How Encourage Sibling Friendship, Not Rivalry

Siblings getting along can make family life peaceful.
Siblings getting along can make family life peaceful.

Brothers and sisters share a relationship that can be both stormy and beneficial. This article looks closely at what a parent can do to limit the rivalry and help siblings live peacefully together and foster the bonds of friendship between them.

There will probably always be fighting to some extent between siblings, at least while they are under the same roof, but there are clear cut methods for a parent to follow to avoid fanning the fire of competition and anger between their children.

Interview With Author Michael Grose

Sibling rivalry can make family life stressful day after day.
Sibling rivalry can make family life stressful day after day.

The Basics for Minimizing Sibling Rivalry

You may have imagined that your children would be the best of friends only to discover over time that they spend most of their time competing with each other for your attention. The best way to curtail this behavior is to avoid comparing them and using great care when praising each child for their accomplishments.

Don't Compare: This may seem like an easy task. You may even be sure that you don't ever make comparisons. The simplest comparison such as "Why won't you eat your broccoli? Your brother finished all of his," can spark the flames or rivalry in your children. Whatever you need to say to your child can be said directly, without including a reference to a sibling.

Labels: We all know that labels are damaging. We are labeled at a very young age by teachers and parents as the smart one, the class clown, the social butterfly. These labels make the "smart one" feel ugly and the pretty one" feel dumb. Avoid labeling. Let your children surprise you! Think about how you were labeled as a kid. Do you remember how that effected you? It is quite possible that one person saying that you were logical but not creative (or some other variation) could have effected some of the major choices you made for your life.

What about hurtful behavior?

Many experts say that you should stay out of it and let your children work things out. I agree, but only to an extent. If one child is hurting another emotionally or physically, it needs to be stopped. Stop the activity in an indifferent manner (don't take sides). Keep your cool. Don't add fuel to the sibling fire or even ask what happened. If one child attacks another, attend to the hurt child immediately. .

Reflect their feelings back to them by observing and stating what you see.

  • "You are really frustrated."
  • "A comment like that can really make you mad, huh?"
  • "You don't like when I spend time with your sister."

Children need to have their feelings acknowledged. Help them find a positive solution for the issue and allow them to express their negative feelings in an acceptable way with words.

Praise: Children will often view praise of a sibling as a "put-down" of themselves. Save your comments of praise for a private moment with your child. You can still make observations and describe what your child has accomplished; such as "You practiced so hard for that game" or "you must feel so good about winning."

Parents can help siblings learn to get along by not comparing them to each other.
Parents can help siblings learn to get along by not comparing them to each other.

Sibling Love

Nurturing a friendship between your children is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Recognizing the role that we as parents play in our children's rivalry is essential to their healthy relationship with each other. Letting them know that you couldn't possibly have a favorite child, that you love them all - not equally- but fully and uniquely will give them confidence and security in their relationship with you.

Brothers and sisters can be best friends (or at the very least, peaceful roommates) making family life more enjoyable and fulfilling for all members. If you are now experiencing the stress of constant fighting in your home, there is hope! You can make it better. It may not be easy and your children will likely still argue on occasion, but it is possible for them to have some fun along the way. Someday, you may even catch them snuggled up together.

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Comments 37 comments

Lissie profile image

Lissie 8 years ago from New Zealand

My advice would be to consider the age gap: my brother stopped adding to his family when he realised the next child would be 4 years younger. Hes 5.5 years younger than me and we pretty much fought: physically until he got old enough to win - from my age of about 5 to 14 or so. Then we ignored each other. When I was about 25 and he was about 21 we were both unemployed and home for a few weeks over Xmas and talked and drank together and became friends - and have been for the last 20 odd years. Your pictures say it all - the kids are close in age - I can assure you that if you are 10 and brother is 5 you have nothing in common!


Nicole Winter profile image

Nicole Winter 8 years ago from Chicago, IL

Awesome article, amy jane, I really enjoyed reading it. I'm hoping to have another child eventually, but the age range is going to be a pretty wide gap, (my daughter is six now, I won't have another child for at least three more years,) so I'm looking forward to seeing what kind sibling rivalry issues I'll have to deal with.


