6 Strategies To Help Parents Combat Sibling Rivalry


The arguments that go on between siblings can be ruthless. While grown-ups try their best to help their children get along, the yelling, fighting and tears can often be exhausting.

According to Kelly Melistas, a child and adolescent psychologist at Henry Ford Health System, arguments between siblings are completely normal and play an important part in how children learn about handling conflict.

“A moderate level of arguments is healthy because it helps children learn to understand expressing their emotions and how to deal with frustration,” says Melistas. “Every kid enters into a different family dynamic that can influence what sort of relationship siblings will have with each other.”

Some factors that might influence sibling relationships include:

  • Age. Kids that are closer in age are often more likely to argue with one another compared to siblings with larger age gaps.
  • Sex. Children of the same sex tend to have similar interests, which can cause more competition.
  • Birth order. Often time, the middle child or younger children will lash out more if they don’t get as much attention or the same privileges as older siblings.

How To Help Your Kids Get Along Better

As a parent or guardian, if you are struggling to manage the tension between siblings, Melistas offers up a few best practices for less arguments and more productive communication between all members of your family.

  1. Don’t get involved in battles. Try to let your kids solve problems on their own. Encourage them to talk through conflicts while remaining calm.
  2. Don’t take sides. Taking sides can lead to one child feeling like they are always taking the blame or being compared to another sibling. Instead of singling out the “problem child,” focus on the arguing or fighting in general. The last thing your child wants is to be told that they aren’t as well behaved as another sibling, and you don’t want them to internalize that negative message about themselves either.
  3. Set basic ground rules. When it comes to communication, teach your children about appropriate forms of interpersonal communication and healthy behaviors. It is okay to feel sad or upset when something is bothering them, but make sure your children know how to handle those big emotions without lashing out at a sibling.
  4. Anticipate issues. As a parent, you know your kids and can likely predict what sorts of things might lead to arguments between siblings – sharing toys, who goes first, what show to watch on TV or what songs to listen to in the car. Set up practices so everyone gets a fair chance. Take turns playing with a toy, let each child alternate who picks the next song in the car, etc.
  5. Find what works for your family. Every child is unique so it may require you to tailor your parenting to each kid’s specific needs.
  6. Don’t force kids to get along. Siblings often end up having different personalities and interests. Commonly, when kids are told they have to get along with siblings, there is more push back. Don’t have expectations for them to force getting along. Instead, teach them that it is important to respect each other. This will be easier as they learn more about how to cope with emotions and handle problems.

Managing The Highs And Lows Of Sibling Relationships

The good news: Sibling rivalries do get better as kids grow up, especially when parents are supportive in helping them develop their relationship and communication skills. However, these frustrations between kids will likely shift with age.

“When kids are young, the root of arguments is often related to toys and the need for attention,” says Melistas. “As your children enter their teens and young adulthood, some arguing might come up when it comes to personal freedoms, house rules and varied privileges between other siblings.”

This year more than ever, kids haven’t seen friends and cousins as much as usual. As a result, you might see an increase in arguments between siblings. This is completely normal and expected. More tension at home and stressors related to COVID-19 can directly influence this behavior.

“As a best practice, check in with your children,” suggests Melistas. “Talk to them and see how they are handling these stressors. Are behavior issues getting worse? Are they upset or frustrated?”

If you find your child is having a difficult time dealing with frustrations and emotions, talk to their doctor about the benefits of visiting a child and adolescent psychologist or behavioral therapist.

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To find a pediatrician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Kelly Melistas is a child and adolescent psychologist at Henry Ford Health System who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus.

Categories: ParentWell