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Helping Children With Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry showing the happy times

Triggers and strategies to help relieve the tension

Sibling rivalry is a common and frustrating concern amongst families. It can put a huge strain on parents and cause much anxiety, especially if one child’s behaviour is overly aggressive or cruel towards another child.

In some cases sibling rivalry can be helpful in pushing children to achieve and/or providing social problem solving opportunities that can benefit their future relationships. However, where it becomes repeatedly aggressive or verges on bullying it can have a lasting negative impact on children’s self esteem and understanding of relationships.

Before recommending strategies it is useful to consider the most common causes and triggers of sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry often initially develops when a new sibling arrives and an older child feels insecure about their relationships and jealous of the amount of attention the new baby is receiving. How this is then responded to can either fuel or reduce the persistence of the jealous feelings. Jealousy and rivalry will continue to arise as children reach new milestones and stages of development, bringing them closer together or further apart. Stresses in the family, such as bereavement, divorce or traumatic events can also trigger or exacerbate sibling tensions as overwhelming feelings can become misdirected. At these times there is often a greater need for attention that is not always met due to challenging circumstances.

Sibling love for a newborn

Strategies to Diminish Sibling Rivalry Tensions:

  • Try to find regular one-to-one time with both children to help reinforce your connection with each of them – this is best done through engaging in child-led play.  Ten minutes a day for each child, where you do exactly what your child wants with them is a habit that reaps rewards
  • Parent children according to their needs rather than trying to give all children the same things.
  • When conflict arises, try to stay calm and neutral and act as commentator rather than referee, encouraging both to problem solve where possible 
  • Address and validate the jealous feelings letting them know that jealous feelings are normal but that aggression is not an acceptable way of expressing themselves.  Instead help them to find other ways of letting out their frustration, such as going to a calm space, deep breathing or asking an adult for help
  • Another playful approach is to create opportunities for the children to become a team together, perhaps in chasing or beating you, to build comraderee and experience joy in each others company

If you are a parent or carer in need of advice on helping children with sibling rivalry, our online therapists are here to help with the advice and tools you need. Book an Online Parent Consultation or get in touch with Chloe for more information.


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