How to Manage Sibling Rivalry?

If you are parents/ caregivers to two or more kids, chances are you’ve seen umpteen episodes of your kids fighting, and would’ve often had to deal with their envy, anger, and rivalry. Constant yelling, scolding, and arguing can be very frustrating not only for parents, but for the kids too. If you are at your wits’ end and are looking for some quick fixes, do read on.

You can definitely take some steps to promote peace amongst the kids and ensure that they get along well. But before we get there, let’s take a step back and understand why kids usually fight with one another.


Why Kids Fight ?

Most households see an increase in conflict when a new member joins the family. A new baby can surely catch the older kid’s fancy at the beginning, but gradually, the older child realises he or she is lesser cared for and quite likely gets to spend lesser time with parents. Additionally, as the younger one grows, he/she also learns to exert his/her will and then there are conflicts about say, who gets to play with what toy.  Little ones of course can’t vocalise their frustrations well and that makes them more susceptible to misbehaviour, physical fighting, and emotional tantrums/breakdowns.


Tips to Help Stop the Fighting

But fret not, we have listed down for you some tried and tested ideas to help you sail through this phase:

•   Spend Quality Time with Each Kid - All kids have an innate need to feel loved, appreciated, and crave parental attention. It is imperative that parents spend quality time with each child to make them feel loved. Try to carve out 10-15 mins each day such that each child has your exclusive attention. That means no multi-tasking, no trying to manage chores, or attending to your text messages. Keep those gadgets out of sight and give your child unfiltered attention for those 10-15 minutes.  This strategy is bound to keep the sibling rivalry to a minimum. Once kids’ demands for attention are met, they will feel more content and secure.

•   Adhere to Hands-Off Approach - Parenting expert, Micheal Grose, advocates adopting a hands-off policy. Parents could strictly tell their kids that no matter what the issue is, they have to follow the “hands-off approach” i.e. no hitting or hurting one another. Instead parents should keep directing them towards talking through the problems, and motivate them to consider others’ viewpoints especially when they don’t agree with them.

•   Form a Partnership with your Kids - Let your kids have a voice in setting the rules in the event of a fight; let them work with you to decide what’s allowed and what’s not. Tell them they can’t curse or indulge in name-calling or destroy their sibling’s possessions. More importantly, have them decide what should be the consequences in case a fight erupts. Make an exhaustive list of all commonly occurring scenarios as well as the consequences. This helps make them become responsible for their actions, they spend lesser time on who is right and who is wrong and work more towards conflict resolution.

•   Use Adults as Role Models of Good Behaviour - Do not compare your child to the sibling or even to other children. Comparison fosters a spirit of unwarranted competition and thereby rivalry. Each child has different skills; one child may excel at logical thinking and another one may be more artistic.  Comparing the two will yield constant disappointments in their hearts. If you do want your children to see how they should behave, you can use an ‘adult’ as a role-model. For example, you might say to your kid, “see how dad always puts his dishes away after dinner. Always clean up after you finish your meal.”

•   Foster Use of “I Feel” Statements - Allow your child to vent out his or her feelings, frustrations, struggles with regards to their sibling with you. Give them a safe space to talk to you and you should be able to truly hear them out without any interruptions. Have them speak using “I feel” statements.  A child could say:

“I feel hurt when Jacky snatches things.”


“I feel frustrated when Alice doesn’t stop talking when my friends are over, etc.”.

Acknowledge that you understand your child’s point of view without explicitly agreeing and encourage the child to work out the issues with their siblings. Offer them suggestions what they can do if you think you need to step in.

•   Keep the Praises Rolling - Invent some sort of a mechanism at home to encourage the siblings to compliment or praise one another. For instance, if one child bullies another or puts them down in some way, they have to apologise and state two or three kind and positive things about the sibling. For example:

Janice: “You are such a loser Gary”

Parent reminds Janice to say two or three nice things about Gary

Janice: “You are a caring brother as you look after me at school. You are getting better at the debating society”, “You cook amazingly well.”

•   Teach the Kids How to Resolve Conflicts - Offer your kids crash courses in how grown-ups resolve conflicts. You can teach them how to take turns using a role play.

Dad: ““Please give me the laptop now, I need to send an urgent email to someone.” 

Mom: “I have urgent work to finish too. Don’t be annoying.” 

Dad: “How about you tackle your urgency and lend me the computer after 5 minutes from now?”

Mom: “That sounds fair, you can have it for good half an hour after 5 minutes”

Further, teach them how to control their temper by counting backwards from 10 to 1, or stepping outside to catch some fresh air, or even walking to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

•   Pray Out Aloud - If you are spiritual or religious, you can pray alongside your children and do say out aloud in your prayers something like “God/Universe/Spirit (whatever name you feel comfortable with), thank you for giving my children the gift of each other’s company and lifelong friendship. Thank you for letting them have each other’s love for a lifetime”.   This approach could further reinforce the spirit of cooperation and peace in your family. 


In the End, It’s a Beneficial Learning Experience

Experts encourage parents to stay out of kids’ squabbles and allow them to work it out themselves until and unless it is absolutely necessary.  Sibling rivalry in moderation allows kids to learn how to manage intense emotions like anger, hatred, revengeful tendencies, bitterness, among others. Remember that behind each episode of argument, they get an opportunity to learn how to regulate their emotions, how to negotiate so as to arrive at a win-win result, how to appreciate another person’s perspective and to respect difference of opinions.   So moms and dads, if your kids are fighting, tell yourselves that it’s ok. They are on a journey to become a better, mature, and emotionally developed future versions of themselves.