PenmanZee profile image

PenmanZee 8 years ago

Good points AJ. I've tried to be aware is the points you raise above and it makes a difference. Intersting how rivalry and love can co-exist. My daughters, five and a half years apart, could be in the middle of a fight. When I yell at one I'm always amazed how the other will come to her defense.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Hi Lissie, I had a similar experience with my own brother, who is 4 years older than me. He didn't speak to me for themajority of his teenage years. When we were both in our 20's we became close and have remained so ever since. I have a sister who is 5 years younger, and we have always been close, so I think it depends a lot on birth position! Thanks so much for sharing. :)


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Hi Nicole, thanks so much! I think it will be very interesting to see what kind of issues your children will have with that amount of space between them. I don't think it is a bad thing. Just think, you will be able to give the newest attention almost as much attention as you give your first born now. Most second children don't get that, because the older sibling is still young enough to need constant attention from mom. My niece and nephew are 11 years apart - and they still manage to find things to fight about! Sibling rivalry is just so natural, it seems. Thanks for reading. :)

Hi Penanzee, it is so amazing how love / rivalry coexist in sibling relationships! My girls will fight like crazy too, but would defend eachother to any outsider. Thanks for reading, nice to see you around here again!


In The Doghouse profile image

In The Doghouse 8 years ago from California

amy,

Sibling rivalry is something that has existed from the beginning of time. Even father Adam suffered with the problem between Cain and Abel. All through the bible we are given examples of sibling rivalry. Isaac and Ishmael (and that rivalry is still brooding), Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers... and so on and so on. Coming to understand who we are and how we fit into the full picture is another way to help with this relationship problems in a family. This is actually a life long process.

These additional bits of advice are great to try and reduce the consequences of negativity that can be a part of sibling rivalry, but ultimately IMHO I think it will only happen as the child becomes happy with their self, which is part of growing up.

Great insights.


nikoandbeauty profile image

nikoandbeauty 8 years ago from MEX

I think love among brothers and sisters is the best. I have 3 sisters and along these years we had a great relationship. I love them.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Hi InTheDoghouse! I agree that sibling issues have been around since the beginning. I always think of Jacob, passing on the bad habit of favoritism to his sons and in a sense fueling the hatred of Joseph's brothers. Thanks for adding your insights. :)

Nikoandbeauty, you are very lucky! Not all brothers and sisters get along as children or as adults. When siblings do get along, the benefits are wonderful! Thanks for reading and commenting.


robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Hi AmyJane--I'm an only child so I felt a little like Margaret Meade visiting Samoa reading this:-) I had two boys four years apart though and got a taste of sibling stuff second hand from raising them. I'm not sure I was good at handlling it as it was terra incognita for me. Good advice here, thoughtfully delivered and delightfully written as usual.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Hi Robie, I guess it is a different perspective when you are an only child. My husband is an only child also and he has trouble understanding why our girls fight so much (but is learning). Birth order is a big deal as well, in my opinion. Thanks for reading and commenting!


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

Age difference does make a difference! My husband is the middle child of 7. The oldest 3 are one family, and the bottom 3 were another and he was left "out." Now, they all love each other, yet some don't act like it...but he did experience being different. Having known them all, I can say he's the closest to the younger ones, but he was very different than them all in personality and habits.

Family love is something that has to be taught, with large doses of respect for differences.

Good hub, amy jane... good information =)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Your Hub touched me to the core, Amy Jane.  I am an only child.  I always wanted a sister, and because I wanted that so much I could not understand why sisters fight with each other.  I saw that fighting all around me, in my extended family and among my friends.  When sisters fought, I wanted to bash their brains in for being ungrateful to have each other.

If I had an older sister, she'd be my idol.  If I had a younger sister, she'd be my baby.  If I had a sister twin, she'd be my soul mate.  I can say this from the distance of wishing for but never having had a sister.

My heart breaks when I see siblings come to fractious relationships in later years.  I hope that your readers who are parents take your words to heart and refrain from pitting one child against another, in either blatent or subtle ways.  And I hope your readers who are grown siblings with unhappy relationships with each other re-examine the sources of their disparities.

Twenty years from now, I want to read Hubs on parenting written by your children.  I think those Hubs will be at the top of the *Best* category.

Warm regards, Sally


dayzeebee profile image

dayzeebee 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Thumbs up amy. your hubs are always valuable. i know this topic too well having 8 siblings to contend with. comparisons and labels were quite "normal" during those days. i'm just glad that now as adults we love coming together to keep each other updated. the bonus is when one is in trouble everyone goes to the person in need with their respective families in tow. support is ever present. i guess with age comes wisdom to let go of rivalry and embrace unity.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Hi Amy,

This is an insightful hub. I am the eldest of 4 and the only girl. I think most of our fights during my younger years was because they wouldn't let me play with them. "This is a boy's game, girls not included." LOL I long to have a sister so I could talk and do girl stuff...now I have dayzeebee. :) Thank goodness...


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Thank you for all the wonderful comments - I have all my hub angels in a row here! How cool!

Marisue - large doses of respect for differences - I love that. :)

Sally, thank you so much for sharing. It is so sad to see siblings hating each other, but it is common, unfortunately. I have an older brother (my hero) and a younger sister (my baby) and I consider myself extremely blessed to have them. :)

Dayzee, I cannot imagine dealing with 8 siblings! I bet getting together must be a big party though, if everyone gets along!

Michelle, my brother used to leave me out of his games too and it really upset me as a child! I would follow him around and he hated it. I'm glad you have found your "sister" in dayzeebee! :)


Cailin Gallagher profile image

Cailin Gallagher 8 years ago from New England

Very helpful article. My mother suffers from BPD. One of their classic strategies is "splitting" relationships. My younger sister and I have no relationship due to the years of pitting us against each other. *sigh* My two brothers and I have managed to overcome this through an understanding of her condition. I am vigilant in fostering sibling understanding with my three children because of my experience. I try to make them practice civility, fairness, and understanding with each other.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Hi Cailin, I'm sorry to hear that you and your sisterhave no relationship - I hope that will change someday. Being aware of how we were affected and influenced as children can really make a difference in our own parenting. Thank you so much for sharing your story.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

HI Amy, and just like any sisters dayzeebee and I have our "fights" too. LOL But we get along most of the time and I get to experience stuff that sisters do! :)


Pam Pounds profile image

Pam Pounds 8 years ago from So Cal Girl in the Midwest!

Thanks, Amy - nice hub.

When we were kids, I fought with my brother and sister. While we still have differences from time to time - today we love each other dearly, and we know we can count on one another. Perhaps what helps, is that we all three live in different states! Oh, but how I wish that wasn't the case.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Hi Michelle, it sounds like you two act like sisters in many ways! As long as you can always resolve your differences... :)

Hi Pam, thanks for reading and commenting. I live in a different state than my brother and sister as well (but I do wish we lived closer). It does limit the fighting though. :)


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

I was just reading this again, as I was thinking about how glad I am that I have an older brother.  When I was in my twenties, he was traveling the world, I always loved him and admired him.  We are good friends, I'm so glad he's there.  I always want my own boys to be there for each other.  When life is ruff, there is only your "bestest" friends and your family/siblings.  parents don't live forever...kids need each other!! =)

I tried to show my boys they were all loved as the individuals they are. I hope it connected.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

I agree - kids do need each other! I have always looked up to my big brother too. My dad always emphasised the importance of siblings when we were growing up. I don't think I understood him then, but I do now! I'm sure your boys "got it." I hope my girls do too!


solarshingles profile image

solarshingles 8 years ago from london

Amy, ask me about sibling love and rivalry...we had constant fights with my two younger brothers, but if we weren't together we all felt very lonely:) Poor mother and father of such energetic, demanding and naughty kids...


amy jane profile image

amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut Author

Ervin, that sounds like my house - I thought girls would be easier - not as rough with eachother, but I was wrong! It is so true that sibling love and rivalry go hand in hand. It is a constant love / hate relationship for many.


Matthew Cepican profile image

Matthew Cepican 7 years ago

Wow, great hub! I am the middle of 5 kids, very interesting!


amy jane profile image

amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut Author

Thanks Matthew - stuck in the middle, just like me. :) Hopefully lots of siblings means lots of fun too...thanks for reading!


Patricia Costanzo profile image

Patricia Costanzo 7 years ago from Behind the Redwood Curtain

Thanks for the info Amy Jane! Right now I'm feeling blessed that my kids (boy 2.5 and girl 6.5) get along so well. Usually screaming = Sissy is trying to kiss Nico and he doesn't like it! My daughter actually fights a lot more with her same age daycare "sister."


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

Fascinating article!

I'm not sure age gap is crucial. I'm one of four, fairly close in age - we are now 31, 29, 25, and 23. My other half is 30, and his only sibling, a brother is 23.

Both of us have great relationships with our siblings.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Though I have two sisters and a brother I was born so late in my parents life that I was raised an only child. So when I see my children act so hateful to each other, it rips my heart out. I know that deep down they love each other - it comes out when one gets seriously ill or hurt, but other than that they act like they hate each other. Part of the reason is learning to share and get along in a small house. But they are finding out ways by themselves to work together. They found that if they join forces in a particular video game instead of yelling "My turn" all the time, they are getting further and helping each other. Now they are coming up with potentially good ideas on how each can have their own space. Only when the arguments turn downright hateful and mean or physical do I step in. I'm hoping to see close relationships develop as they get older and learn to appreciate each other. I never had that chance.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut Author

Thank you all for commenting! It's great to hear how everyone's sibling relationships work...and hopefully work out well in different ways. What works for one group of siblings may not work for another, but nuturing this valuable relationship is worth every effort!


Satyam7 profile image

Satyam7 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

thanks for sharing. It will be good if sisters and brothers cultivate a good relationship.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut Author

Thanks Satyam7 - I agree!


Elynjo profile image

Elynjo 7 years ago from Sin City

I have a brother and a sister and the three of us are best of friends. We go out together and their friends are my friends too. I am the eldest, my sister is 4 years younger and our brother is the youngest. For some wonderful reason we seem to like the same things and we really have a solid fun relationship. When we disagree on something, we usually compromised, not fight.


amy jane profile image

amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut Author

I think you are very lucky to have such a great relationship with your siblings! That is the hope of every parent - to see their kids have a strong friendship throughout their lives!


The Blagsmith profile image

The Blagsmith 5 years ago from Britain

Every so often a hub really grabs me and kicks me up the proverbial backside. Your hub is more specific as the greatest legacy I want to leave my children is them learning to share and support my children instead of them fighting. I have come up with inducements as mentioned in my hub - Superpowers: Learning to Share.

However, my hub is only a slight fix that requires a lot of effort from the children. the biggest problem is me, as the father I need to follow some of the tips outlined throughout these great nuggets of wisdom. I now realise it is the effort I make will that will have more impact.

Thank you very much, I will return to further engross myself in this hub so I can saturate my behaviour through our two boys.


kelleyward 4 years ago

Awesome hub! I have 3 boys and so far they pretty much love each other most of the time. I think it is so important to not compare your children and that is one thing my husband and I are aware of doing and it has made a difference in our family. Thanks!


Elyse 4 years ago

I'm 50 - and am 1 of 6 - I'm a twin (a sister) - my one sister who is 55 has always been rude to me - saying the rudest things - and I've always just fumed about it and never said anything - but in the last 2 years - I fume about it and then refuse to go to family get togethers - I've told her that the things she says are rude only one time months after it happened (she told my youngest son to knock off the crying at my Uncle's funeral - because her kids weren't crying - and she's a psychologist - she never apologized - she just rolled her eyes ... I want a relationship with her - I know that from now on - I'm going to call her out on things when they happen - my other siblings just say "that's how she is" and ignore her - I can't ... any suggestions.

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