Key Elements to Preventing Sibling Rivalry

All siblings will fight from time to time, but parents can consciously choose to behave in ways that reduce competition and negative feelings among siblings. Two key strategies to reduce friction and rivalry among siblings are acknowledging and empathizing when children express negative feelings towards their sibling(s) and avoiding praising one child in front of another.

Having brothers and/or sisters is wonderful, but at times it can be frustrating, annoying, and maddening. Children always have a mixture of both positive and negative feelings about their sibling(s). Their feelings are normal and natural. However, many parents feel upset and troubled when one child expresses a negative feeling about a brother or sister. When negative feelings are expressed, parents may try to explain them away, diminish the feeling, punish or shame the feeling or give children the message that they are bad or wrong for having a negative emotion about a sibling. This response is not helpful and usually leaves the child feeling angrier or more hostile towards their sibling.

Brothers and sisters need to have their feelings acknowledged. In fact, it is not until the bad feelings are expressed, that there is room for the good feelings to emerge.

Parents need to acknowledge, accept, empathize and understand the negative feelings:

  • I know you want me to read to you right now. You are angry because I need to be with the baby.”

  • “It is frustrating to have to share your toys with your brothers.”

  • “Your sister is getting a lot of attention right now. I see that you feel sad and lonely.

Verbally validating a child’s feeling, let’s him know you understand how he is feeling and that his feelings are okay and permitted. You don’t have to like his feeling or agree with his feeling, but empathy shows him that you understand. When negative feelings are allowed, the emotion diminishes:

  • The anger lessens

  • The jealousy lessens

  • The misbehavior lessens

Avoiding praising in the presence of siblings is another important strategy. Think of what happens when all of your children are together and you compliment or praise one child. Typical reactions include the other children trying to get your attention (“What about me?” “Do you like what I did?” “I can do that too”). The other children are trying to show you that they are special too (“Look what I can do’). Or, children may respond with anger or jealousy; they may gesture or verbally put down the sibling who got recognition. When parents praise in the presence of siblings, it ends up fueling the competition and rivalry among siblings.

Plus, praising is not even necessary. Children naturally feel good inside when they work hard, accomplish a task, or achieve a goal. Parents tend to over –praise. We can acknowledge our children in many ways. Watching our children, smiling, showing excitement non-verbally and making encouraging statements are ways to acknowledge and support your child’s efforts. If you feel you want to talk further about a specific accomplishment, find a quiet private time when the other siblings are not around. Making this shift will dramatically affect the family dynamic and lessen sibling rivalry.

For more information about our online parenting course or parent coaching, contact Karen Jacobson, MA, LCPC, LMFT at 312-330-3194, or Lauren Bondy, LCSW at 847-562-9503, Or, visit

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