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How Sibling Rivalry Helps Kids Prepare for Life

 If you have more than one child, you’ve experienced sibling rivalry. Parents tend to want any and all sibling disagreements to just stop now. The truth is sibling disagreements can be beneficial. Siblings need to know what the mom on the TV show Sisters told her daughters over and over again, “Who is there for you from cradle to grave — your sisters!” Parents need to know that the sibling relationship is also a trial run for adult relationships.

During childhood, siblings learn how mean words and actions impact others. They learn what it takes to give in, especially when they don’t want too. They learn what it feels like to be compassionate. And what it feels like when someone isn’t compassionate with them. They learn to do things for others because they love them, even when they don’t want to.

Three Tips for Making Sibling Rivalry Beneficial

The best way to stop the sibling wars is to change the way you look at rivalry. If a parent can shift his or her thinking from believing that a parent is supposed to be in charge of breaking up fights, to realizing that the rivalry is an opportunity to teach skills for their future, there will be less frustration for everyone.

1.  Help the Kids Work it Out Themselves

Instead of deciding who’s right and who’s wrong, teach children how to resolve their differences with your help. What they learn now will become the basis for how they’ll resolve personal and business issues later.

Always help the kids learn how to work things out versus resorting to punishment or sending them to another room to figure it out alone.

Turn to one child and ask, “What do you want to say about this?”

Then turn to the other child and ask the same question.

This allows the children to feel heard and shows them there are no favorites.

After the children have stated their points of view, turn to one child and ask, “What can you do to make this situation better?” Then turn to the next child and ask the same thing. This teaches them that it takes two to create an issue, and two to resolve it.

2. Feelings Count

Children often say, “But I didn’t mean to.” They need to know that those words don’t excuse their actions. Whether they meant to, or not, their actions hurt or upset another person, and that means they have to genuinely say, “I’m sorry” and fix the mess they created.

3. Don’t Compare Your Kids

Both my kids are talented artists; of course I’m biased. When they were little my older one used pencils as his medium. My younger one would never draw at all because he felt his brother had already taken the “artist” slot. I used to encourage him to draw different things than his brother, but he still felt compared to his brother. Then the younger one found watercolors and exclaimed, “I’m not like brother any more, he draws and I paint!” He found his unique niche.

The next time you’re dealing with sibling issues, whether it’s about sharing or something else, try changing the way you look at things before you respond. You’ll probably see something you can help them discover about themselves along the way to resolving this.


Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and Parenting Skills e-class. Go to to download two free chapters of the book and learn about our flagship big-picture program. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.


29 Responses to “How Sibling Rivalry Helps Kids Prepare for Life”

  1. Betty Baez

    I have a 5 and 4 yr. old who are 10 months apart and lately I feel like all they do is argue and that I should change my title from mom to ref. tip #1 is wonderful I have been at my wits end on how to resolve every fight and argument every day, this just started recently and I haven't had anyone to ask advice from. Today was so stressful and I really needed this, now i feel like I'm prepared for tomorrow thank you!

  2. Shari Lynn Alligood

    I was glad to have had a mother who helped my sister & I with our sibling rivalry when we were growing up, now all the stories we tell our own children make for great family get togethers & teaching lessons.

  3. miriama

    I am an only child so the whole sibling thing is fascinating to me. My husband is one of five children and he was great at pointing out to me how most of their fights were normal. I would stress out so much worrying about their relationship. They are so different and will always disagree about things but I have also noted that there is a close bond between them.

  4. Abby B.

    I loved reading your thoughts on this topic. I am one of three children, my husband is one of two and all 5 of us are the closest of friends now. The boys still fight and wrestle like no other, but I am so glad that we are friends as adults because we were forced to like each other as kids 🙂

  5. Holly

    I enjoyed reading your article and as a mother of five, you are dead on the money! If there's one thing I've done, it's been to teach my kids that they all have one another for better or worse, hopefully better. They are all close in spite of their ages, genders, twins or not!

