Tips for Keeping Sibling Rivalry Under Control

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
Don’t you wish you could just be a parent some days instead of a referee of a fight between your kids that never seems to end? Get help here.

Before you jump in and try to create a ceasefire, it’s important to be armed with some simple knowledge about why kids fight. Just knowing some of these facts could help you avoid making sticky sibling situations worse.


• Siblings are more likely to squabble when they’re closer in age. If your kids are three years apart or less, you’ll have more fights.

• Siblings are more likely to fight when they make assumptions about why a parent may be paying more attention to one child over another (even if that assumption is wrong).

• Fights erupt more when you have a middle school or junior high child in the house. (There’s a reason why the junior-high years are tough.)

• Brothers tend to fight more than sisters.

• Siblings are more likely to resolve conflicts peacefully when their parents teach them skills to solve problems together.

• A child is capable of picking a fight at any age. It’s not always the oldest who instigates battles.

• Siblings are less likely to fight when parents encourage kids to form bonds and relationships with each other.

So what can you do?


1. Create regular, fun family times. Work on ways to get siblings to interact in positive, fun ways.

2. Explain why you may be paying more attention to one sibling over another. Siblings fight less when they understand why you’re treating your kids differently. Maybe one child needs extra help with homework because of poor academic performance. Maybe you have a special needs child who needs extra care. Maybe you have a child who is being bullied at school. Siblings become more compassionate when they understand that a sibling may need extra help and attention from a parent.

3. Teach kids how to resolve conflicts well. Encourage kids to calm down when they get upset and not act impulsively. Have them think about their goals for the situation and how they want to achieve their goals. When kids are taught how to resolve conflict, they’re more likely to compromise and find a solution that creates a win-win situation. They’re also more likely to work problems through without having a parent intervene every time. Get tips here >


1. University of Illinois, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, “In U of I Study, Kids Learn to Handle Emotional Responses to Siblings,” news release, February 23, 2009.

2. University of Illinois, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, “U of I Study: Parents, Sibs See Imbalances in Parents’ Attention Differently,” news release, May 16, 2007.

3. Jeanna Bryner, “Research Reveals Secret Causes of Sibling Spats,” Live Science, January 8, 2007.

4. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Siblings without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together so You Can Live Too (New York: Avon, 1987).

5. Burton L. White, The First Three Years of Life (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).

6. Sibling rivalry, ParentFurther.

7. Image via Nicole O’Neil Photography on Flickr.

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