Sibling Rivalry (& Step-Sibling): How To Handle Your Kids Fighting

How To Deal With Sibling Rivalry And (Hopefully) Restore The Peace

May 31, 2016 Updated May 29, 2021

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When you first started having kids, the image of “one big happy family” came to mind. Maybe you imagined your little ones happily exchanging clothes and sharing toys, growing up in harmony as BFFs. But now, you instead find yourself repeatedly saying, “Would you two just stop fighting? Or, “Why can’t you just get along for two seconds?” One minute your kids are getting along; the next, they are arguing and hysterically crying. Yep, sibling rivalry is real. No matter how much you wish to prevent it, sibling rivalry is one of those things that, unfortunately, you can’t stop from happening. But it is something you can help support with the proper knowledge and tools. In time, your children might end those sibling feuds for good and — could it be?! — even become each other’s BFFs.

What is sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is an ongoing conflict and/or competition between siblings, including step-siblings and siblings who are adopted. Examples? Well, it could be anything from bickering to name-calling to full-blown fights to intense acts of competition to get their parents’ attention. Sibling rivalry can be an intense experience for all members involved, especially for parents.

Why does sibling rivalry happen?

Well, let’s be honest: Who doesn’t get a little jealous when the object of your affection is suddenly someone else? That basically sums up the basis of sibling rivalry. One minute, a child was the apple of Mom and Dad’s eye, and now they have to share the spotlight — and the love and attention — with another person. How infuriating! Factor in different personality types and temperaments, as well as environmental changes, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. And, let’s not forget that you’re dealing with young children who don’t know how to express their feelings verbally or articulately, so, as a result, they will often act out by yelling, refusing to share, crying, and hitting, etc.

Other factors that impact sibling rivalry include:

  • Pivotal life changes. Their parents’ divorce, moving, a new baby, a new marriage — these stressful events can impact kids just as much as parents and might cause them to project their feelings onto a sibling.
  • Sibling jealousy. Whether it’s the arrival of a new baby or an overall impression that their relationship with you is under threat, children will act out their feelings on their sibling if they feel they are getting unequal amounts of your attention and responsiveness.
  • They want to prove they’re different. As each child grows up and develops into who they are as a unique individual, they’ll want to distance themselves from their siblings while also making themselves stand out. The result may be conflict and competition between siblings and might even make one sibling feel “left out” or not as close to their brother or sister. As a result, that child could act out.
  • Lack of conflict resolution skills. If you have poor conflict resolution skills with your partner or even with your kids, they will mirror that behavior with others since they don’t have another point of reference.

What’s different about step-sibling rivalry?

Step-sibling rivalry is a little different from sibling rivalry. Most conflicts among children will stem from the same reasons above. However, there’s a little bit more nuance attached to step-sibling rivalry, since blended families often have a lot of additional influence (and baggage) attached — especially since the children don’t share a parent. Reasons behind step-sibling rivalry can include:

  • Lack of experience with having a sibling before.
  • Power struggle over the attention of their parent, whom they now have to share.
  • Resentment over spending time with their new family rather than with their friends.
  • Confusion of birth order. Kids have a place within their family — oldest, middle, youngest — that they get used to. When a step-sibling joins the mix, that can be confusing and unsettling for them.
  • Unresolved feelings about the breakup of their parents’ marriage.
  • Stress over a new family and not knowing how to respond.

How to help siblings bond

Family is important, so if you want to avoid sibling rivalries and get the kids to bond, here are several ways to help them build better relationships.
  • Avoid comparing your children. Kids internalize those types of comments and may hold them against you or their sibling.
  • Train your kids to appreciate what makes them different. Teach them they’re not better than one another because they’re unique in their own way.
  • Create chores for your kids to do together. This will help them learn to communicate and work with one another in a healthy way.
  • Make time for family bonding. This will help kids understand the importance of family and develop supportive relationships with one another. It allows them to show each other love and care.
  • Give your kids an excellent example of what healthy communication looks like. If you and your partner have respectful disagreements in front of your children, this will, in turn, teach them how to argue with their siblings.

Who are some famous siblings?

If you have a sibling, you know the pain and privilege it is to have a brother or sister. And celebrities are no different. Here’s a list of Hollywood celebs who are related — and, yep, probably engage in sibling rivalry from time to time, too.

  • Beanie Feldstein and Jonah Hill
  • Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty
  • Liev and Pablo Schreiber
  • Rooney and Kate Mara
  • The Kardashian-Jenner sisters
  • Jaden and Willow Smith
  • Kate and Rooney Mara
  • Beyoncé and Solange Knowles
  • Gigi and Bella Hadid
  • The Jonas brothers
  • Prince William and Prince Harry
  • Venus and Serena Williams
  • Luke, Andrew, and Owen Wilson
  • Donatella and Santo Versace
  • Jessica and Ashlee Simpson
  • Ben and Casey Affleck
  • Mark and Donnie Wahlberg