Parenting Your Children Through Sibling Rivalry

May 7, 2021

The sibling relationship is often a person's longest relationship. From childhood to their final days, whether close or distant, your kids will always have that family connection – although the roles will transform as they grow and mature.

Having siblings provides many benefits for children. These relationships help them practice social skills, such as empathy, negotiation, and conflict resolution, and the connection can offer critical support during the difficult times of adolescence. If healthy and satisfying, sibling relationships are even associated with a lower incidence of depression during adulthood.

Sibling interactions can also serve as a fundamental factor (PDF)  in the way children develop self-identity. While siblings share a sense of origin and place, similar crucial moments, and a family history, they will experience the same event very differently.

Of course, the sibling relationship isn't always easy. More often than you might like, you may find yourself acting as your children’s referee, and you might wonder if your kids will maintain a close relationship when they grow up.

But sibling rivalry is natural. No matter how hard parents try to keep the peace, conflict is inevitable. Here are some actions you can take to manage and minimize it:

  • Avoid playing favorites. You may notice differences between your children, but do not comment on them in front of your kids. The simple perception of parental favoritism is enough to undermine their connection in a lasting way.
  • Do not take sides in their arguments. Explain that they need to figure out how to get along. Don't intervene unless the situation is becoming violent.
  • Be patient. Your goal should be that your kids learn to solve their own conflicts, and this is not a quick process. At first, you may need to be more directly involved, and as the children learn, you can step out.
  • Recognize that each child's needs are different. Do not treat all your children the same way. Give to each one what they need, when they need it. When they accuse you of being unfair (and they will), show them that you appreciate how special they are as individuals.

And the next time you hear the familiar sound of your kids squabbling, take a deep breath. Try repeating to yourself humorist Sam Levenson’s definition of siblings – "children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together" – to help you calm down.

And remember that, eventually, this too will pass.