Expert / 12 March, 2018 / The Behaviourists

7 Common Mistakes Parents Make Dealing With Sibling Rivalry

Did you know that brothers and sisters between the ages of 3 and 7 engage in conflict 3.5 times an hour and in younger siblings, it can be as often as every ten minutes? Not surprised? Sibling rivalry happens at some point in most families after all. Being aware of these common mistakes can help reduce the likelihood of conflict although it’s not a guarantee that there won’t be any!


It’s so easy to fall into the trap of ‘refereeing’ the kids when they are fighting and arguing. Ref’s are called upon to settle disputes or make decisions. If possible leave the kids to sort it out themselves by not getting involved. Obviously if there is an unfair advantage or it’s dangerous that might not be possible. If you do need to intervene try taking a coaching approach of instructing, teaching or guiding will encourage them to resolve things between themselves in the future as they know you won’t make the decision for them! It’s advisable to let things cool down if they’ve got really heated before you do this.


Playing the part of the ref also means that you are ‘taking sides’ at least in the view of your kids! As far as you are concerned you’re just trying to be fair and get a resolution so EVERYONE CAN MOVE ON. This rarely works as there will always be someone who feels hard done by. It can be easy to fall into this trap when there is actually an imbalance of size, age, strength etc but remember the disagreements are very real to the kids and again encourage them to work things out between themselves and acknowledge those differences.


If you are always called upon or are on hand to resolve the conflict, points one and two are going to happen. In playing the role of ‘coach’ instead you can guide the kids on finding the way forward themselves to the satisfaction of all involved by using some skilful questioning. Obviously, conflict resolution is quite a skill so don’t expect miracles but use guidance, instruction and training to help the kids develop the skills they need not just for family harmony but for life!


This is like a red rag to a bull where your kids are concerned and often parents unintentionally compare siblings by extolling one child’s virtues, such as sporting ability or academic achievement, to all and sundry not realising the effect it has on the others. Sometimes parents can also do this as a bit of fun, comparing personal attributes about height or strength and this can encourage a ‘oneupmanship’ between siblings. Celebrate your children’s differences but don’t use them to compare.


Sibling rivalry is a cry for attention and as far as kids are concerned any attention including negative attention will do if they can’t get it any other way or feel that they can’t. It can be really easy to not meet the individual attention needs of your kids as life takes over and gets in the way. Aim for giving each child at least 10 to 20 minutes of individual, uninterrupted positive attention every day.


Even within a family parents need to be aware of the individuality of their children ensuring that this is accepted and celebrated by all the family. We don’t all get on with everyone. As the saying goes ‘you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family’.  Try to cater for your kids individual needs and interests even if its arranging family outings around them so they are shared interests and experiences.


It’s easy to think it’s just your family and just your kids and how embarrassing is that! I can assure you, you are not alone with this.  It’s natural that siblings fight, they spend a lot of time together but let me leave you with this thought

“I may fight with my siblings but once you lay a finger on them you’ll be facing ME!”

Katy Roberts, Director and Co-Founder of The Behaviourists

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