How to Cope with and Prevent Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a normal part of family life - it is learning to live with one another. In a sibling relationship, we learn how to share, co-operate with one another, listen, communicate, deal with our feelings, understand others point of view and feelings, and how to resolve conflict.

Preparation for a new baby

Before your new baby arrives home, prepare your older child for the expected arrival. Talk about where baby will be sleeping etc. Change your child’s routine as little as possible and keep the boundaries as they are. The fewer the changes, the better your child's transition. If changes are needed, it is advisable to do so well in advance. For example moving from cot to a bed, changing rooms, attending child care. This will give your child plenty of time to adjust. Enrolling your toddler into activities away from mum such as child care, will teach them more independence, help them make new friends and to learn how to mix with their peers. This will also give mum time alone with baby. Let your toddler know when you are going to hospital and have a gift from the baby to give to their older sibling.

When baby arrives home, help your older child become involved with the care of the baby according to their ability. eg. fetching a nappy, holding the baby (with supervision). This will also help them to see their place in the family unit as being important. Help your toddler to understand what she is going through by talking about her feelings as well as the baby’s is important. Explain to her that sometimes you will need to spend time with the baby. During this time be prepared with activities to entertain her, eg when feeding the baby. Spend quality time with your older child when baby is sleeping. Reassure her with lots of cuddles and hugs during this time.

Outside help is best utilised to enable you to spend more time with your older children.

Conflict management

As parents, we set the example through role modelling. Watching parents argue and how they make up sets the pattern for our children to follow. Show your children constructive conflict resolution. Supervision is needed for young children and babies as they may be at risk of being hurt. With older children, much of their bickering can be ignored. Don’t take sides or compare one child with the other as this may only stir up the tension between siblings or encourage stubbornness.

Children are never too young to learn good behaviour. Start with simple to understand language and instructions and spend time to explain things helping them to understand not only their feelings but the feelings of others.

Help children know how to resolve conflicts by using their words not their actions. 'That's not friendly', 'We need to be friendly if we want others to be friendly to us' - are phrases I encourage parents to use with their children to help them understand how we are to treat others. Teaching children how to use their words instead of hitting out of frustration will empower your children. Children generally react out of frustration, not knowing how or what to do in a situation. We as caregivers need to step in and give them the right tools.

When talking with little children get down to their level, look them in the eye and explain that their actions are not friendly, give them a warning and follow through with the appropriate action if needed. Never give a warning that you can't carry out. Let your 'yes' mean yes and you 'no' mean no. Give lots of praise when you children are playing nicely together and treating each other with respect. Comment on their good behaviour. "I'm so proud of you both playing so nicely together. I'm sure it makes you feel good too."

Set some time aside to talk with your children after the heat of the moment has subsided to help them talk about their anger or unacceptable behaviour. Do not use this time to blame or to accuse but to talk about their feelings and ways they may be able to resolve their differences. Discuss with your children how everyone is different and we all have different ideas and ways of doing things. Being different is not being wrong. It is not who wins the fight but how we fight that matters. Teach your children how to say sorry, how to appologise for their bad behaviour and angry outbursts. Remind them to use their 'friendly voice' when they are shouting or becoming aggressive.

Never compare one child against the other or speak badly about your children in their or their siblings hearing. Children understand and take in a lot more than we imagine. Speak positively over your children for either way they will try to live up to what you have spoken over them whether positively or negatively. Enjoy each child for their individual qualities and traits.

Parents need to be flexible yet consistent with their approach on discipline. Discuss and agree on what boundaries and the method of discipline the family will use and support each other, showing that you are united and working together. Happy families communicate. Communication is learnt from our parents and those around us. Make sure you as parents are instilling the right communication skills. What a child learns at home they will continue to use throughout their lifetime in school, work and marriage.

Tips to avoid family conflict
  • Use your words not actions

  • Speak in a friendly voice - don’t shout

  • Respect one other and their belongings.

What causes conflict?
  • Jealousy, different interests, temperament, personalities and age

  • Attention seeking, boredom, testing their limits or egocentrism

  • Lack of social or communication skills

  • Family upheavals, disputes or sickness.

Tips: Try to ignore all negative attention seeking behaviour. If possible turn your back to it, if not try to distract their attention away form the negative behaviour.

Remember: Sibling rivalry is a part of family life but in the end blood is thicker than water.


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Disclaimer: Articles on our website are for education purposes only.  Please consult with your doctor to make sure this information is right for your child.