Tag Archive for sibling rivalry

Our Longest Relationship & Our Happiness, Part 2

In Our Longest Relationship and Our Happiness, we discussed our longest relationship, the relationship with our siblings. Our siblings know us as children, adolescents, single adults, married adults, and possibly widowed adults. They have known us, and we have known them, for a lifetime. Even more, sibling relationships, beginning in childhood, form a training ground for all kinds of other relationships in our lives. As adults, our siblings can provide guidance and insight as well as fun times and companionship in our lives. To keep those relationships strong in spite of the passage of time and physical distance, practice these tips.

  • Reach out. Take the initiative to reach out to your sibling. Reaching out to your sibling is an expression of love. It communicates how much you value them and their relationship.
  • Share your life with your sibling. Talk about the “happenings” in your life. Share stories about activities, relationships, and interests. Take a deep breath and courageously talk about some of the struggles in your life as well. Share your disappointments and sorrows. People grow closer by sharing themselves with one another.
  • If you do something that hurts your sibling, either knowingly or unknowingly, apologize. See the hurt from their perspective. Apologize and determine not to do it again.
  • When your sibling talks about their struggles and disappointment, don’t try to “fix” it. Simply be available and listen. If they need a professional counselor, they will get one. They need us to be their sibling, a person who will be available, listen, and understand. After you have listened, they may ask for advice. Then you can share ideas and talk about possibilities.
  • If you and your sibling have grown apart over the years but are now reuniting, start slow. Start off with small talk. Avoid touchy subjects. Enjoy memories. Enjoy your different perspectives. It’s alright to have differences. Allow those differences and celebrate them. They may contribute to growth in both you and your sibling.

I do offer one caveat. Sometimes we need to maintain distance and strong boundaries with siblings for our own mental health. There could be a number of reasons for this. It is unfortunate, but the truth for many people. If this is the case in your sibling relationships, I encourage you to maintain those boundaries and continue to grow as an individual. Find good friends who can become your “adopted siblings” and offer you the support you need. Even with your newly formed “friend siblings” you can use the practices above to deepen your relationships for a lifetime.

Our Longest Relationship & Our Happiness

Think for a moment. With whom will you have the longest relationship during your life? No, not our parents—they pass away before becoming the ones to know us the longest. Not even your spouse—we didn’t meet them until we became adults. It’s our siblings. Our siblings know us as children, adolescents, single adults, married adults, and possibly even widowed adults. They know us, and we have known them, for a lifetime. Even more, sibling relationships, beginning in childhood, form a training ground of sorts for learning about all kinds of other relationships in our lives. Is it any wonder, then, that our sibling relationships can make us happier or sadder?

With that in mind, we want to promote positive relationships among siblings when they are children. We want to help our children establish sibling relationships as children that will provide a lifetime of support, encouragement, and guidance. As parents, how can we do that?

  1. Keep your marriage strong. A strong, healthy marriage creates a secure, loving home. When children see their parents in a healthy relationship, they feel safer. They feel greater love and less fear of loss. They can also model their relationship with their siblings after the healthy relationships they see between their parents. Keep your marriage strong.
  2. Avoid favoritism. Each child has unique strengths and interests as well as unique needs and personalities. Love each one. Spend time with each child. Discover their strengths and nurture them. Encourage and support each child in their endeavors. Of course, many children believe “my little brother/sister gets away with everything” and “my older brother/sister gets to do more than me.” I haven’t discovered a way to avoid that perception. In spite of that misperception, you can love your children equally.
  3. Promote family activities. Create opportunities for your family to have fun together. Share ideas, stories, and dreams as you share family meals together. Enjoy family vacations. Schedule fun family outings. Family activities are a wonderful time to develop sibling relationships and to let the whole family express love for one another.
  4. Encourage your children to support one another but also allow them to have their individual lives. This is a bit of a balancing act. It is important for each person to have the opportunity to pursue their individual interests and strengths, their own lives. And it is important for each person to encourage one another in their pursuit of their personal interests. Model doing both in your marriage and in your relationship with your children.
  5. Give your children time to resolve their own disagreements. Sibling disagreements and arguments teach our children important skills. Before stepping in, give them time to work things out on their own.

