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What to do about: Sibling Rivalry

March 30, 2018

We have partnered with Parent Coach Stefani Cohen, LCSW to help our readers navigate tricky parenting issues.


Today's topic: Sibling Rivalry is very timely as Spring Break is upon us.   Read on for some great tips about how to minimize rivalry and increase esteem.




What is Typical Sibling Rivalry and When Should I Worry?

If we are lucky, the sibling relationship is the longest one we will have. Sibling rivalry is based on the competition of children vying for their parents’ love and attention. As parents, we know our love is unlimited but kids don’t always see it that way.  Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up in a family and is actually a real life laboratory for conflict resolution and the development of social skills. Kids often engage in behaviors they know will have their parents running to referee. Many parents inadvertently increase their children’s feelings of jealousy and resentment.  


Here are some Dos and Don’ts

Do accept that siblings will argue

Do spend enough personal time with each child and try to be with that child “fully” – this helps to keep a reserve of self-esteem and good will in your child so that when you lose it, or when their brother breaks their toy, they can demonstrate some resilience.       

Do show feelings with words and actions, not just lip service.

Do treat each child as unique, special and loved.

Do communicate openly and freely with your children. Do this when things are going well and when

    they are not going well.

Do stay neutral and calm and resist the urge to referee. Let kids handle it whenever possible.

Do say “I don’t care how this started, but I do care how it ends.”

Do tell stories about how you and your siblings got along – be truthful but edit the story to fit the situation.

Do give yourself a time out if you feel you are losing control.

Do try to anticipate trouble spots.

Do praise and reinforce when siblings are kind to each other and are getting along.

Do consider a “Cooperation Jar” where kids earn tokens for positive behaviors and when the jar is full the family goes on a special outing.

Don’t intervene unnecessarily. If you constantly get involved, they will not learn how to negotiate for


Do intervene if one child is clearly being outmaneuvered or hurt.

Do allow and accept negative feelings to be expressed verbally but in a constructive manner.

Do teach your children about compromising.

Do remove any fought over object for a sufficient amount of time.

Do separate kids when things get out of control – “Playing together is a privilege which you have lost for now.”

Don’t tolerate violence - physical or verbal - from any family member. “In this family, we respect each other. We don’t say mean things or harm one another.”

Do trust your instinct and intuition.


If it seems like your children are arguing more than usual or the fights are escalating and intensifying, reach out for some professional guidance. You owe it to your kids and yourself.

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