An Amazing Little-Known Key to Handling Sibling Rivalry

BarbChild Development, Parenting, Preschool Behavior, Toddler Behavior



Jane had stepped outside for just a few minutes to get the mail. When she returned, she heard her three-year old, Susie sobbing heavily in the hallway.

As soon as she saw her mom, Susie bellowed, “Erin won’t let me play in her room. She says she wants to play by herself. She closed her bedroom door in my face!”

This is common behavior between siblings who often see themselves as competing for attention, the TV remote, their private space, or fair treatment. How is a frustrated parent to survive?

As a parent, you need to know when to let your kids work out their differences and when to intercede. Stepping in isn’t always beneficial because it doesn’t teach your children how to resolve conflicts. It may also make you seem like you favor one child over the other especially if you are always disciplining the same child.

What’s the Cause of the Sibling Rivalry?

Different personalities

While your older child may be headstrong, your younger one may be more introverted. Those differences in temperament can eventually lead to clashes as can differences in gender and age.


Children frequently complain about fairness and equality.  They are always watching for favoritism toward their sibling.  If a child feels he is not being treated fairly, it could lead to jealousy and resentment.


Kids will misbehave if they feel they are not getting the attention they deserve.  If you are spending more time with a new baby or a child who is sick, your other child may let you know it by acting out.


Many times the younger child wants a toy that is a favorite of the older child.  Letting that younger sister play with that special doll can be difficult for a young child.

Handling Sibling Rivalry

In some instances, your children will be able to resolve the conflict themselves.  However, if you need to step in, here are some strategies to use to settle their differences.

Separate them.

Send each child to his room to calm down in his own space. At times, all kids need is a little distance and time away from each other to return to normal.

Teach them how to negotiate and compromise.

Get them to stop yelling and start talking to each other.  Hear each side of the story and don’t be judgmental.  Attempt to clarify the issue (It seems like you are upset because Don took your favorite stuffed animal.) Ask them to come up with a solution that will make everyone happy. If they can’t resolve it, you propose one. (Why don’t you let Tommy play with your toy for five minutes?  He’ll then give it back to you.)

Impose the rules.

Ensure all of your children are following your household rules which should include no name-calling, hitting, or destroying other’s property. Furthermore, let your kids have some input into how the rules are established and enforced. This will make them feel that they have some part in the decision-making process and a little control in their own lives.  Offer praise when your kids follow the rules.

Don’t play favorites.

Don’t ever compare your children (“Why can’t you be more like Susie?”) This will fuel the resentment between your two children and hurt the relationship between you and them.

Treat each child as special and unique.

There will never be total equality in a family. Older children will be allowed to do some things younger ones aren’t ready to experience.

Hold family meetings.

If you are experiencing compatibility issues between your children, have a weekly meeting to discuss any issues.  Let each family member express his issues and then come up with solutions together.

Spend time alone with each child.

Schedule some one-on-one time with each child.  Do something that child enjoys doing – go to a movie, go shopping, or eat at a favorite restaurant. Just 10 to 15 minutes of your attention can make your child feel good.


The key to handling sibling rivalry is to know when to let your kids work out their own problems and when to step in.  Practicing the strategies for handling sibling rivalry will enable them to do so.


Chappell Schools of Jacksonville, Florida has been providing child care and preschool learning programs for 55+ years. Our educational programs address the TOTAL child – cognitively, emotionally, physically, and socially. We pride ourselves on being voted one of the “Top 50 For-Profit Child Care Organizations in North America.”  Visit one of our eight centers to see how we make learning fun by contacting us at 904.739.1279.  To get  more child care tips, please “Like” our Facebook page. 


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BarbAn Amazing Little-Known Key to Handling Sibling Rivalry