Sibling rivalry

Boys play fighting in parkAh, sibling rivalry. Without it, childhood would be a rather featureless place rather than the hotbed of murderous passions it is.

Children have strong feelings about fairness. As a ground rule, remember that whatever they may think, fairness is not always the same treatment; it is equitable treatment. 

Even close siblings usually express hatred and are sometimes brutal towards one another. Don't take it to heart. You cannot force your children to like one another. They may or may not, regardless of gender, age gaps and anything you do or do not do as a parent.

You can and should enforce some civility. So set ground rules but don't sweat the small stuff - concentrate on things that matter, such as respecting space and possessions.

How to handle sibling rivalry

  • Dispense liberal praise and even the odd bribe reward for decent inter-sibling behaviour.
  • Don't referee fighting unless there is real hurting going on. Look at the behaviour you are modelling - if you and your spouse or partner are shouty and disrespectful to each other, it's hard to avoid creating shouty, disrespectful mini-mes.
  • Have some unbreakable ground rules for children who are out of toddlerhood - no shouting, hitting, swearing, destruction of each other's property... And then when the rules are broken, have some inexorable sanctions of a horrible but realistic and demonstrably proportionate nature (good luck with that).
  • Siblings who are fighting horribly often benefit from time apart - with you or some special activity just for themselves. In long and fractious holidays, try a 'different rooms day' (do make sure that there are some activities in the rooms, and that you go between them to supervise). Or just get out of the house - fresh air and space improve the tempers of everyone.
  • An older child who is being tormented by a pesky younger child needs to be given some personal space - try a latch on the bedroom door.
  • Sometimes parents expect too much from the older sibling and too little from the younger one - scrutinise your own expectations.
  • Ensure there is fairness in relation to birthdays and Christmas. Don't, for example, think of daft plans to celebrate two birthdays together because one child's birthday is the day after Christmas.

And remember when they are having another soul-sapping squabble about whether sibling one's foot crossed the dividing line into sibling two's side of the room that all this fighting is good for their social skills and their ability to deal with conflict. Apparently.

What Mumsnetters say about dealing with sibling strife

"I think they should be treated fairly but not exactly the same. My daughter is older, so she gets stuff/privileges/freedoms/money and so on that my son doesn't, but I make it clear that when he is her age so will he, and that she didn't when she was his age." seeker

"As children, we had friends who were brought up exactly the same - right down to Christmas, where the mum would ensure exactly the same amount of money was spent on each of them. Now as adults, they are very keen to ensure that they have exactly the same. It seems a rather gross quality in adults." MowlemB 

"My favourite idea from Siblings Without Rivalry is to say, 'Hey, I can see that <summarise dispute>. But you guys are clever, I know you can sort it out. I'll be over here, reading my paper.' They really rise to the occasion. NotQuiteCockney

"Bluntly, it's a lot harder to be perfect for two children than it is to be perfect for one. Give yourself a break." colditz

  • Going doolally dealing with warring siblings, or still warring with your own siblings? Get support on our Behaviour/development Talk board or our Relationships Talk board.

Last updated: 01-May-2012 at 9:31 AM