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Sibling Rivalry

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About Sibling Rivalry

While many kids are lucky enough to become the best of friends with their siblings, it's common for brothers and sisters to fight. (It's also common for them to swing back and forth between adoring and detesting one other!)

Often, sibling rivalry starts even before the second child is born, and continues as the kids grow and compete for everything from toys to attention. As kids reach different stages of development, their evolving needs can significantly affect how they relate to one another.

It can be frustrating and upsetting to watch — and hear — your kids fight with one another. A household that's full of conflict is stressful for everyone. Yet often it's hard to know how to stop the fighting, and or even whether you should get involved at all. But you can take steps to promote peace in your household and help your kids get along.

Why Kids Fight

Many different things can cause siblings to fight. Most brothers and sisters experience some degree of jealousy or competition, and this can flare into squabbles and bickering. But other factors also might influence how often kids fight and how severe the fighting gets. These include:

What to Do When the Fighting Starts

While it may be common for brothers and sisters to fight, it's certainly not pleasant for anyone in the house. And a family can only tolerate a certain amount of conflict. So what should you do when the fighting starts?

Whenever possible, don't get involved. Step in only if there's a danger of physical harm. If you always intervene, you risk creating other problems. The kids may start expecting your help and wait for you to come to the rescue rather than learning to work out the problems on their own. There's also the risk that you — inadvertently — make it appear to one child that another is always being "protected," which could foster even more resentment. By the same token, rescued kids may feel that they can get away with more because they're always being "saved" by a parent.

If you're concerned by the language used or name-calling, it's appropriate to "coach" kids through what they're feeling by using appropriate words. This is different from intervening or stepping in and separating the kids.

Even then, encourage them to resolve the crisis themselves. If you do step in, try to resolve problems with your kids, not for them.

When getting involved, here are some steps to consider:

Remember, as kids cope with disputes, they also learn important skills that will serve them for life — like how to value another person's perspective, how to compromise and negotiate, and how to control aggressive impulses.

Helping Kids Get Along

Simple things you can do every day to prevent fighting include:

Keep in mind that sometimes kids fight to get a parent's attention. In that case, consider taking a time-out of your own. When you leave, the incentive for fighting is gone. Also, when your own fuse is getting short, consider handing the reins over to the other parent, whose patience may be greater at that moment.

Getting Professional Help

In a small percentage of families, the conflict between brothers and sisters is so severe that it disrupts daily functioning, or particularly affects kids emotionally or psychologically. In those cases, it's wise to get help from a mental health professional. Seek help for sibling conflict if it:

If you have questions about your kids' fighting, talk with your doctor, who can help you determine whether your family might benefit from professional help and refer you to local behavioral health resources.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Shroff Pendley, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2012

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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