These four practices will lay the groundwork for sibling relationships that focus on encouraging and supporting one another for a lifetime. They will help your children develop sibling relationships that can bring joy, comfort, and happiness to one another for a lifetime.

But what if you are an adult…how can you continue to nurture a positive relationship with your sibling? And what if you do not have a positive relationship with your sibling? How can you develop a closer relationship with your sibling? Stay tuned for our next blog to get some answers to these questions and more.

Turn Sibling Fights Into Life-Long Skills

Siblings fight. It’s true. They argue. They disagree. They bicker. They have spats. No matter how you choose to say it, siblings fight. And it’s a good thing they do. Disagreeing and arguing helps our children learn important life-long skills like listening, negotiating, compromising, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. (Read Sibling Rivalry-The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly to learn more.) How you respond to their arguments can help or hinder those skills from developing.  For the sake our children, here is a four-step process you can use to help your children learn some important life-long skills.

  1. Set up the game rules ahead of time. Good disagreements involve rules that promote good communication. Set these rules up ahead of time. The rules will include things like no interrupting, no shouting, no name-calling, no insulting and listen, speak kindly, use a calm tone of voice, and be respectful. Your job as a parent is to help your children stick to the rules while disagreeing. Having simple, clear rules will help you do this. You might even write them on a piece of paper and label them “The Good Fight Rules.”
  2. Say your piece…one at a time. Let each child explain what he or she sees as the problem. They will have to take turns to do this and abide by the rules determined earlier.  You will hear two different perspectives in which your children differ about the main issue. You may discover various triggers for the disagreement as well. The children will learn how their behavior impacts others. They will learn that each person may see the world in a different way. As a parent, don’t get caught up in what sounds like irrational reasons for arguments. The goal is to help each child voice their perspective and hear their sibling’s perspective. 
  3. Consider each perspective. Help your children consider not only their own but the other person’s feelings. Label those feelings. Encourage each child to consider how their words and actions impacted their sibling’s feelings. This can help them build empathy. Let them repeat what their sibling described in step number 2. This will help them learn to listen accurately.
  4. Come up with a solution. In the first three steps your children learned to share, listen, respect, and show empathy. Now they can begin to problem-solve. You can help mediate their discussion. But, let them come up with the solution. You’ll be surprised at their creativity and insight in problem-solving.

Children can start learning this process at a surprising young age, as early as 4 or 5-years-old. So, start young. As you practice this process with your children, they will gain life-long skills by arguing with their sibling, skills that will help them in all their relationships and life situations, even as adults. So follow these tips and you can Count It All Joy When Siblings Fight….

Sibling Rivalry–The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Siblings argue. They have disagreements that escalate to yelling and screaming…maybe even name calling, pushing, and physical aggression. Not all sibling rivalry is bad. Some of it is good…and some is downright ugly. Take a moment to consider the good, the bad, and the ugly of sibling rivalry.

kids arguing 5 and 6 years old

Some sibling rivalry is good. As long as the argument gets resolved and the conflict does not become abusive, sibling rivalry, competition, arguments, and even minor fights can result in positive growth…especially with adult coaching. Consider some of these areas of potential growth:

  • Sibling rivalry and conflict can increase children’s self-control. In the midst of anger and frustration, siblings can learn to stay calm or walk away rather than hit and scream.
  • Sibling rivalry increases effective emotional expression. Siblings learn how to express their emotions in a way that increases the chance of being heard during a conflict.
  • Sibling rivalry teaches conflict resolution skills like listening, negotiation, and compromise.
  • Sibling rivalry accelerates the learning of social understanding—the awareness of other people’s emotions, the ability to “read” another person’s facial expressions, the knowledge of when to quit “pushing” your point and walk away, and the ability to empathize with another person’s point of view.
  • Sibling rivalry provides opportunities to learn positive problem-solving skills, skills that can lead to a “win-win” for each person involved.
  • Sibling rivalry also teaches that a person does not always get their way. As much as I hate to admit it, life is not fair. Parents strive to find fairness for their children, but sometimes it just does not happen. Sibling rivalry is one way in which children learn to cope with the minor breeches in fairness they will experience throughout life.