  6. Ehenratgeber

    You are right on with this lesson. You touched on a point that is central to making the difference between destructive and beneficial rivalry but you did not address it. Favoritism is the key, if you as a parent show favoritism you are on the other side and the child will not only grow to resent his sibling and you but will always question his own worth.

  7. Maria Connie

    Nice article. Sometimes it can be the parents fault for the way their children act towards one another. Its sad but there are parents who do favor one child over another.

  8. Kari

    Great article! We have four kids (11, 13, 15, and 19) so we definitely have our share of sibling rivalry. They can fuss and fight with each other like nobody's business. But, if someone else messes with one of them, they are right there to stick up for them. I think to myself all the time how glad I am that they will always have each other.

  9. Veronica R

    Great article! I really needed this right now because my 3 year old and 5 year old constantly fight and it is driving my crazy. I am going to try these steps listed above.

  10. dpapsis2

    There are some good points made in this article. I would add parents should lead by example.

  11. Kathlean Owens

    I had 5 older brothers and a little sister. My parents did have favorites (if that doesn't cause sibling rivalry, nothing will!) I only have two kids who are as different as peanut butter and jelly. I have no idea what I did, but my kids love each other and have never fought or had this sibling rivalry. I feel so lucky or blessed because of it. Honestly, sometimes I'm jealous of the love they have for each other and wish I could have a relationship like my kids have with at least one of my brothers or sister.

  12. connie elaine

    I was a middle child and it taught me alot ..about how to get along with people younger and older then myself …also that now argument is worth getting into that will ruin your relation with someone who will stand by you in life and that it takes more energy to hate someone then it does to forgive them …..not forgiving them you only hurt yourself by dwelling on the anger that robs you from so mufh happiness ….God Bless //////////

  13. rebeka deleon

    my kids are only a year and a half apart so they always fight over everything. I feel as they get a little older, it will be easier to make them understand about taking turns and sharing.

  14. jacqueline

    it really helps kids to work with others at a young age. they realize that there is give and take in life and that you can't have everything and that you need to share.

  15. @DoreenFerretti

    My sister and I were very different people with different personalities and clashed pretty often. She was more arts/music oriented and I ended up more sports/leadership oriented. We had a hard time understanding one another until we got older and now we are much closer.

  16. brandy

    loved reading your thoughts on this topic. I am one of three children, my husband is one of two and all 5 of us are the closest of friends now. The boys still fight like no other, but I am glad that we are friends.

  17. kenia

    Love all your tips. I have 2 year old twins that are starting to fight for everything. I separate them and have them hug so they can make up. I will try some of your tips =] Thanks for everything

  18. Angie

    I have 2 kids who are like night and day…and it is SO hard sometimes not to compare them. I have really made an effort to praise them for their individual strengths. Now the fighting with each other….still working on not intervening so much…lol. Great article!

  19. tamarsw

    This is definitely one of the scariest things for me. My son is 3 and loves his 3 week old sister, but I can imagine it will get worse. My husband had a pretty good relationship with his little sister (also 3 years his junior) and yet I had a pretty awful relationship growing up with my sister who was 2 years younger. Mom and dad would intermediate, but no comparisons were made. SO tricky… so dreadful.

  20. jeunese

    I agree with this post. Sibling rivalry teaches kids that everyone has different ideas and ways of thinking. It teaches them to compromise and that they have competition at bay!!

  21. Kaitlin

    I so agree with this. If I would have been an only child I don't think I would have been prepared for life as I grew up.

  22. julieh

    I have twins and they fight constantly. I do think the sibling rivalry will teach them how to deal with frustration, which life is full of.

  23. Prerna Mahtani

    I am the youngest out of 3 children, and though we all are adults we live in the same household. Not to mention the bickering and fighting that goes on amongst us. But we understand that even if we fight, we will will get over it by the next morning. Our parents, however, end up getting angry at us for being so 'unruly' and they tell us how much it hurts them. My father is the youngest amongst 5 brothers and they are all separated now. I guess he just doesn't want us to end up like his family and is thus having us all stay at home.


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