Help kids avoid a siblings shadow

As challenging as sibling rivalry can be for families, it is normal and bound to exist in any household with more than one child.

The tenor of rivalry between brothers and sisters – jealousy, competition and perceived favoritism – often depends on the children’s temperaments, ages and developmental needs. Clashes can result from children’s natural competitive drive to be the best at everything and win parents’ favor.

“The tensions of sibling competition are not likely to vanish from your household,” says Luis Amunategui, PhD, a child psychologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Still, you can use parenting strategies that help your children respond more positively to such conflict.”

Steps to take

“How well the following approaches work to ease competition among your children will depend on their ages, genders, birth order and relative success at school, sports, work or social skills,” says Dr. Amunategui.

With that in mind, Dr. Amunategui recommends these tactics:

  • Avoid comparing your children’s individual talents and achievements. A perception that you view one with more favor or pride than the other can feed a feeling of inferiority and competition in the child who may not be excelling.
  • Treat each of your children as an individual with personal strengths and weaknesses. Avoid labeling one child “the smart one” or “the star athlete.” This can make the less successful child feel even more insecure, worsening the rivalry.
  • Encourage and praise each of your children for his or her accomplishments.
  • Organize your day to allow you to spend some time alone with each of your children. Doing so will help them feel special and successful.
  • Encourage cooperation rather than competition. For example, instead of having your children race one another to complete a task, time them together against the clock.
  • Ensure that each of your children has time and space to play with his or her toys and friends without a sibling tagging along.
  • Foster appreciation among siblings by asking them what they like about one another.
  • When resolving conflicts between your children, avoid taking sides or backing one child over the other. Instead, help them strive for win-win solutions, where each child gains something he or she wants.

“Take comfort in knowing that sibling relationships are fluid and bound to change over time,” says Dr. Amunategui. “Helping your children respect one another and easing competition based on success or lack thereof can teach brothers and sisters to treasure one another as friends instead of rivals.”

Help your kids understand sibling rivalry

Get tips designed just for kids and teens on how to get along with brothers and sisters.

Luis Amunategui

Child Psychologist
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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