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  • Writer's pictureK.C. Dreisbach, LMFT

How to Manage Sibling-Rivalries

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

If you’ve got more than one kid, you are probably tired with the constant bickering, tattle-telling, and fighting about toys, what movie is going to be watched, who gets to eat the last cookie, etc.! It’s exhausting! How can you create harmony in your home and a sibling bond that stands the test of time?

Why Are My Kids Jealous of One Another?!?!

Sibling rivalry is a fairly common occurrence in families, and I think all siblings encounter sibling rivalry at some point in time. Parents often struggle with this, not understanding why their kids are jealous of one another. Oftentimes, they tell me that they treat their children “the same,” so why is there jealousy? The truth is, you most likely don’t treat your children the same on every account.

Furthermore, there is no way that your parenting style hasn’t changed in some way after you’ve had your second (third, fourth, etc.) child. Your firstborn’s life dramatically changed when another baby came into the picture. This change then prompted a tidal wave of emotions, insecurities, anxieties, and fears for your firstborn child. When another child enters into the family home, there are many factors that change. Let’s look at some of them:

1. Parental Resources

This is probably the most important one! When another child comes along, a parent’s time is now divided among all the children, not just the first child. Think of this like a pie. If there is one child, that kid gets the whole pie to themselves! If there are 2 kids, now that child only gets half the pie, and so on! Wouldn’t you be bummed if you had to share your pie with some newbie?!?

2. Financial Resources

Similar to the first point, financial resources are the same. Your extra money that you could use to buy your child that cool new toy now has to be split between 2 kids! This means that the “cool new toy” might be out of the budget.

To put this into perspective, let’s say you would get paid an extra $100 for doing an extra 4 hours of work at your job. Then, a new employee arrives and starts sharing these extra hours with you. When you get your paycheck, you notice that you’re only getting $50 instead of $100, even though you are still putting in the extra 4 hours. When you question your boss, your boss tells you that there is only an extra $100 in the budget, and since you both (i.e. you and the new employee) are doing an extra 4 hours of work, you need to split the money 50/50. Now, I know this would never happen in real life. It’s against the law! So why do we make our kids do it?

3. Physical Space & Property

How many siblings come to learn that they have to “share” their toys, or “share” their room? Toys and space become valuable commodities! Can you imagine finding out that you have to share your bedroom with your in-laws? This might be something you would be less than happy about. Can you say, “awkward!”

Having to deal with any one of these issues would be upsetting to us as adults. Now imagine your child who has to experience this as a reality! It’s no wonder why they get cranky about their new sibling! As if this isn’t bad enough, there are several things we do as parents that can contribute to the problem. Let’s take a quick look at the 4 things we do as parents that tend to make sibling rivalries worse.

Ways Parents (Accidentally) Contribute to Sibling Rivalries

Parents with multiple kids tend to engage in “favoritism” without even realizing it. This tends to lead to an increase in jealousy and aggression between siblings. Don’t be too quick to deny engaging in favoritism, and don’t be too quick to kick yourself for doing it either. Favoritism happens! It doesn’t make you a bad parent… it makes you an honest one.

Our children have different personalities, and some personalities are easier to get along with than others! It’s only natural that you would have a little more of a liking towards a child who shares similar interests as you. It’s also important to note that it doesn’t mean that you don’t love your other children OR that you love one more than the other.

I am of the belief that you can love your children equally, but enjoy the company of one child more than another simply because of how your personalities come together. Much of this has to do with attachment styles and how attachment develops in the early months after giving birth. That’s a blog post (probably multiple) all on its own, so we won’t go there today. Instead, I want to help you learn to navigate this situation like a pro! Let’s talk about how we can change ourselves, as parents, to help minimize the impact that favoritism can have in causing jealousy.

1. Too Forgiving to the Favored Child

When you have a child that you seem to mesh with better, you are more likely to let them get away with things that you might not allow from your other children. This is something like having a “Double Standard.” The key here is to remain consistent across children. No one should get off free!

2. Too Harsh with the Other Child

Similar to the above point, you might be too firm with the child that you don’t meld as well with. I can’t tell you how many times

I see one child being disciplined fairly harshly for a behavior, while the other child merely gets a finger wagged in his or her face. Just like above, you have to remain consistent across children.