Sibling rivalry can, however, escalate to the bad category. Once sibling rivalry escalates, parents may need to become involved and teach their children the skills necessary to resolve the conflict.

  • Sibling rivalry becomes bad when the loud, intrusive, and inappropriate behavior of children in the midst of conflict begins to interfere with other people’s life or experience. For instance, children’s behavior in the midst of conflict may interfere with a parent’s desire for peace and calm in a house…or exacerbate an already aching head…or interfere with a parent’s need to complete some task. In public, sibling rivalry may create discomfort for the family or other people in close vicinity to the conflict. You can see this happen in restaurants or parks when siblings engage in loud and intrusive conflict. Public episodes of sibling rivalry can build a reputation of disrespect, selfishness, or poor emotional control. A parent can respond to public incidents of sibling rivalry by removing their children from the public forum and taking them to a more private setting. In addition, parents need to take the time to teach their children to remain aware of those around them and to consider the impact their behavior has on those around them.
  • Sibling rivalry also moves into the bad category when siblings get stuck in the same argument over and over with no apparent resolution. Parents can step into these situations and teach their children problem solving skills. Help the children learn to calm themselves, listen to one another, actively seek to understand each other, identify each other’s needs, and brainstorm mutually acceptable solutions.


Finally, sibling rivalry can get ugly. Parents must step in for the safety of the children involved.

  • Sibling rivalry gets ugly when it escalates to physical or verbal violence. When either sibling becomes abusive of the other, parents must get involved. To assure that all involved parties are safe, the parent may have to separate the siblings and allow them a “cooling off” period. After the siblings have cooled off, parents can bring them together and help them work to resolve the conflict. In addition, parents can set up some basic ground rules for all conflict–guidelines like no name-calling, no physical aggression, and a “hands-off” policy. Guidelines may also include knowing when to walk away and allow one another to calm down.


Sibling rivalry—the good, the bad and the ugly. A parent’s job is to keep sibling rivalry in the realm of “the good” as much as possible. A parent who does this will eventually enjoy the benefits of children who know how to resolve conflict, listen, negotiate, and compromise.

Count It All Joy When Siblings Fight…

Sometimes it drives me crazy to hear my kids fighting (btw—my family says that crazy is only a putt away for me, not a drive). At any rate, I hear one daughter yelling at the other and the other daughter forcefully (albeit quietly) stating her case. It is enough to promote loss of hair. But, sibling rivalry really can produce several positive outcomes. That’s right; sibling disagreements, arguments, and competitions are actually good! Of course I am not talking about out and out, drag down, sock ’em in the nose, hair pulling battles. We don’t want anyone getting hurt here. However, disagreements, arguments, and even some verbal sparring can produce positive results for our children. Here are just a few:
     ·         Sibling rivalry provides the opportunity for our children to practice negotiation skills. They learn to make their point in a convincing and effective manner. They learn that one’s tone of voice can lead to more or less cooperation and certain words or phrases can increase or decrease cooperation. Siblings in the midst of an argument can learn that listening strengthens one’s stance for negotiation. Sibling rivalry helps each person learn how to disagree and promote a point in a way that can achieve the best result.

·         Sibling rivalry provides the opportunity to learn about compromise. Through sibling conflict, siblings learn the art of compromise as well has how to show the honor and grace inherent in compromise.

·         Sibling rivalry builds competence in problem-solving, both as an individual and as part of a group. Whether a person learns how to compromise, how to negotiate, or how to make a strong point, problem-solving skills grow stronger. All parties learn to work out their differences and reach some level of resolution, even if that means agreeing to disagree and learning how to do that.

·         Sibling rivalry helps define individual identities. Each child has to find their place in the family–their role, their purpose, their identity. Sibling rivalry helps each child do that.

