Common Causes of Sibling Rivalry and How to Handle It

Common Causes of Sibling Rivalry and How to Handle It

Sibling rivalry is common in families, with nearly 85% of children experiencing some level of competition or jealousy towards their brothers and sisters. While a little friendly competition can be healthy, ongoing severe sibling rivalry can cause problems within the family dynamic. Understanding some of the common causes of sibling rivalry can help parents find ways to reduce tensions.

Competing for Mum and Dad’s Attention

One of the most common causes of sibling rivalry is competing for mum and dad’s attention and affection. Children naturally crave one-on-one time with their parents, so when a new baby arrives it can be difficult for the older sibling to share attention. Similarly, siblings close in age may feel like they have to compete for their parent’s attention. Making time for individual activities and focusing on each child’s strengths can help reduce this tension. Be aware of these issues if you are fostering children with and your existing children feel like they have to compete for your attention.

Different Ages and Developmental Stages

Siblings often go through different developmental stages at different times. A younger sibling may be jealous of privileges and freedoms their older brother or sister has. Meanwhile, older siblings can become frustrated by the younger one’s babyish behaviour. Understanding normal developmental milestones and not comparing siblings can help. Also, allowing the younger sibling to join in some ‘older’ activities when appropriate can help them feel included.

Different Interests and Personalities

Siblings may have very different interests and personality traits that can lead to rivalry if not properly handled. Avoid comparisons and let each child pursue their own hobbies. Find shared activities they both enjoy to build bonding time. Respect their differences and remind them that variety makes the world interesting.

Unequal Treatment

Perceived favouritism is a prime cause of sibling resentment. Make sure any differences in discipline or rewards are fair based on age and behaviour, not favouritism. Explain your reasoning to avoid assumptions of unfairness. Also avoid comparisons such as “why can’t you keep your room tidy like your sister?”. Make sure siblings are not typecast into ‘labels’ either.

Academic Competition

School-age siblings may compete over test scores and academic achievement. Offer praise for hard work and improvement, not just accomplishments. Avoid comparisons and focus on each child’s strengths inside and outside academics. Celebrate both academic and non-academic interests and talents to show all are valued.

How Parents Can Reduce Sibling Rivalry

  • Spend one-on-one time with each child on a regular basis.
  • Establish fair discipline without favouritism using age-appropriate expectations.
  • Avoid comparisons. Each child has their own talents.
  • Teach siblings to use their words to resolve conflicts, not tattle or bicker.
  • Model good behaviour by avoiding criticism or comparisons of family members yourself.
  • Celebrate good sibling interactions with praise or rewards to reinforce bonding.
  • Accept each child’s different interests and friends. Don’t force shared activities.
  • Make sure each child has their own space and possessions to avoid sharing disputes.
  • Explain new baby dynamics and prepare older siblings with what to expect before the birth.
  • Teach empathy and respect for differences starting young.

While some sibling rivalry is inevitable, parents can take steps to reduce conflicts and promote bonding. With patience and by tailoring parenting approaches to each unique child, parents can guide siblings to have close, supportive relationships for life.

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