of arguments between siblings unless there is a danger of physical or emotional harm. If things get out of hand and your kids can’t resolve the issue independently, it’s time for you to step in. However, normal bickering or minor conflict will often pass quickly without any need for you to weigh in.

Setting some boundaries are often helpful and can guide how you react to arguments. Some potential household rules or boundaries include:

  • No hitting or hurting anyone
  • Show respect for others
  • Show respect for the property of others

If one of the household boundaries or rules is broken, it’s probably time to separate the siblings and help them resolve the conflict.

Resolving Conflict

Sending both kids to their room to stop the argument can give them a chance to cool down, but it is not a resolution to an issue.

Once your children calm down, bring them back together, and give them a chance to tell you what happened from their perspective. Encourage them to use “I feel” statements and avoid blaming or name-calling. If a conversation is still not productive, try having both kids write down their story (if that is age-appropriate). Cooperation and compromise can be more important than a forced apology if it is not genuine.

As a parent, you must treat each child equally and avoid playing favorites. Your kids need you to be an objective voice of reason and to help guide them through the process of conflict resolution.


There are many tools and resources available to help resolve sibling rivalries that have gone too far or feel unmanageable for parents. Professional services such as family counseling or therapy for kids can be a way to teach your kids conflict resolution skills and add to their emotional toolbox.

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