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Is Sibling Rivalry a Myth or a Fact?


How do you get along with your siblings? Fighting, feeling jealous and competing with them is inevitable but to a certain degree, it might become unhealthy. Sibling rivalry isn’t something that any parent wants to deal with. 

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Many dream of raising harmonious kids who’ll be best of friends and be there for one another. However, kids have different personalities and temperaments and this might not always be the case. How can you manage

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Causes of Sibling Rivalry

Spotcovery-Is Sibling Rivalry a Myth or a Fact?
A child looking at a laptop. Source: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Sometimes your siblings feel like the best thing that happened to you but other times, you can experience overwhelming irritation. Many people have these feelings and it can be difficult to decode them. The following causes can trigger sibling rivalry.


Jealousy is one of the biggest signs of rivalry. It can be stoked in a few ways like a parent paying more attention to one child over another or praising them more. When I was younger, I often pointed out the kind of treatment my brother got compared to me. 

Why was he allowed to run outside the whole day while I wasn’t? Why could he stay up late and I couldn’t? If he got a new toy or pair of clothes, I also wanted one. It’s common for children to do this but when you can’t extend the same treatment to the other child, you have to explain and do something for them, otherwise, they’ll resent their sibling.

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Significant Life Changes

Psychology of sibling rivalry. Video Credit: Switch TV

When your family is going through difficult or even pleasant changes, your kids will handle it differently. For example, the arrival of a new baby might trigger fears in the older child. I don’t remember seeing this in my family as we all looked happy when the younger sibling was born.

However, as they grew up, we often compared the change in parental styles. They received more lenient treatment. I won’t say it led to sibling rivalry as we often pointed out the general acceptance that last-borns get preferential treatment. 

Lack of Parental Attention

When you have more than two children and all of them want you to attend to them, it can be overwhelming for you. The children might fail to understand this and thus feel neglected. As such, they can act out to draw attention and one of the things they might do is let their frustrations towards their sibling. 

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As they grow up, siblings discover their talents and gifts and could want to show them off. This leads to sibling rivalry as they try to outdo each other. My brother and I would team up and hide the remote control from my other siblings wanting to watch soap operas.

Poor Conflict Resolution Skills

At a young age, parents mediate their kid’s conflicts. Over time, kids learn how to do it. But, should you fight with your partner, they may imitate that.

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They say that comparison is the thief of joy and this is true when it comes to siblings. Parents find themselves comparing their kids to one another. While their intentions are good, the one being compared feels smaller which can lead to sibling rivalry. Feeling not good enough can trigger their need to prove themselves to their sibling.   

Managing Sibling Rivalry

Spotcovery-Is Sibling Rivalry a Myth or a Fact?
Parents and siblings. Source: Photo by Monstera Production

As a parent, it can be frustrating to witness sibling rivalry and feeling unable to handle this situation. The most important thing is to understand your role in igniting rivalry and learn how to manage the situation.

Avoid the Blame Game

When things go wrong, we usually blame someone else. And this can escalate the rivalry. If it isn’t obvious who started a fight, treat one another equally. Let them carry the blame, otherwise, the situation is bound to repeat itself. 

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Don’t Have Favorites

Handling sibling rivalry. Video Credit: NTV Kenya

If someone asks whether you have a favorite child, you’ll most likely say you have none. However, actions speak louder than words and sometimes, kids can feel the favoritism.

The others feel sidelined and will accuse you of having favorites. To solve this, treat your children fairly and assure them there’s plenty of love to go around.

Draw Boundaries

Kids might not understand the language of conflict resolution but you can initiate boundaries. For example, you can forbid them from name-calling or initiating physical contact. Instead, show them how they can express themselves. Perhaps they can reach out to you or someone older when something happens.

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Teach Your Kids Cooperation

Plan activities that will encourage cooperation. For example, building something together, or arranging their toys. Don’t make it a competition otherwise, it’ll almost always end in a disagreement.

Have Family Meetings

For adult siblings, family meetings provide an environment where everyone can contribute and seek an understanding of ongoing issues. These meetings are supposed to be inculcated into the family culture, from childhood through to adulthood, and not just happen during a crisis.

This way, there’ll be open lines of communication and each family member feels free to talk. This builds trust, love, self-esteem and acceptance. Before the meeting, have an agenda so that you don’t bounce off from immediate issues. 

One-On-One Attention

Nowadays, everyone is so busy that, if you aren’t deliberately creating time to spend with your family, it may never happen. Go out with each of your kids regularly and talk to them about their lives and siblings.

Listen to their perspectives of themselves and others to understand the relationship dynamics between them and their sibling. You can use this time to provide reassurance that you care about them and shouldn’t worry about their little sister or younger brother.

Is Sibling Rivalry a Myth or a Fact?

No one enjoys sibling rivalry but the fact is, it exists and it has over time. A lot is said about the rivalry between Cain and Abel in the Christian religious text, an indication that this is human nature. That said, we have provided you with information on what causes it and how to manage it so you can foster better sibling relationships.

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