Dealing with Sibling Rivalry: Australian Family Strategies

Dealing with sibling rivalry: siblings playing together
Dealing with sibling rivalry: siblings playing together

Dealing with sibling rivalry can be one of the toughest challenges for parents. It’s a common issue in many Australian families, leading to stress and conflict in the household. This rivalry, characterised by jealousy, competition, and frequent disputes, can disrupt the harmony of a family. Children may feel the need to vie for their parents’ attention, leading to feelings of neglect or favouritism if not properly managed. These conflicts, if left unchecked, can have long-lasting effects on sibling relationships and overall family dynamics. However, with the right strategies, such as promoting individuality, setting clear boundaries, and fostering teamwork, parents can manage sibling rivalry effectively. By understanding the root causes and implementing practical solutions, parents can create a peaceful and supportive environment where each child feels valued and understood, ultimately strengthening family bonds and ensuring a harmonious home life.

Understanding Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry refers to the jealousy, competition, and fighting that often occurs between brothers and sisters. It’s a natural part of growing up, as siblings navigate their relationships and establish their identities within the family. This rivalry can manifest in various ways, from verbal arguments and physical fights to more subtle forms of competition for parental attention and approval. While some degree of rivalry is normal and even healthy, helping children develop social skills and conflict resolution abilities, it can become problematic if not handled properly. Long-term, unresolved sibling rivalry can lead to enduring relationship problems, affecting siblings’ ability to communicate and support each other in adulthood. Understanding the underlying causes of sibling rivalry is crucial for parents aiming to manage and mitigate these conflicts effectively.

Causes of Sibling Rivalry

Attention and Competition

Children naturally seek their parents’ attention and approval. When they perceive that their siblings are receiving more attention, it can lead to feelings of neglect and insecurity. This often results in competitive behaviour as each child strives to gain their parents’ favour. In families with multiple children, this dynamic can be especially pronounced. For example, if parents spend more time helping one child with homework, another child might feel left out and act out to attract attention. This competition can also extend to achievements and milestones, such as school grades, sports, or other extracurricular activities, where children feel the need to outshine their siblings to earn praise and recognition from their parents. This constant competition can create a tense atmosphere, fostering resentment and conflict among siblings.

Personality Differences

Every child is unique, with their own personality, temperament, and preferences. These differences can sometimes lead to clashes and misunderstandings. For instance, a naturally outgoing and extroverted child might have conflicts with a quieter, introverted sibling. Similarly, differences in interests and hobbies can create a sense of division. One child might excel in sports while another prefers artistic pursuits, leading to feelings of inadequacy or jealousy. Recognising and respecting each child’s individuality can help reduce these conflicts. Parents can foster a more harmonious environment by celebrating each child’s unique strengths and encouraging them to appreciate their siblings’ differences. This approach helps children feel valued for who they are rather than feeling pressured to conform to a particular mould.

Age and Developmental Stages

Children go through different developmental stages at different times, and these stages can influence their interactions with siblings. Younger children may feel overshadowed by older siblings who can do more and have more privileges. This can lead to feelings of frustration and jealousy. For example, a younger child might be upset that their older sibling gets to stay up later or participate in activities they are not yet allowed to. Conversely, older children may feel burdened by the responsibilities of being the eldest, such as being expected to set a good example or look after their younger siblings. Teenagers, seeking more independence, might become annoyed by younger siblings’ constant need for attention or their involvement in their personal space. Understanding these developmental stages can help parents tailor their approaches to managing sibling rivalry. By acknowledging the unique challenges each child faces at their respective stages, parents can provide appropriate support and guidance, helping each child feel understood and valued.

Strategies to Manage Sibling Rivalry

Promote Individuality

One of the best ways of dealing with sibling rivalry is by encouraging your children to pursue their own interests and hobbies. This approach helps them develop a sense of identity and reduces the need to compete with siblings for recognition. When children have their own unique activities and achievements, they are less likely to feel overshadowed by their siblings. For instance, if one child is passionate about sports and another loves music, fostering these individual interests can prevent feelings of competition. Encourage your children to explore different activities and find what truly excites them. By celebrating each child’s unique strengths and achievements, you can help them build self-confidence and reduce jealousy.

Set Clear Boundaries

Establishing rules about acceptable behaviour and respecting personal space is crucial in managing sibling rivalry. Clear boundaries help children understand what is expected of them and what behaviours are unacceptable. For example, setting rules about sharing toys, taking turns, and respecting each other’s privacy can prevent many common conflicts. Ensure these rules are consistently enforced to prevent misunderstandings and ensure fairness. Consistency is key, as children need to know that the rules apply to everyone equally. This helps create a sense of security and predictability, which can reduce anxiety and tension within the family.

