Siblings, Minus the Rivalry

Is sibling rivalry normal? What do I do if my children’s fighting is getting out of hand? How can I celebrate my children’s talents, without promoting competition?

Taking a look at the family make-up — things like birth order, for example — might help you understand your children’s individual needs, concerns, and reasons for competing with their siblings. For example, eldest children often see themselves as the responsible child or even as a “third parent,” capable of taking care of their siblings. They like to be the first to do things, and may fear being overtaken or outshone by their younger siblings. Likewise, youngest siblings may feel the need to “catch up” to their older brother or sister, and this jockeying for position is significant in producing sibling competition.

So how can parents reduce this source of stress for their children? For one thing, save excessive praise for one-on-one time with your child. We all know that openly comparing our children will lead to hurt feelings. But even things like repeatedly praising one child for doing well on a test without acknowledging their sibling’s accomplishments might lead to worry. In situations like this, your other children may get the impression that they are not measuring up.

Another tip is to avoid labeling your children, even if this labeling is unspoken. If you ascribe roles to your children, even positive ones like, “He’s my well-behaved boy,” or, “She’s the responsible one,” children may feel stuck in that place. Their siblings may feel that they can’t ever be the well-behaved or responsible child, as that role has already been filled. If you find other people placing labels on your child at school or daycare, be sure to correct them. When your child hears you respond to a teacher who says, “She’s so shy!” with, “She isn’t shy, she’ll open up when she’s ready,” this gives your child hope that their position can change.

Finally, if fighting breaks out between your children, try as much as you can to stay out of it. Parents tend to underestimate their children’s problem-solving abilities. Children learn extremely early how to share, how to take turns, and how to be fair. They can solve disputes on their own, so long as you give them the encouragement to do so. While some degree of competition and rivalry among siblings is normal, there is no need for constant fighting, and taking a neutral stance during your children’s fights will teach them how to resolve conflict on their own.

Would you like to learn more about reducing sibling competition and rivalry? Have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

Nicole Elliott

Nicole Elliott is a 4th year student at UofT, double majoring in Health Studies and Biological Anthropology. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in public health or medical anthropology, and she is especially interested in maternal and child health. She is pleased to join the Family Care Office as Workshop Coordinator and part-time "Intersections" contributor. When not at work or school, Nicole enjoys yoga, theater, getting lost in Toronto, and experimental vegan baking.

1 Comment


Great post! I wonder if you have any tips for parents of smaller children (15 to 36 months)?


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