·         Ironically, sibling rivalry actually helps to build family cohesiveness. As siblings argue and compete, they learn about one another. They learn to appreciate one another’s strengths and abilities. As siblings learn to negotiate and compromise, they come to respect one another and look out for one another’s interests. When siblings learn to share honor and grace even amidst the rivalry, they learn to love one another more deeply. All of this helps to build family cohesiveness and intimacy.
Count it all joy when siblings disagree, argue, compete and engage in all sorts of rivalry…well, maybe I’m stretching too far there; but, here are three ways parents can influence sibling rivalry for the best.
     ·         Model healthy rivalry in your own relationships. When you have a disagreement with your spouse, model honor and grace. When you argue with your spouse or a friend, let your children observe how carefully you listen before speaking. Model speech and action during conflict with your children that reveal humility on your part as you work toward resolution.

·         Coach your children in the art of disagreement and rivalry. Offer suggestions on how to phrase things in a more honorable manner. Give hints on how speech can influence resolution. Teach your children how listening can increase our understanding of the other person and the problem, leading to a better compromise.

·         Acknowledge each of your children’s strengths and abilities. Do not compare children with one another. Instead, encourage their different interests and abilities. Let each of your children know that they hold a special value in your eyes, a value based on their specific person. This can help limit their need to compete for your attention or for their place in the family. Instead, each will know they hold a special place already.
So, are you ready to ruummmmble? No, just joking. No rumbling please. But, a little bit of sibling rivalry can go a long way in producing mature children, especially when parents model and coach positive conflict skills while acknowledging each child’s individual strengths.

3 Parenting Skills to End Sibling Conflict

“Help. All my kids do is fight. There is constant conflict. What can I do?” If that sounds like your house, learn to R.A.P. No, I am not talking about learning to speak rhythmically against a background of rhythm instruments while practicing hip hop moves. My children would die of embarrassment if I tried. No, I’m not talking about a musical rap; I’m talking about three parenting skills that can reduce rivalry, competition, and jealousy between your child and their siblings or their peers. The acronym R.A.P. might help us remember these three skills. Let’s look at each one and see how they can help reduce conflict in the home.
  • Recognize each child’s unique contribution to your family and the world. Every child has unique strengths and abilities. Take time to notice those strengths and abilities. Notice what they do well. Pay attention to what brings them joy. Add those things that bring joy to your child into your interactions with him. Take time to notice what troubles your child as well. Observe what circumstances increase their stress. Help protect them from those situations that trouble them by teaching them coping skills, standing by them to resolve conflicts, or making appropriate changes. Recognize and acknowledge the actions, words, and behaviors that you admire in your child. 
  • Accept your child just as they are. Appreciate them for their unique personality. Acceptance and appreciation build a sense of security in your child. This sense of security promotes honesty as opposed to rivalry. Appreciating each child also gives them a sense of significance. It teaches them that their efforts make a difference; their actions in this world are meaningful. Remember, in order to truly feel appreciated, your child must first know you accept them. Without acceptance, verbal appreciation may come across as manipulation. Also don’t forget to appreciate effort above accomplishment. Let your children know that you accept them whether they successfully accomplish the goal or not. Accept them for who they are and acknowledge that their effort has an impact.
  • Peace keeper: work to maintain peace in your child’s world. Resolve conflicts and differences between your child and yourself. Teach your child to resolve conflicts with his or her siblings. Encourage your child to resolve conflicts and differences they have with peers. Peace-keeping demands that you model and teach negotiation skills, communication skills, and the ability to compromise. To the extent that you model peace-keeping and resolve conflicts, your child will experience an inner calm that allows them to learn and grow. Without peaceful relationships and calm resolution skills, you will find your child’s mind spinning, confused, and distracted. Do all you can to live at peace with one another.
Well, that’s a “R.A.P.” –three crucial parenting skills to reduce family conflict: recognize each child, accept each child, and strive to maintain peace. Practicing them is more difficult than writing about them. In fact, we all make mistakes and fall well short of perfection from time to time. But, practice makes perfect…well, practice results in improvement. At any rate, as you practice these roles you will find that fighting decreases and affection increases (in spite of our occasional mistakes)…and that is worth the “R.A.P.”