Managing Sibling Rivalry: Encouraging Healthy Relationships

When you think of adding a second, third, or any other child, you envision your kids being kind, caring, and supportive of each other. 

But the reality is, they’ll get into conflicts more often than you’d like. In fact, research shows that disputes among siblings can happen as often as eight times within an hour. For parents or guardians, resolving such sibling rivalry can leave you feeling deflated, anxious, and exhausted. 

So this post explains how to manage sibling rivalry. You’ll learn different ways to foster healthy relationships among siblings and minimize disputes. Let’s dig in:

Managing Sibling Rivalry

1. Avoid Playing Favorites

One mistake many parents make is pitting their kids against one another. Doing so only causes them to drift apart. Instead, realize that each child has their fair share of strengths and weaknesses. 

One child may struggle with academics, but they excel in arts. Similarly, you may have one kid who thrives in academics but isn’t great at sports. So rather than compare one child’s weaknesses to their siblings, acknowledge their individuality. 

Don’t make statements such as “Your brother always aces his math tests, why can’t you also excel?” Instead, help your child turn their weaknesses into strengths. If they’re struggling in a particular area, dedicate more resources and time to improving it. 

2. Offer Attention

You may not realize it, but kids sometimes misbehave to gain your attention. They have craved your attention for so long that they’d rather settle for negative attention (as opposed to nothing). 

Schedule just 10 to 15 minutes of child-centered play to ensure you're giving enough attention. And this 10-minute interval should be accorded to each child individually, not all five of them. 

In this play session, allow your child to take the reins. Do they want you to be a guest at their tea party? Have a makeup sesh with Daddy? Stack blocks with your three-year-old? 

Whatever your child has in store, accept. The only condition is that it should be an activity that can be done in 15 minutes or so. 

3. Teach Conflict Resolution Skills

If you’re like most parents, there’s a high chance that you use time-out to diffuse heated arguments or fights that erupt among your kids. 

Sure, sending each child to their little corner calms them down slightly. But it doesn’t resolve the underlying issue. If you want your kids to learn how to resolve conflict, try role-playing instead. 

Here are a couple of role-playing tips to teach your kids regarding conflict resolution:

  • Exercise self-control - the first thing you should do is teach your little one how to control their temper. They might not want to talk about the ordeal immediately after a fight has erupted. So engage them in something relaxing. This could be taking a walk, taking a deep breath, or counting up to 10. 
  • Turn-taking - once calm, kids can take turns explaining their side of the story. Have one child take the role of a speaker while the other listens keenly. Next, they’ll switch positions so that each one gets their turn. While they’re at it, teach them to use polite words and phrases, such as “please,” “may I,” and “I’m sorry,” among others. 
  • Expressing feelings - let your kids know there’s nothing wrong with experiencing intense feelings. What matters is expressing those feelings reasonably and using the right words. Such as, "When Andy takes my toys, I get mad..."

Empowering your kids with the right tools and tactics for conflict resolution offers one key benefit. It trains them how to resolve disputes on their own. In return, the number of fights and arguments they get into decreases significantly.

4. Model Ideal Problem-Solving Behavior

If you want your kids to resolve their conflicts peacefully, exercise this skill yourself. 

This is because children are very observant, often following in your footsteps even when you don’t notice it. If they see that you handle disputes amicably - with friends, colleagues, or spouse - then they’ll do the same. 

Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean you have to be perfect throughout. If you lose your temper, acknowledge your wrongdoings and apologize. The most important thing is that you use these mistakes as learning opportunities, both for you and your little ones.   

5. Teach Them Empathy

One of the most important values you should teach your kids is empathy. This is synonymous with the saying, “treat others the same way you’d want to be treated.” So help your little ones learn how to recognize other people’s feelings. 

On the same note, ask them to reflect on their behavior before saying or engaging in hostile activities. For instance, if they’re picking on another child, ask them how they’d feel if someone else victimized them. 

6. Schedule Family Activities

Want to foster a healthy relationship among your kids? Well, one way to do this is to plan family activities. It can be as simple as playing puzzle games or taking walks to the park to more advanced activities like camping or planning a vacation. 

What matters is creating opportunities for your children to bond and share memories. The stronger the bond, the less likely they are to fight. 

7. Discipline Kids Privately

If you deem it fit to discipline your child for their role in a particular dispute, do it privately. 

Don’t scold or punish them in front of their siblings. This will only aggravate them more, not to mention fueling their resentment for siblings. Remember, the whole point of disciplining is to help learn valuable lessons - not to make an example.


It’s not unusual for siblings to play together one minute and then yell at each other the next. Conflicts among siblings are inevitable. So one thing you should do as a parent is learn how to deal with sibling rivalry. 

The best strategies for this are teaching conflict resolution skills, planning family activities, giving individual attention, teaching empathy, and modeling ideal problem-solving behavior.

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