Sibling Rivilary

Arguments between siblings are inevitable. The question many parents face, is
how to best handle the situation?

Sibling rivalry is a normal part of child development. However, it can be frustrating for parents when at one moment their children can be best of friends and then moments later, they behave like the worst of enemies. It can also seem never-ending, starting with a new baby sibling and continuing throughout childhood and the adolescent years.

sibling rivalary

Intervening every time you see your children squabble is not the solution. When you notice them arguing or bickering with each other, and there is no physical aggression or name calling, this is a good time for you to say or do nothing. Let them work things out themselves. The solution they come up with may not seem fair to you, but as long as it’s safe, and both children seem fairly content, it’s best to let them work it out. If you always intervene, you risk creating other problems. Your children may start expecting your help and wait for you to come to the rescue rather than learning to work out problems on their own. There’s also the risk that you inadvertently make it appear to one child that another is always being “protected,” which could foster even more resentment between them. In the same way, rescued children may feel that they can get away with more because they’re always being “saved” by a parent. However, even though you are letting the children work things out themselves, it’s still important to monitor the situation to make sure that emotions are not escalating. When this happens you will need to intervene more directly.


So, what to do?

Avoid showing anger, as anger feeds anger. Disappointment is a better expression. Remember that when you do step in, try to resolve problems with your children, not for them.

Avoid saying –

If he does that again just ignore it – gives the other child indirect permission to misbehave

If you don’t play nice I’ll take it away

I don’t want to hear another word

Try saying –

I can tell from how loud ye’re voices are that somethings wrong/someone’s not happy.

Lets sit down a moment and take a breath – (if they start to tell their side of the argument, gently stop them until everyone has had a breath and calmed down).

I have a few ideas on what might help, do you have any?


Don’t put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame. It takes two to fight, so anyone who’s involved is partly responsible. Say exactly what you saw and heard. Check if you’ve got it right. Most importantly try to stay really calm. How arguments are resolved can often lead to one child feeling second best. This may not be the reality of the situation, but this is how they may feel –  their sibling is receiving preferential treatment. To avoid this situation, insure that everyone has equal time to speak. Next, try to set up a “win-win” situation so that each child gains something. When they both want the same toy, perhaps there’s a game they could play together instead. Maybe you could join the game, for a short time.

If you do decide to set a consequence for their behaviour, then discipline all involved evenly. It’s best to make this an immediate consequence, especially with young children who won’t have a good concept of time. Once the incident is over then everyone should move on with their day. Avoid referring to the squabble, but rather try to focus, and comment, on their positive/good behaviours, especially when it involves one of their siblings.

And finally accept that you don’t always have to be the person to intervene.  Parenting can be tough and very emotionally draining. So when your own fuse is getting short, consider handing the reins over to someone else whose patience may be greater at that moment.

Helen O Brien holds a Higher Diploma in
Non-Directive Play Therapy, as well as a BA (Hons)
Degree in Psychology, a Montessori Teaching
Diploma and a Life and Executive Coaching
Diploma. She’s a member of the Irish Play Therapy
Association and works according to their Ethical Framework.

If you know a child whom you feel would benefit
from play therapy, please contact Helen at or call her on
0868157873. She is happy to discuss any potential
referrals over the phone.


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