3. Comparisons between Children

This one is so easy to do without even realizing it. Do your very best to avoid comparing children in any way, shape, or form. Most parents are aware that comparing kids during discipline is not a wise choice (i.e. “Why can’t you behave more like your brother?”), but many will still compare while praising their children (i.e. “Good job Sweetie! See? When you behave like your brother does, you get rewarded too!”).

We always want to remember that our children are different, with different strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them is like adding gasoline to hot coals. Nothing good will come out of it!

4. Failure to Praise the Child

As more children are added into our families, the likelihood that you will praise your children (especially the one that tends to test your limits more often) becomes more difficult. This goes back to having less “parental resource” available (like energy!). You want to do your best to keep praising your kids when they do a good job or make an effort to meet your expectations. And if you have a child who struggles to meet your expectations, it is even more important that you constantly praise them for doing their best. This helps to motivate them to keep trying, even if they are falling short.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now with all the things you might be doing “wrong,” don’t. I promise you that you’re not the first parent to (accidentally) make some of these simple mistakes. I know I’ve done some of these myself! It doesn’t make you a bad mom or dad, please know this.

Now that we know some of the traps we all tend to fall into, let’s talk about solving this problem. I believe that the best offense is a really good defense! Let’s investigate some things you can do to actually protect your kids against sibling rivalries from the start!

Quality Time as the “Key” to Solving Sibling Rivalries

In my new book, “Trials of the Working Parent,” I dedicate a whole chapter to discussing the importance of quality time. It is my belief that quality time is one of the best protective factors against sibling rivalries and jealousy, and when you have multiple kids, there are a few “types” of quality time you should think about squeezing in.

1. Enjoy Family Time

I think this one is pretty obvious. As parents, we know it is important to spend time together as a family. Creating positive memories with our children helps to develop a positive life narrative that our children will remember as they grow older. This helps to increase positive self-esteem, a sense of family unity, and a vibrant childhood that sets the foundation for that individual’s adult life.

2. Enjoy 1-on-1 Time

This one is also obvious but a little harder to manage. Spending time as a family together is key, but to help reduce or eliminate jealousy, 1-on-1 time with each child is going to play a critical role. This is especially true for young children. Our kids thrive off of parental time and attention. If they can’t get it from you in a positive way, you can expect them to start acting out in not-so-positive ways!

Try spending some alone time with each child in the family. You might not be able to manage this daily, but try a more manageable goal, like weekly 1-on-1 time. It doesn’t have to be long either. For example, I take my 4-year-old daughter upstairs to bed about 15 minutes before my husband brings up our baby. During these 15 minutes, I cuddle with her, talk to her about her day, and read to her. These 15 minutes let her know that she is still a highlight in my life, even if there is a new baby on the block!

3. Encourage Quality Time Between Siblings

As your children grow older, encourage them to spend time together. Let them go to the movies together, shop together, or go on a ride at a theme park together without you. Let them interact with one another in ways that establish positive memories with one another as friends. When your children are younger, encourage them to play together, and be sure to praise them for getting along and playing nicely. If their interests are different, try to engage them in activities they can both enjoy, like puppet shows, decorating the home for a holiday, or doing some sort of craft. You know your kids best.

Try to find common ground between them, and then provide ample opportunities for them to do these things together. You should still provide supervision, but be a bystander and allow them to work through things together as a team. This creates positive memories of their relationship together, and helps them to develop those life-long, loving bonds we so desperately want them to have.

I hope this article was helpful to you! Managing siblings can be tough work, but don't give up! If you can manage these strategies, then you'll see your children grow closer together and more united as a family!

If you enjoyed this post, check out the blog for more helpful articles on different parenting topics. And don't miss out on your FREE copy of mini-ebook, Eliminating Temper Tantrums: 4 Keys to Mastering Anger Outbursts. You can also check out my series, The Art of Parenting. With 5-stars on Amazon, Bookbub, and Barnes & Noble, it's a no-brainer.

(***Note: This blog was originally posted on "The Pragmatic Parent" as a part of the Trials of the Working Parent Blog Book Tour. It has since been updated and re-posted here.)

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Krystal Dreisbach is a licensed therapist, mindset coach, adjunct professor of counseling, and published author.  Her specialties include depression treatment, anxiety counseling, stress management support, and mindset coaching.  Learn more about Krystal and see how she can help you live a better life.

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