Words That Hurt: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

Kids will get into it with each other from time to time. Thereís probably no way to entirely eliminate siblings arguing with each other. Each child needs to learn to stand up for himself and to take care of himself, so you can let them battle it outóto a point.

But watch and listen. If theyíre expressing their own needs and feelings without hurting the other, you can let them try to work it out between them. Kids learn very early on that the best way to hurt a sibling is not with their fists, but with their words. So if they cross the line into name calling, wicked words and mean behavior, thatís the time to intervene. Donít take sides. Just point out the unacceptable behavior and words and guide them toward an appropriate discussion. Tell them itís okay to disagree, but they have to express themselves in ways that donít put down, ridicule or hurt each other. These are helpful lessons for them to learn as they mature and become responsible adults.

Research shows that children with poor sibling relationships are at higher risk for behavior problems and that sibling bullying is strongly correlated to peer bullying. Responsible parenting involves helping your children learn to work through disagreements without hurting or abusing each other either physically or verbally. Every time your children behave badly, itís an opportunity to talk with them about respectful ways to handle arguments and sensitive ways to treat other peopleóeven their siblings. Itís a time to reinforce your family value of kindness and sensitivityóof being understanding, compassionate and caring.

When jealousy, anger and competition take over, the cutting words can slice deeply like a knife. Here are four scenarios of normal sibling rivalry with tips on how to deal with them.

1. One child gets a new bike and the younger one gets the hand-me-down. The younger one is upset and fights with the older.

Tip: Re-paint and decorate the old bike. Get a new basket, a bell and make it look new and exciting.

2. One child gets better grades than the other and the one with good grades makes fun of the other.

Tip: Affirm both children for how hard they try rather than for the grades they get Ė because you do have control over how hard you try and you donít always have control over the results.

3. One child gets selected for the school soccer team and the other doesnít. The one who doesnít starts being mean to the one who does.

Tip: a) Confront it straight on Ė donít shove the issue under the table and donít minimize it.

b) Talk with both kids together about the fact that there are things in life that are both disappointing and heartbreaking. These kinds of things happen in life. You can talk with them about the natural differences in people and help each one learn what their special talents, skills and gifts are. Once they discover them, you can help them learn to maximize them.

c) Although failures hurt, this is the time to teach both kids the value of taking a risk because if you arenít willing to take risks, youíre less likely to succeed. Especially affirm the one who didn’t make the team for taking the risk and let him know how valuable that characteristic is.

d) Itís also the time to reinforce your family value of supporting each other in a painful timeóbeing understanding, compassionate and caring. We are a family that celebrates each otherís victories and gives encouragement and hugs for the defeats.

e) Give an example of one of your own failures so your child doesnít feel heís the only one.

f) Acknowledge your child’s feelings and continue to encourage him to share them with you.

4. One girl develops earlier than her sister and lords it over the other that sheís more mature.

Tip: Have a discussion with both girls about female development and how it has no meaning in the value of a girl. Itís a genetic, hormonal issue that no one has any control over, and it just happens when it happens.

When kids are younger, itís easier to solve these sibling rivalries But when they get older, the issues get more complicated and there isnít a simple solution for each incident. Thatís why itís important to prepare your family and your kids in advance. Teach them when theyíre young and before the situation arises so they have already learned to support each other instead of making fun of each other. Then when something comes up, it becomes another opportunity to reinforce caring, compassion and learning to deal with failure, disappointment and delayed gratification.

What to Do When Your Kid Acts Like a Monster
Banishing Bullying Behavior
Teaching Your Kids to Be Honest


Jo S2 years ago

Thank you Joanne.

Amandine S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for the share.

Kate S.
Kate S5 years ago

I am one of eight kids... not sure if we grew up so tender. I think we had more respect for others than most kids these days.

Joe R.
Joe R6 years ago

Oh, the things I've missed out on.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

Thanks for the helpful info.

Ellie Damann
.6 years ago


Carole K.
Carole K6 years ago

Parenting is the most important & challenging role in life. This article mentions how to deal with misbehavior of siblings toward each other. I believe that one should also take advantage and use the opportunities when the children are being caring, sensitive & supportive toward one another. Catch them being good & reward that positive behavior in an appropriate way. We learn to love by being loved!

Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson6 years ago

What are our expectaions for our children? Grades? sports? popularity? What if we were to promote rescept for others as a top expectation?

Diana M.
Diana Martin6 years ago

Sibling relationships are hard to deal with when you are a parent. I like to really praise my girls when I see them helping each other, or being kind to each other. I tell them how proud I am when they work out a problem on their own. It really does seem to minimize the bigger fights.

Holly S.
Holly S6 years ago

Thanks so much!