Understanding Sibling Rivalry



Sibling rivalry often accompanies jealousy, competitive feelings, and fighting between brothers and sisters. Problems typically begin immediately after the birth of the second child as the older sibling feels challenged and distressed because of  the newborn. These rivalries usually persist through childhood and can cause serious unrest in the home, as sibling conflict quickly turns to parental conflict during attempts to resolve disputes. Sibling rivalry is extremely common. Children and siblings can't always get along, and all parents have to deal with these conflicts at some point. Many parents struggle when sibling conflicts challenge their fantasy notion of a perfectly loving home, but not all rivalries are necessarily bad.


In some cases, sibling rivalry and conflict can be healthy.


In less extreme and chronic situations, sibling rivalries can teach children important life lessons. Siblings are the first peer group that your children will be exposed to, and conflicting family interactions represent their first opportunities to learn and practice conflict resolution, compromise, and stress management skills. Our job as parents is to leverage that.

Some factors might include:

  • Children may be competing to define themselves as individuals. Conflict may appear to them as the best way to define their likes and dislikes, and opposing their sibling is an easy way to differentiate themselves from that brother or sister.
  • Children may seek conflict as a means of acquiring more attention if they feel that their parents are favouring their sibling.
  • Children who are hungry, bored, or tired are much more likely to seek conflicts. Misery loves company, after all.
  • Children who live in households where conflict is common are more likely to have problems with their siblings. Tensions between parents can increase the likelihood of sibling rivalry.


It is clear that parental behaviour is a key component when weighing your child's likelihood of developing a sibling rivalry. For this reason, treating sibling rivalry often goes beyond child therapy session, it’s a family business. Tamar's therapy model can teach your child to identify, challenge, and replace negative and jealous thoughts about their sibling, and can also help treat any anxiety or depressive thoughts that their sibling conflicts may have triggered.  

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