Foster Teamwork

Engage your children in activities that require cooperation and teamwork. This not only helps them bond but also teaches valuable social skills that can reduce rivalry. Activities such as team sports, family projects, and cooperative games can encourage siblings to work together towards a common goal. For example, involving your children in a gardening project or a cooking activity where each child has a specific role can foster a sense of collaboration. These experiences can help children appreciate each other’s contributions and understand the value of working together. Additionally, praising their efforts and successes as a team can reinforce positive interactions and strengthen their bond.

Communicate Effectively

Open communication is key to resolving conflicts. Encourage your children to express their feelings and listen to each other. This can help them understand each other’s perspectives and find common ground. Regular family meetings can provide a platform for open communication, where everyone has the opportunity to speak and be heard. During these meetings, address any ongoing issues and discuss possible solutions together. Teaching children how to communicate their needs and feelings in a respectful manner can prevent misunderstandings and build stronger relationships. Encourage active listening, where each child takes turns speaking and genuinely listens to what the other is saying.

Equal Attention

Ensure that each child receives individual attention from parents. This can help prevent feelings of neglect and reduce competition for parental approval. Schedule one-on-one time with each child to make them feel special and valued. For example, take one child out for a special outing while the other spends quality time at home with the other parent. These individual moments can strengthen your bond with each child and provide an opportunity to address any specific concerns or needs they might have. When children feel secure in their relationship with their parents, they are less likely to seek validation through competition with their siblings.

Practical Tips for Parents

Create a Fair Environment

Treat your children equally and avoid favouritism. Recognise and celebrate each child’s achievements to foster a sense of fairness and equality. Avoid comparing your children to each other, as this can increase rivalry. Instead, focus on each child’s individual strengths and accomplishments. For example, if one child excels in academics and another in sports, celebrate both achievements without making comparisons. Acknowledging and valuing their unique talents and efforts can help them feel appreciated and reduce feelings of competition.

Schedule One-on-One Time

Dedicate specific times for one-on-one activities with each child. This can help them feel valued and reduce jealousy. It’s important for each child to have their own special time with their parents. These moments can be simple, like reading a book together, going for a walk, or doing a craft activity. The key is to give each child undivided attention and make them feel special. This individual attention can help build a strong parent-child bond and provide an opportunity to address any concerns or issues they may have.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Reward positive interactions between siblings. Praise and encourage cooperative behaviour to reinforce the benefits of working together. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool in reducing sibling rivalry. For example, when siblings share toys or help each other with homework, acknowledge and praise their behaviour. This not only reinforces the desired behaviour but also helps children understand the benefits of cooperation. Use rewards such as extra playtime, a special treat, or a family outing to motivate and encourage positive interactions.

Mediation Techniques

When conflicts arise, act as a mediator. Help your children express their feelings and guide them towards a mutually agreeable solution. Teach them how to compromise and resolve disputes peacefully. For instance, if your children are arguing over a toy, encourage them to take turns or find a way to play together. Model effective mediation by remaining calm and impartial, and help your children see each other’s point of view. By teaching them conflict resolution skills, you empower them to handle disputes independently and constructively.

Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Equip your children with the skills to resolve disputes independently. Encourage them to think of solutions and compromise when necessary. Problem-solving skills are essential for managing conflicts throughout life. For example, if your children are arguing over which game to play, help them brainstorm possible solutions, such as taking turns or finding a new game that they both enjoy. Teaching children to identify the problem, consider different solutions, and agree on a compromise can help them navigate conflicts more effectively. Encourage them to practise these skills in various situations to build their confidence and competence.

Stay Calm

Model calm and composed behaviour during conflicts. This sets a positive example and helps de-escalate tense situations. Your reaction can influence how your children handle their disputes. If you respond to conflicts with anger or frustration, your children may mimic this behaviour. Instead, demonstrate calmness and patience, and show them how to approach conflicts with a solution-oriented mindset. By staying calm, you create a more positive and supportive environment, which can help reduce the intensity and frequency of sibling rivalry.


Dealing with sibling rivalry requires patience, understanding, and consistent effort. By promoting individuality, setting clear boundaries, and fostering teamwork, you can create a harmonious and supportive family environment. These strategies help children develop essential social skills, build strong relationships, and navigate conflicts more effectively.

If you’re looking for more tips and resources on fostering a positive family dynamic, check out Sempoa SIP. Our abacus classes not only boost your child’s cognitive skills but also teach them valuable teamwork and cooperation skills, helping to reduce sibling rivalry and promote harmony in your family.


1. What is the main cause of sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is primarily caused by competition for parental attention, personality differences, and developmental stages.

2. How can I help my children get along better?

Encourage individuality, set clear boundaries, foster teamwork, and communicate effectively to help your children get along.

3. What should I do when my children fight?

Act as a mediator, teach problem-solving skills, and stay calm to help your children resolve their conflicts.

4. How can I ensure fairness between my children?

Treat your children equally, celebrate each child’s achievements, and schedule one-on-one time with each child.

5. Why is sibling rivalry more intense in some families?

Sibling rivalry can be more intense due to factors like family dynamics, parental involvement, and individual personality traits.



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