Sibling Rivalry: 5 Ways to Lessen the Friction

Sibling rivalry occurs in almost all families unless there’s only one child. When you experience it in your home, you aren’t alone. It has been happening since the world began. (Cain and Abel, Genesis 4:1-15). Other examples from God’s word are Esau and Jacob (Genesis 27), Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37), Martha and Mary (Luke 10:39-40) and Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29:15-30:24).

Sibling rivalry between sisters

Sibling Rivalry in My Own Family

Sibling rivalry plagues modern families just as it did in Bible times. Listen in on this scene with my own children:

“I’m not taking piano lessons anymore.” This statement came from my eight year old after his first lesson.

“Why not? What happened?”

“Teri can already play songs, and I can’t. Besides, I need to practice soccer instead of piano.” His sister had been taking lessons for two years, and was naturally ahead of him in skills. Unless he was a piano prodigy, he would never catch up. He was already excelling at soccer, so why not stick with success?

My son’s response of refusing to participate and expressing inadequacy, a common reaction, is the least noticed result of sibling rivalry. We usually think the main consequence is fighting since the fights are so loud and annoying.

A Plan to Deal with Sibling Rivalry

Knowing that sibling rivalry was a natural part of growing up with brothers and/or sisters allowed me to quit blaming myself and move forward with a plan to deal with it. Here was my plan:

  • Acknowledge that jealousy is a part of human nature that needs discipline. Paul listed it as one of the “acts of the sinful nature” in Galatians 5:20. I could speak directly to my children about jealously by saying something like, “I know you are jealous when we celebrate your sister’s success at piano. But, remember when you scored the winning goal at your final game of the season? We all celebrated big time.”
  • Never compare children to each other. This is easier to do than we might think. Something as simple as saying, “Jason is good at football just like his dad,” implies that Jack is not so skilled at that sport.
  • Give kids some individual time with parent or parents. Because I was a single mom, I relied on the help of grandparents to take one child while I had one-on-one time with the other.
  • Make celebrations of successes (good grades, sports achievements, artistic accomplishments) fun for the entire family. “Hey, let’s go get an ice cream to celebrate Eric’s good spelling grade.” Loosen up and have some silly fun such as high-fives, cheers, and “rounds of applause.” Getting the whole family involved keeps the other sibling from feeling left out.
  • Pray together as a family for the member facing a big challenge. Then when the prayer is answered with success, each family member feels a part of the victory.

For more ideas about dealing with sibling rivalry, see University of Michigan’s Your Child Development and Behavior Resources.

Why We Want to Eliminate Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry may be natural, but it is something we want to help our children overcome. Most parents want their children to be good friends as adults. That friendship will be a blessing as they get older.

Question: Am I the only one who had sibling rivalry going on what seemed like all the time? Even with a plan in place, there were times I thought I was a complete failure as a parent.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    So, do you recommend encouraging the younger sibling to stick with something even though he feels second best, or should we help each child find his own niche?

  2. Carole Bell says

    Wow! That’s a tough call. The answer is yes and yes.

    I would encourage the younger sibling to continue if he can understand that he’s supposed to behind because of lack of experience. That’s a good lesson to learn even if he later drops out of that activity. However, if he’s feeling beaten down by his performance, I would drop it. No activity is worth making a kid miserable.

    Enlist the help of the older sibling who can tell him where he was at that same age. Take care that the older child doesn’t make demeaning remarks. Encouragement will be more powerful from him than from you.

    And, yes, each child needs to find his own niche. One way to do that is by exposing both children to many activities. The older one needs to try something where the younger one excels. That’s good for each of them. We all need to learn how to be second best at some things.

    Thanks for your challenging question!

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