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Managing sibling rivals with tact

Updated on May 1, 2014

By Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

Remember Dallas?

The question “Who shot JR?” creeps into the minds of soap opera buffs the world over, especially since it happened twice.

Dallas, capturing the lawn drawn and often malevolent tussle between two oil magnate brothers, Bobby and his not-so-nice brother, JR, is a tad melodramatic. But it reminds us poignantly about the consequences of sibling rivalry.

We’ve all grown up amid tussles among ourselves and our siblings. Some of these situations are pleasant ones, and others, sadly reminiscent of the fight between the Ewings, perhaps with fewer embellishments.

Fights between brothers and sisters are hardly ever pleasant. Well addressed, it teaches a few things about dealing with relationships.

A family portrait of Admiral Arbuthnot Fisher and his siblings
A family portrait of Admiral Arbuthnot Fisher and his siblings | Source

The nature of sibling rivalry

Most sibling rivalry stems from the perception of a sibling being sidelined in favor of another or others. The achievements of one are usually highlighted and lauded by parents, while those of the other seem to pale in comparison. Of course, it seeds thoughts of perceived unfairness.

There is often the notion of the good child versus the prodigal, who simply refuses to do what he is supposed to. It’s natural for parents to gravitate towards children they deem to be doing what is correct or appropriate.

Jealousy naturally breeds conflict that can be difficult to manage. Situations mirroring those in Dallas aren’t that uncommon, with brothers and sisters fighting incessantly over inheritances.

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How sibling rivalry debilitates

Unchecked rivalry may leave a rogue wave of destruction in its wake.

Extended sibling rivalry can leave behind a sense of needless hatred. Conflicts can lead to torn, dysfunctional and destructive relationships.

In a household where there is a lot of tension, parents are bound to feel the stress. It can also be draining on other members of the family.

If also affects the way siblings perceive themselves. If siblings are raised in a household where parents often praise one in front of the other, the result may be an exaggerated sense of self-importance. A reverse situation doesn’t shore up self-esteem.

If left unchecked, the possibility of vindictive anger and violence is quite real.

Siblings | Source

What sibling rivalry teaches

A little rivalry can teach children that it’s not always possible to get their way. They come to understand that all things, including respect, need to be earned.

Sibling rivalry also teaches children how to disagree agreeably when a conflict occurs. When managed well, siblings can learn to come to compromises.

Children learn to adjust their perceptions of fairness with the help of a little rivalry. Perhaps a sibling needs a little more attention than his brother. He can learn to adjust their expectations of fairness accordingly.

Manage Sibling Rivalry

1. Treat your children equally.

2. Make your older child your ally.

3. Don’t tell one child to do things in the same way as his sibling.

4. Don’t embarrass your older children.

5. Never express your feelings for one child to another.

6. A little empathy goes a long way.

7. Teach your children to manage conflict.

8. Praise all your children when they get along.

Managing sibling rivalry with tact

Managing sibling rivalry can be quite a task for parents. It’s one that has to be managed from the early years of a child’s development, because the rivalry can really sour relations in later years if left unchecked. Parents also have to approach it with tact.

1. Treat your children equally.

Never compare one child with another, especially if your children are of the same gender and are close in age.

The one who receives more attention may feel that he or she has been sidelined unfairly. The feeling will be made worse if the children are twins or close in age, because both require similar needs.

Focus, instead, on each child’s strengths.

2. Make your older child your ally.

It’s important that you get your older child on your side. Never make the younger child responsible for the older one, even if you think he’s more capable. This will lower your older child’s self-esteem.

3. Don’t tell one child to do things in the same way as his sibling.

Again, this exaggerates the self-esteem of one and lowers it for the other. It’s always important to remember that each child is an individual with his or her own flair.

Making remarks like “You should pick up your toys like your brother!” sends the signal that his worth is lowered in your eyes. While you may have expressed this out of frustration, a child may have this perception.

4. Don’t embarrass your older children.

Your older child will have the impression that he has to do things a little better than his sibling.

If he is chided in front of his younger brother or sister, it causes him to lose face. The younger child may also see this as a chance to gain leverage over the other.

5. Never express your feelings for one child to another.

Don’t do so especially if these feelings are negative. Again, the child you confide in may develop an inflated ego and see himself as the “trusted one” and the other as the loser in a game.

You may not be doing this consciously, but this is also a form of manipulation. Some craftier parents may use this as a tool to get the misbehaving child to behave as he is supposed to. Never do this as you end up diminishing your child’s self esteem.

6. A little empathy goes a long way.

Don’t say things like “You’re older and must learn to give way to your little brother or sister.” This holds true especially if your children are closer in age. The older child is maturing and may rationalize in the same way the younger child would.

Rather, take a little time to listen to each child’s needs. You’ll be better able to enlist their cooperation.

Guide your children through difficult emotions, especially when they feel hurt by or resentful of the other.

7. Teach your children to manage conflict.

Teach your children how to manage problems like teasing without using you as a buffer.

They’ll have to know how to stand up for themselves in a positive way and possibly teach the other sibling the right way to express himself too.

Children can also learn how to compromise over toys and food with a little help from you too.

8. Praise all your children when they get along

Getting along isn’t an easy skill to learn. When your children can manage it well, give them a word or two of encouragement to prompt them to repeat the behavior.

How to deal with sibling rivalry

Stories of sibling rivalry

1.The Cooper Brothers

The Cooper brothers, John and Robert, became liqueur manufacturers after being raised by their father, Sky, around the business. Sky had introduced the French Raspberry Liqueur brand Chambord to the US market.

Each started his own business, not wanting to share wealth with the other. Rober create St Germaine, an elderlower liqueur, while John, created Domaine De Canton, remarkably similar in nature.

Sky still hopes to bring his two sons together.

