Close this search box.

What is Sibling Rivalry? Why Does it Happen?

Sibling rivalry is often time the source of conflict between two or more siblings, but it is not always a bad thing. It is by nature the competition between siblings that can start any time after a second child is introduced into the family and there are a number of factors that can contribute to it. It is easy to see the rivalry driven by jealousy, the need for attention, or competing for favor. The trickier side is when that rivalry is driven by less malicious factors. Siblings may compete simply to better themselves or one might motivate the other to do and be better. On a similar note, sibling rivalry is not always as negative as it is assumed to be for the relationship and the family dynamic.

In order to better understand why sibling rivalry happens and when it is a negative thing it is important to understand the good and the bad and all of the in between about it. Siblings have the potential to be one of the most important diving forces in shaping who we are, our life choices, our thinking, and how we behave. Relationships between siblings change throughout the life span and are all unique. They can be different based on age, age differences, gender, birth order, size of the family, working or stay at home parents, socioeconomic status, education, and so many other factors. How a sibling effects another can be different for each person among larger families. Basically, there is no set definition for how a sibling relationship forms or how it will impact the people involved.

Where sibling rivalry comes into this sibling relationship is different for everyone. As previously mentioned, it can have both positive and negative impacts on a person’s personality and the sibling relationship, and to make it even more complicated, it can positively impact one but not the other. For example, a negative sibling relationship can positively impact a person by motivating them to be better and make better choices for their self. The impact the rivalry has on the relationship also varies based on the attachment and overall health of family relationships; meaning a family who has a strong and healthy attachment base where they feel loved and secure will be less impacted by sibling rivalry and tend to see more of the positive effects of it verses a family who suffered with poor attachments and will see the relationships negatively impacted or fall apart. The type of rivalry also matters to the end impact. A rivalry based on natural competitions such as sports or games is healthy and can strengthen relationships where a rivalry that is based on competing for attention or a place in the family creates negative feelings about one’s self and their family members having serious negative effects.

What Causes Sibling Rivalry?

  • The competition to solidify identity and role in the family system
  • The feeling of unequal attention or lacking attention
  • A perceived threat to a child’s relationship with their parents due to a sibling
  • Not getting basic needs met, not having a safe and secure environment
  • Boredom
  • Unseen family dynamics that encourage unhealthy competition
  • Children who witness violence or arguments frequently and assume this to be normal behavior
  • Not learning to share or needing to share and then suddenly being expected to
  • Stress in and outside of the family – school or social stress
  • Friendly competition (sports, games, contests)

How to Reduce Negative Rivarly and Encourage Positive:

  • Don’t play favorites – as obvious as it is, this can be the number one cause of sibling rivalry.
  • Don’t compare children to each other – even positive comparisons can set up emotional barriers to healthy sibling relationships. Comparing children to each other shows that the other child is either better or worse, setting up a dynamic of inequality and fueling future conflict.
  • Encourage individuality – allowing all of your children to be different and express who they are will reduce the need to compete with each other and create a sense of equality.
  • Encourage cooperation rather than competition – rather than have them compete to complete tasks have them work together to set time records or achieve goals.
  • Create a healthy and happy home environment – meeting a child’s basic needs and reducing unnecessary stress will improve distress tolerance and reduce conflict in general, not only between siblings.
  • Model appropriate interactions and healthy competition – showing how to compete in a healthy manner and deal with the emotions that come with winning or losing will help assist kids in understanding that they do not always have to be the best and how to cope with emotions that may come with it.
  • Reward positive behaviors with appropriate attention – showing children how to get positive attention will reduce the need for negative attention that can lead to conflict between siblings.
  • Be fair – it is not possible to treat every child in exactly the same manner all of the time, but being honest and fair is vital. Feeling injustices or inequality between children fuels sibling rivalry due to the need to fight to be treated fairly.
  • Give each child attention individually – providing each child with time that is tailored to them and focused solely on them will reduce the need to fight for time and attention.
  • Encourage healthy competition – playing games or sports can help teach about healthy competition, winning and losing, sportsmanship, and actually improve relationships.


Related Posts