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Sibling Rivalry

two girls arguing

Sibling rivalry is "characteristic of virtually all children. Pleasant, obedient kids fight with their brothers and sisters just as do unpleasant, disobedient kids" (Latham 273).

"You are not going to completely eliminate rivalry among siblings unless you completely eliminate the siblings" (274), says Dr. Glenn Latham, a researcher and parenting expert.

Children use siblings to test limits, learn social skills, and to establish who they are. Sibling rivalry is part of the territory of growing up; however, there are ways, according to Dr. Latham, to keep sibling rivalry "within tolerable limits" in your home (273).

Ignore it, and it really might go away

Dr. Glen Latham suggests the most effective skill for dealing with sibling rivalry is to simply ignore it. He writes, "[sibling rivalry] teaches [children] how to deal with peers in a more controlled environment. Sibling rivalry is not violence. It is jousting" (275).   
Most of the time we should stay out of the way. However, when insults have become personal (there's a difference between calling someone a "stupid head" and a personal, cutting remark about a low grade actually received on a test), if character is being attacked, or the rivalry has become mean and vicious (kicking, hitting, biting), it is time to step in.

Remain calm, composed, and direct

If you decide you must intervene, be as simple as you can. Use statements like, "You may not say those things to your brother," and administer the consequence.   
Even as you read this example, you might hear the other child's automatic reply in your mind, "But she started it!" Don't allow yourself to become the referee, or even a member of the audience.

Teach appropriate social skills

Excessive sibling rivalry can be a signal to parents to teach (yet again) appropriate social skills, at a later time, when things have cooled down.   
As Young et al. remind us, modeling the correct way to handle a situation is one of the best ways to teach the positive. (See Teaching is a Better Form of Discipline for a complete overview of Dr. Young's ideas.)

Apply consequences and praise

The most effective consequences are those that are understood in advance, matter to the child, and are immediate.   
Let your children earn "positive consequences" as well. Acknowledge the many things your children do right, including the many things they do right for and with each other. Allowing their positive interactions to earn your attention can go a long way in teaching them how to interact together in positive ways.

You may want to consider what is setting off the sibling rivalry and work to combat that. Is there competition for resources, like using the piano to practice first? Sometimes there are things we can do as parents, like creating a piano schedule, that can dampen the fighting.

girl holding "for sale" sign in front of other girl

There will most likely be sibling friction some of the time, but there's no need to "completely eliminate the siblings" (Latham 274) to make your home a happy place.

Some friction between brothers and sisters is simply a fact of family life. When sibling rivalry reaches a point at which it cannot be tolerated, following Dr. Latham's principles can help create a more positive atmosphere for the children, band parents--in your home.


Barrand, Tracy. "One on One," New Era, Feb. 1995.   
Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting: A Wonderful Way to Raise Children. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 1994.   
Young, Richard K., Sharon Black, Michelle Marchant, Katherine J. Mitchem, and Richard P. West. "A Teaching Approach to Discipline: An Alternative to Punishment." Marriage & Families, August (2000): 9-15.