Module 4: Promoting Mental Health in Early Childhood

Sibling RivalrySibling Rivalry

Learning to Get Along

Sibling relationships, both supportive and antagonistic, can be the most lasting relationships in a person’s life. Rivalry among siblings is almost universal.

Parents should differentiate between milder forms of conflict that siblings can resolve on their own and more damaging forms of conflicts, such as bullying and physical aggression, recognizing that parental intervention can sometimes escalate sibling disputes.

Questions to Ask

  • How do your children get along with one another?
  • Tell me about your relationships with your own siblings.
  • How do you handle your children’s squabbles?
  • What are some of the things they disagree about?
  • How often are you able to spend individual time with each of your children?

Provider Tips

  • Evaluate families with high levels of sibling conflict for stress (especially marital conflict and differences over discipline strategies).
  • Assess children who are frequently mentioned as the source of sibling conflict for underlying difficulties such as unrealistic parental expectations for their behavior, or mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or mood disorders.
  • Ask children ages 3 and older about their relationships with their siblings, what their parents do when they fight with their siblings, and whether they think they are treated fairly. Be alert for the need to protect vulnerable children.
  • Using the guidance listed below, discuss strategies for dealing with sibling rivalry.

Guidance for Parents

  • It’s important for each child in your family to feel valued and loved. Try to spend individual time with each child every day. Focus on their unique needs, likes, and dislikes. When you get along well with each child, they will be less likely to be jealous of one another.
  • Treat each of your children as an individual who has her own special and has her own gifts and talents. Be careful not to compare one child with another.
  • Despite your best efforts, there are going to be times when your children disagree, have squabbles, or fight with each other. When this happens, recognize the conflict, but try to let your children resolve the dispute on their own if possible. If you must get involved:
    • Tell your children to stop fighting
    • Do not take sides
    • Refuse to listen to their complaints
    • Blame no one
    • Separate the children for a while
    • Never allow hitting or aggressive bahavior
  • Once the “storm” has passed, calmly review the situation with your children and encourage them to come up with solutions. Teach them how to negotiate fairly and help them reflect on the feelings of others.
  • Provide personal space for each child in your family, even if it’s limited. Allow your older children to have toys and other objects that they do not have to share with their younger siblings. Give them a storage space that is out of reach of a younger child.
Resources for Families

Sibling Rivalry

Helping Siblings Get Along PDF

Aber LW. 1995. 101 Activities for Siblings Who Squabble: Projects and Games to Entertain and Keep the Peace. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Canter L, Canter M. 1995. Surviving Sibling Rivalry: Helping Brothers and Sisters Get Along. Santa Monica, CA: Canter and Associates. Phone: (800) 262-4347.

Faber A, Mazlish E. 1998. Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Too (10th Anniversary Edition. New York, NY: Avon Books.

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