The impact of sibling rivalry: How parents can effectively handle it?

Author: Gool Bugwadia

Parents can play a critical role in handling sibling rivalry effectively. It is their overall attitude, their sensitivity to children’s emotional needs and their coping mechanisms that can together contribute to ushering in peace and harmony in the home. Sibling rivalry is a common natural phenomenon which could, if not handled effectively, have an adverse negative impact on the entire family in one’s home. So, what is the root cause of sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry stems from the innate emotional needs of siblings vying with each other to get their parents undivided attention. It can affect children in almost all families and its repercussions on children largely depend on the manner in which sibling rivalry is handled by the parents. Parents, who learn to balance this transitory phase and integrate it tactfully into the process of handling their children, are better able to cope with sibling rivalry in a positive manner.

Here are some specific ways parents can effectively handle sibling rivalry:

1 ~ Reserve special moments of time for each child

Parents, who habitually spend quality time with each of their children, convey to them the message, “You are important to me; I like to spend time with you.” This positive approach can make the child feel secure and build his/her level of self-confidence. Time could be spent either by simple conversation about the happenings in the child’s life or by involving in an activity of the child’s interest. Even short periods of time spent in this manner can be most helpful.

2 ~ Practice sympathetic understanding

Children, especially in the early stages of development, long for their parent’s approval and try all possible means to get their parent’s absolute affection. This could happen more especially with the first born when the second child enters the family stronghold; the first may feel threatened and fear losing his/her parents love and approbation; it could trigger negative feelings towards the ‘other’ child. It is therefore vital for parents to practice sympathetic understanding of their child’s emotional needs. Let your words and actions assure your child of your unconditional love and caring. Making both the children feel loved, can successfully lead the children away from negative situations and avoid their resorting to constant bickering, arguments, accusations and fights.

3 ~ Respect your child’s individuality and uniqueness

Each child is unique having his/her own set of qualities. Hence it is important that parent’s consciously avoid comparisons between the siblings. Instead, they should take time to discover individual strengths and encourage each of their talents. Parents who refrain from making one child feel superior or inferior to the other, can prevent the occurrence of sibling rivalry.  Encourage your child to rejoice in celebrating their sibling’s accomplishments no matter how small these might be may be; this can be a great way of avoiding negative emotions like jealousy, envy or anger from cropping up. Negative impact on children can thus be arrested in a timely manner instead of waiting for the situation to flare up and then wonder how best to handle it.

4 ~ Important to be fair and consistent with all children

Parents need to let children know that they wish to share their time, attention and love, fairly and consistently with each one of them; that no child will be allowed to make undue demands causing disadvantage to the other. Children should know that the same rules of behavior are applicable to all children in the family and that age, skills, appearance, habits, abilities or intellectual prowess, cannot alter their expectations of good behavior or determine their preference of one child over the other. At no time should parents run the ‘erring’ child down in the presence of other siblings; instead, take the child aside and explain your desire to help improve on the mistakes made.

~ Conclusion

It would be a good idea for parents to keep in mind that they are their children’s role models; the way they treat each other and behave towards others, can have a significant impact on their young lives. Nurturing a caring, loving environment in your home, can work wonders for your child. Encouraging your child to express feelings in positive ways can divert them from sibling rivalry.

Source: Parenting with Purpose by Robert Reasoner & Marilyn Lane


  1. Carol said on January 14th at 12:16 am:

    Good article about an issue most parents of multiple children deal with at some point. Wise strategies for maintaining peace and harmony in the family while keeping each individual child’s self-esteem intact.

  2. Nancy Browne said on January 16th at 4:13 pm:

    Miss Gool,

    I took much interest in this topic, and I find what you say, to be quite true. As a child once myself, I remember quite well the approach my mother took – which was equally fair with all of us four children. For instance, whenever she brought something (even a simple chocolate bar) she brought 4. She tried exceedingly hard not to spend more time with one than the other.
    I found, when I was raising my own children that Sibling rivalry was common, even though they were six and half years apart.
    You give sound advice here, and it is very important, I think to work through this issue when children are young.
    Another great article Gool… well informative.


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