Is Sibling Rivalry All Bad?

Ways to deal with it in the family

Sibling rivalry is a natural part of a child’s development. It can vary in degree and can take many forms: teasing, arguing, tattling, and nagging. But if it’s dealt with constructively, sibling rivalry can actually foster personal development and strengthen sibling relationships.

Why sibling rivalry occurs
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a variety of reasons can be at work: the children’s ages, their personalities and interests, the amount of time they spend together, and the favoritism they may perceive the parent has toward another child. Gender may also play a role, as same-sex siblings often have interests in the same toys, clothes and activities, leading to more conflict. The size of a family, spacing between children, and birth order also contribute to sibling rivalry.

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Susan Grencer, a school social worker in the Arlington school district, says that sibling rivalry often stems from children vying for their parents’ love, attention and approval. Grencer says it’s important to help children navigate these waters since, “A relationship with a sibling is one of the most important because it’s one of the longest in your life.”

Ways parents can handle it
Denyse Variano, Family and Consumer Sciences Issue Leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orange County, suggests the following tips:

  • Let children work out the situation on their own first, as long as it doesn’t result in further conflict.
  • If the conflict continues, stop the behavior and separate siblings until they cool off.
  • Give attention to the victim first. Let the victim talk about what he/she would like to have happen (an apology, for other sibling to give some space or for sibling to stop the physical/verbal abuse). 
  • Give “natural and logical consequences.” For example, if the aggressor hit the victim over the head, the aggressor could hold an ice pack on the victim’s head. This helps the aggressor learn a more meaningful consequence for the behavior.

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Is sibling rivalry all bad?
Parents can choose to look at sibling rivalry as “a way for children to develop conflict resolution skills and healthy communication skills in the safety of their own home environment,” says Variano.

Michele Anderson is a special education teacher, and freelance writer.