Sibling Rivalry: Reducing Conflict and Jealousy

Overview

Often an older child will feel jealous when you have a new baby. It may take a few months before a child shows signs of these feelings. But after some time, your child will realize that the baby is there to stay. That's when you may start to see strong emotions and behavior problems. This is called sibling rivalry.

Sibling rivalry happens between older children too. Children have a strong need for attention. And they need positive feedback from their parents. Conflict often happens because children feel they are competing with their siblings for this attention.

How can you help children manage conflict and jealousy?

Preparing for a new baby

An older child can have lots of feelings and reactions to the idea—and the reality—of a new baby.

Here are ways to prepare older children for your family's new addition.

  • Talk to them about the new baby.

    And talk to them about their special role in the family. You can say, "You'll be sister's only big brother. You can help us teach her about life. That's very special."

  • Visit a local library or bookstore.

    Ask for recommendations for books about having a new baby in the home.

  • Involve your child in baby prep.

    Maybe they can help make decisions around decorating baby's room.

  • Be prepared for rivalry and jealousy.

    Sibling troubles often get more intense after the newborn stage. Why? It can take a few months for the older child to realize the new baby is here to stay.

Adjusting when your baby comes home

When a new baby arrives, it's common for older children to go back to thumb-sucking or no longer want to potty train. Why? They're trying to get back some of the attention you're giving the new baby.

Here are some ideas to help older children feel loved and important.

  • Give them tasks.

    An older child might bring you diapers, choose the baby's clothing, feed the baby, help get the baby dressed, hold the baby, or push the stroller.

  • Praise them.

    You can say, "I really love how helpful you are with the baby."

  • Plan to spend time alone with them.

    This can help an older child have something to look forward to when your attention is focused on the baby.

  • Reassure them.

    You can say, "My love for the baby will never replace the love I have for you."

  • Prepare for specific situations.

    You can say, "When we go to the party, your baby brother will get a lot of attention. That's because people love babies, not because they don't like you."

  • Ask for help.

    Ask friends or relatives to give attention to an older child when they see the baby is getting a lot of attention.

Handling conflict as children grow

Sibling conflict isn't pleasant, but it is common. Conflict often happens because children feel that they have to compete with their siblings for a parent's attention and feedback. Or it may happen simply because they have very different needs and personalities.

Sibling conflict isn't all bad. When handled well, it can help kids learn how to manage their emotions, understand different viewpoints, and work with others to solve problems.

That's where you come in. These ideas can help end the struggle and bring peace to your household.

  • Encourage kids to work out problems on their own.

    Try to step in only if a child may get hurt or is being taken advantage of. But to limit arguing, you may want to set a time limit. For example, you might tell your children to come to you only if they can't work things out after 15 minutes. You might offer a reward if they can reach a good solution without your help.

  • Teach your children healthy ways to disagree.
    • Set guidelines, such as no hitting, yelling, or name-calling.
    • Teach kids about "hot" emotions, like anger. Help them find positive ways to handle these emotions, like through physical activity, writing in a journal, or making art.
  • Be a coach, not a judge.

    If you have to get involved in a fight, keep siblings apart until tempers have cooled. Then:

    • Listen to all viewpoints. Don't take sides. Guide the kids to discuss and work through their problems themselves.
    • Help them build empathy. Ask each child why they think their sibling is responding in the way they are. Then ask how they might react if they felt as their sibling does.
  • Be fair and consistent.

    Explain that fair may not mean equal. For example, an older child may have more privileges than a younger child, such as being allowed to stay up later.

  • Don't compare kids to each other.

    This can lead to competition and resentment. Appreciate each child's efforts and abilities. Look for ways that your kids can build on their strengths and feel good about themselves.

  • Make sure that each child has some space and time of their own.

    Kids need some privacy and a chance to do things without their siblings. This helps them build their own identity. It may be especially important for multiples, such as twins or triplets.

  • Give each child some one-on-one time with you.

    For example, you might schedule half an hour a week with each child. Use this time to do things your child enjoys and that build the child's strengths.

    During this time, you could also give your child some practice in problem-solving. For example, you might say that you think you have hurt a friend's feelings by mistake, and ask your child what they would do in that situation. This can be a nice way to bond and to learn how your child reasons and approaches conflict.

  • Set a good example.

    Be aware of how you handle conflict. Your kids learn by watching you.

Credits

Current as of: September 20, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics