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Creative Ways to Handle Sibling Rivalry

Updated on April 30, 2013

My kids are 4 and 2. They spend nearly every waking hour together, and as a result, we have encountered LOTS of division – mostly over toys. These are some things that work for us.

Give Them a Common Goal

My kids are scaredy-cats. I have no idea why, but they are scared of everything. Recently, one of our babysitters was laughing about their bedtime prayers, which go something like this: Dear God, please help the bears and dinosaurs not get me tonight. Thank you for helping me not to be afraid of the dark. Please help those bad dreams not to get mixed into the nice ones….

I have tried my best to protect them from the scary stuff and always made them stop pretending the big bad wolf was chasing them. I would say “there are no big bad wolves!” - until my mother-in-law provided some insight. She says that we have lost our sense of bravery and courage. These days our enemies are invisible - the War on Terror is a good example. “Back in the day” (her phrase, not mine :)), the enemy was easily discernible. The bad guys wore uniforms that did not match ours. They inspired people to make personal and deep sacrifices in exchange for freedom.

If there are no bad guys or big bad wolves, then how will we teach the virtues of bravery and courage?

As a result, I’ve gone back to letting them pretend they are running from giants. And this has turned into a very easy way to help them play together. They have a common goal: to defeat the giant. They can build a fort together to hide from the bad guys. Or one of them can stand guard to “fight the bad wolf and save” their sibling. Or they can just run and run and run around the yard or in the house imagining great escapes from sharks or dinosaurs. Recently, my son dropped one of his stuffed animals as he was running from “the bad guy”. He stopped to pick it up, and his sister went back to help him. Never leave a fallen comrade; it was a fun conversation starter.

It is not hard to find a common goal for your kids. Just come up with an “enemy” and let them work together to beat it. The “enemy” doesn’t have to always be the big bad wolf. It can be a timer, Daddy, dirty walls, Canada geese, or anything!


Here are some of our favorite examples:

  • Let them work together to push Daddy out of bed or to get something hidden out of his hand or to tickle him until he laughs or to give him a “back rub” with matchbox cars. Daddy is by far the best “toy” in the whole house!
  • Race against the timer to put all the toys back in the toy box.
  • Give them each a spray bottle and rag while they are taking a bath and let them “destroy all those pesky germs” on the sides of the tub. The spray bottle is also fun for cleaning the chalkboard-paint wall or the sticky spot on the floor.
  • Give them a stack of paper and have them squish each sheet into a ball for a family snowball fight (parents against kids is a fun way to divide into teams).
  • Let them run off the Canada geese. I'm sure I'll get parents who stop reading now. I know they can be dangerous, but just watch the video.

Some days, however, they are just not going to play nicely with each other. On those days I either set the timer and each child gets 4 minutes with the coveted toy or I take the toy away altogether and neither gets to play with it.


Don't Make a Big Deal about Being Fair

My son is not able to eat anything with sugar in it. If my daughter is offered a piece of candy at the bank, I politely turn it down. When questioned by her, my response is “we’ll be eating soon” or “we don’t really need sugar right now” or “you can have a different snack at home.” I would not say, “You can’t have it because your brother can’t have it.” That statement introduces the concept of fairness and equality. Those words sound lovely, but they give a false sense of reality. Life is not fair. Life is not equal. We each need to be grateful for exactly what we’ve been given in life and not fight to be equal with someone else. When my daughter is a teenager I’m sure I’ll have to deal with, “But everyone else is doing it.” But for now, that phrase is not in her vocabulary.

“Fairness” and “equality” also introduce the concept of competition. Great in sports, not so great among siblings. I do not want my kids competing against each other. We are all on the same team.

Another note on competition: I’m sure I fail at this more times than I’d like to admit, but I do valiantly attempt to not make my children compete for my attention. Again, we are all on the same team.

Eliminate the Potential Fight

Each night before the kids’ bedtime, we read a story. Mondays and Wednesdays my daughter gets to pick the book. Tuesdays and Thursdays my son gets to pick. The rest of the time I get to pick :) - there ARE advantages to being the parent! I know they would fight over who gets to choose the book, so I have eliminated this fight before it even starts.

Here comes a tangent: my husband and I used to use this method for determining who would win fights. If we were fighting on an odd day of the month, I won the fight. He won on the even days :) For the most part fighting is useless anyway, so we might as well make a childish game out of it!


Acknowledge the Good

Kids are amazing. They have the unique ability of having exactly the same faults as I have but in tiny bodies. I love what I learn from them. And they need to hear that I love them dearly.

  • She needs to know that I saw how hard it was to let her little brother pick his favorite TV show and that I’m proud of her choice.
  • He needs to hear that God has given him a fun personality, and I am grateful when he uses it to help his sister laugh.
  • They need to know I love when they play nicely together and hug each other and sing to each other.

Acknowledge the Bad

I’m not talking about discipline. That is another subject and a very important one. Now I am just talking about making sure your children know you adore them even when they are bad. There’s a verse in Jesus Loves Me that says “Jesus loves me when I’m good, when I do the things I should; Jesus loves me when I’m bad, though it makes Him very sad.” Every single day of their lives I want my children to know that there is nothing they can do to earn more of my love and there is nothing they can do to be denied of my love. They need that security. Just as we need that security! I want them to make good and loving choices because those habits will help THEM in the future, not because it will make me love them any more than I already do.

My kids love each other intensely. They also fight A LOT! I’m glad they fight with each other. It gives me a chance to see their passions and personalities and speak into their little lives before they go out into the world and fight with the giants and big bad wolves.


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