2. The Samsung Family Feud

Most of us will be familiar with the Samsung Galaxy Tablet.

The family behind Samsung, the Lees, are embroiled in a conflict of their own. The elder Lee siblings are suing the youngest and Chairman of Samsung, Lee Kun Hee, for withholding assets during the setting of the family estate after their father, Lee Byung Chull, passed away,

The problem could have stemmed from the older Lee ignoring tradition and giving the company’s reins to his third son instead of the first, as per tradition. It always creates tension in a successful family.

3. The Dessler Brothers

Rudolph and Adolph Dessler may not sound familiar to you, but perhaps their companies do. If you’re familiar with Puma and Adidas, they are the owners of these two sports giants.

Rudolph and Adolph worked in their mother’s laundry room before falling out with each other.

Rudolph’s family, owners of Puma and Adolph’s family, owners of Adidas, were enemies. The town of Herzogenaurach, where their headquarters are located, became embroiled in their conflict.

It was only when Rudolph’s grandson, Frank, took a job in Adidas that the conflict finally stopped.


Rivalry can motivate siblings, but destroy relationships if not managed well.

Original Work by Michelle Liew

All Rights Reserved


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Tolovaj!

    • Tolovaj profile image


      6 years ago

      I believe empathy can be learned and it should be part of the school program. This would help many people in many situations. Being a parent is a job with numerous responsibilities, but we all start it almost from scratch. Thanks for all the useful tips. It can be a tough job, but it is still the best job in the world:)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Ruthbro!

    • Ruthbro profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Really useful ideas for managing sibling rivalry!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Eddy!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Minnetonka Twin! Yes, it can go on into adulthood. Somehow the feeling of being shortchanged is hard to forgive!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Travmaj! I guess it's good that your girls are so different. Being too similar can create a conflict in itself.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, empathy has got to be taught from an early age. Too many parents forget, Denise.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Jhamann!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Oh what a frustrating subject this can be and you have covered it wonderfully Michelle. Voted up for sure and wishing you a great day.


    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Audrey!

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      A wonderful and interesting hub on sibling rivalry. I am number four of five kids and can very much relate to this. The interesting thing is that sibling rivalry can go on long into adulthood as you mentioned with some famous siblings. I know there are still many patterns in my family of origin regarding sibling rivalry. Really interesting hub.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      This is an important issue that we were having problems with a few years ago. We read a few good books on matter and things have gotten better. It is important to start young and realize the problem before it gets out of hand. You have wonderful advice here and I recommend this hub to all parents with more than one child. Jamie

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      My goodness, Janet, I know it's a hard battle to fight! Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      I guess a little tension's always common between siblings, Christin!! But I'd bet your sis still has a soft spot for you in spite of the rivalry.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thank goodness for the gender difference, Jackie!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks kindly, Bill. It's good that you've not had to deal with this.

    • travmaj profile image


      6 years ago from australia

      How interesting this is. I'm a little torn, my two daughters are not as close as I'd like to see. It appears to me to be a nature not nurture . They are so very distinct and different people and always have been. However, I know they would always be there for each other in time of need.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, Devika, it's a sad situation. Let's hope the situation improves!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is interesting to see famous siblings and the rivalry they have between them. Having grown up in a large family, and having one of my own, I know what these feelings are like. It is impossible to treat all siblings equally, however, it is possible to treat them fairly. This means seeing that their needs are met, and that they have the opportunity to expand on their talents and abilities. It is also imperative to teach them empathy for one another by teaching them to see from the other person's perspective.

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 

      6 years ago from Georgia country

      I had to deal with sibling rivalry since my mother has always favored my sister over me. When I was a child I couldn't understand it but nowadays I don't mind because my sister has become psychologically ill and needs my mother's care. There is not much rivalry with my own children because they are a boy and a girl and my husband and I treat them equally. Thank you for sharing this interesting and thought-provoking hub.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 

      6 years ago from Midwest

      Many good points, especially when it comes to comparing and pitting kids against each other. So damaging and so many I think do it without realizing the way it is perceived by their kids.

      I am fortunate that my two boys don't have a lot of jealousy going on, but I think it's because their personalities are so different, that we are able to focus on the strengths of each one and how they compliment each other. We have always worked to keep it positive between them. They argue sometimes,but for the most part, they are very close.

      My sister and I were not so lucky. She's always felt animosity towards me and ironically, she was the blatantly favored child as we were growing up. I think sometimes personalities just don't click, rivalry or not. She and I both resented this idea that just because we are sisters we should be best friends. We both love each other, but even as adults we just don't like each other much. I find it sad, but sometimes it just is what it is. I hope that my two sons will stay close as they grow older. As for my sister and I - I don't know that it was ever a "rivalry" due to jealousy etc. We just plain don't mesh well. It used to bother me terribly, but eventually I just kind of accepted it.

      Voted up and shared etc.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      6 years ago from the beautiful south

      Oh well there was seven in mine so room for everything. lol So very strange I was thinking last night how my parents never showed favoritism with any of their children, although possibly they babied the baby more; we none minded. I can recall things that maybe in other families would have separated parent and child but it just never happened. Since I had a boy and girl it did not come up for me there.

      Great article idea. ^

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Spot on Michelle!!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I never had to deal with this, and I only had one child, so I'm really not the guy to talk to about sibling rivalries. I have seen it with friends while growing up, though, and what you say is true.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub about managing sibling rivalry. As you have stated in your hub, comparing one against another leaves a permanent scar and brews hatred.This is very important to note. Great write, voted up.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      ''Treat your children equally,'' is a correct way of raising children but some parents fail to do so and choose the boy over the girl or will choose smart one against the not so smart one these issues are quite common in many traditional families. All children born in one family can't be the same love them equally and treat them equally a well advised hub.


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