Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry – how to identify and manage it

I had a very interesting time a few weeks ago where I was privileged to observe a family with three children (all boys, ages 9, 7 and 5).

It was most interesting to observe the sibling rivalry between the boys.

Ben, who is 7 years old, constantly poked, pulled, pushed and irritated his younger brother, Nick (5 years old). Nick would retaliate with equal force. So if Ben poked him, he would poke him back with anger and so on.

This went on all day. Of course if you asked them you would get the typical response: ‘he started it, he did this etc…’ from both.

I mentioned my observation to their mother and she says, this has been from the time that Nick was born. The first day home from the hospital, Ben who was only 2 then, slapped Nick and refused to be nice to him.

While Sibling rivalry is often considered normal, a situation like this can be worrying, frustrating and stressful to parents. They have tried explaining, yelling and punishing Ben (or sometimes both of them) but it did not work.. at least not for long.

Such rivalry, if not nipped in the bud, or helped, can have major ripple effects. For example if Nick is at preschool and a friend irritated him, he is most likely to resort to hitting, pushing etc… because that is his defence mechanism with his brother. He does not know how else to react.

The university of Michigan Health System describes Sibling Rivalry as follows:

“Sibling rivalry is the jealousy, competition and fighting between brothers and sisters. It is a concern for almost all parents of two or more kids. Problems often start right after the birth of the second child. Sibling rivalry usually continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to parents”.

So what can parents to do help them?


Here are the 9 Steps we teach parents and teachers on how to handle Sibling Rivalry (from a Montessori teaching point of view):


  1. Discuss with children about the ongoing physical actions.
    Ask them: How do you feel? Does it hurt? etc… so every child can express their feelings and listen to each other.
  2. Discuss why it happens – Ben might say, Nick took my iPad and then discuss different ways that Ben could have dealt with the situation. Could he have perhaps come to mummy and told her? Could he have asked him politely to give him the iPad etc…
  1. Then lay down a firm rule. ‘I want you to use your words and not your hands – at all times. Can we do that please?’ Once they agree, ask them consequences if they do not follow the rule. Let them decide on the consequences for themselves… believe me they are harder on themselves than you can ever be.
  1. Rule out the possibility that Ben and Nick are behaving this same way with their friends at school. Speak to their teachers and also rule out bullying. When children are bullied by their friends at school, they often do the same to their siblings at home.
  1. Do NOT Take sides when they come to you with a situation. Give them the opportunity to resolve their conflicts. Younger children may need you to help them with structuring their problem solving. Engage in some ‘active listening’ This means that you really ‘listen’ to them and especially about what they feel.
  1. Observe your children to see what the triggers are. Children who are hungry, not sleeping well, not getting enough attention are more likely to act up.
  1. Spend one-on-one time with each child. Try get in at least 10 minutes a day with each child. It really does wonders to them and your relationship with them.
  1. Be a role model. If you have disputes with a family member, how you act and react will be what your children learn and do.
  1. Seek Help: If you are not able to improve situations, don’t be afraid to seek help from a child behavioural therapist. A few sessions often do wonders.

To learn more about Sibling Rivalry, its causes and intervention, CLICK HERE

Sony Vasandani, B.Com, M.Ed

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