5 Causes of Sibling Rivalry and How To Stop It

Sibling Rivalry

Dear Selfless Esteem,
My 2 kids are constantly bickering over everything and antagonizing each other. How can I stop this endless sibling rivalry?

Mama Referee

Dear Mama Referee,

Countless parents are in the same predicament. Sibling rivalry has been around as long as siblings have been around.

Past generations usually let the kids duke it out, or they simply punished the kids to end the argument. Neither of those common tactics address the children’s underlying needs, which precipitate the conflict. Read on for 5 causes of sibling rivalry—as well as sibling rivalry solutions. 👩‍❤️‍👨

1. Poor Conflict Resolution Skills

We all know children don’t have innate conflict resolution skills; thus, I’m sure you’ve been teaching them to share, take turns, and negotiate ever since they were toddlers. I imagine you applauded them during the learning process, but many parents stop there. After they learn the skill, it’s important to continue to applaud them whenever they use it independently.

To explain further, I’ll use an analogy. Would someone continue to go to work if the employer stopped paying him? Maybe he would go to work out of the goodness of his heart, but certainly not as consistently as before. Similarly, positive attention motivates children to continue the behavior they learned.

Even after they’ve mastered conflict resolution skills, we cannot expect them to be perfect. When an argument inevitably happens, separate the children to give them a break from each other. But what if they’re arguing someplace like a car and can’t be separated? What’s worked for me is playing the good ol’ “quiet game” until we arrive at a place, where they can have some physical distance to cool down.

Then, when everyone is calm, arguments can be used as a learning opportunity. Open a discussion about what could be done differently next time. Graciously guide them to apologize/accept apologies. If the situation allows, give the children a chance to try it again.

A beautiful pillow with Colossians 3:12 by KingzWord on Etsy

Overall, make it known that love, kindness, and compassion are a priority in your household above everything else, including who gets to go first, who gets the bigger cookie, etc. Play music that supports this lifestyle. Set an example by speaking respectfully. Kindly recite Bible verses with the children about it, such as Colossians 3:12, which instructs us to have compassion and patience with others. See this KingzWord shop to decorate your home with beautiful reminders, such as pillows and wall art.


2. Jealousy

We see jealousy at work in the story of the very first siblings, Cain and Abel. (See Genesis 4:1-8.) Cain was so angry that he killed his brother Abel.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” In the same way that God makes this clear to us, parents need to verbally communicate to their children that they should support each other all their lives.

The following are ways to prevent jealousy:

  • Have siblings cheer for each other and assist each other in their goals.
  • Encourage siblings to celebrate each other’s achievements and prosperity.
  • Promote gratitude through your own attitude and by prompting the children to express appreciation for what they have.

3. Low Frustration Tolerance

Proverbs 16:32 describes anger management as requiring more restraint than capturing a city. For this reason, training children to have this skill is not easy. Furthermore, children scream the minute they are born, and so parents are contending with human nature.

Various problems complicate children’s inability to manage emotions, such as overwhelming life stressors and/or neurological issues. In any case, a competent therapist can help increase their appropriate expression of feelings and provide referrals for any additional services. The therapist could even see the children together in session, in which they can practice good communication skills.

At the same time, don’t underestimate your influence; children observe closely how adults demonstrate patience and flexibility. Whenever something goes wrong—milk is spilled or you can’t find your keys–pleasantly say positive things out loud to yourself as you resolve it, and then see how your kids begin using this reassuring self-talk.

4. Boredom

Activities for Kids

Provoking a sibling to anger may be a form of entertainment. If that’s the case, be ready to provide activities and age-appropriate chores. An idea to foster teamwork is having them race together against the clock. You could also offer them small rewards or accolades. For example, if they can pick up the toys in less than 2 minutes, they will get a reward (i.e., 50 cents or 30 minutes to watch tv), but if they can pick them up in less than 1 minute, then they will receive double the reward. Then watch their excitement as they quickly cooperate with each other to obtain the higher prize.

5. Low Self-Worth

Sometimes the reason children are antagonistic is because they are trying to affirm their self-worth. Supporting their interests, pointing out their strengths, showing affection, and spending time with each child will help them feel loved.

Sibling Rivalry Solutions

Be sure to tell your children you love them every day and teach them about God’s unconditional love for them. For more details about His love, see the posts, “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self-Esteem,” “The Real Truth About God,” and “How To Pray in 5 Simple Steps.”

In conclusion, decreasing sibling rivalry is a major challenge. Thus, don’t hesitate to call upon family and friends to babysit so you can take a break. For more details about reducing stress from daily responsibilities, see the post “6 Effective Ways to Manage Stress.”

Most of all, remember you are not alone. God is with you, and He will help you (Isaiah 41:10). Stay close to Him in prayer and He will bring you peace (Philippians 4:6-7). (>‿◠)✌

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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  1. TC

    You hit the nail on the head by emphasizing the impact that the home environment has on either fostering close sibling bonds or creating sibling rivalry. I especially love that you advised spending one on one time with each child to ensure they all feel equally loved!

    1. Gina Leggio

      Thanks for your comment–glory to God. It’s hard to find time to spend with each child, but it’s definitely worth it–even if it’s just 10 or 20 minutes of undivided attention.

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