Sibling Rivalry – Primary School And Beyond

Are you constantly finding yourself in the role of peacemaker in your home, and whatever you do, no one seems to appreciate your skills as an umpire or even carry through with your peace loving suggestions? Does every day feel like Ground Hog day when it comes to your children fighting and vying for your attention? 

Screaming into your pillow really helps, but does not help shift the dynamics in your family that will lead to positive and harmonious changes and new behaviours.

As your children mature and move through their developmental stages, they have the ability to develop their communication skills. With your guidance they can also develop their personal skills in confidently relating to others, and showing compassion and understanding to their siblings and people in the outside world.

Every family and child is unique and there is no one way to parent, so I encourage you to adapt these to your own parenting concepts and personality types of your children.

  • Firstly; respect your children’s individuality, and cherish their identity which will change as they mature. Allow the change to happen by not presuming who they are.
  • Your children may unconsciously play different roles of ‘victim’ and ‘persecutor’ and guess to gets to play ‘rescuer’, Mum or Dad. Teaching them conflict resolution skills will assist in shifting this game play.
  • Be aware of your children’s different stages of development, so you may have realistic expectations of their behaviours.
  • Use words of encouragement when your children co-operate, are thoughtful and play well together.
  • Celebrate your children’s differences and teach them how to do the same. Get them to take turns at role playing the dominant role in different scenarios and games.
  • Help them understand that inequality is a fact of life. Parents have different expectations of older children, and different ages have different privileges. It is important to have the same basic rules for all children, so there is no favoritism.
  • Create family and personal contracts, this is an empowering exercise and keeps everyone on the same page, and accountable for their behaviour.
  • Watch for patterns in your children’s behaviours and change what is not working.
  • Have clear family Ideals and values, talk about respect and how we can speak and show matching behaviour.

Use the ‘STOP, THINK, GO’ techniques. ‘Puts THINKING in between FEELING and BEHAVING’.    ( Lindy Petersen.

STOP:   Don’t react, what is going on, what am I feeling, look and listen

THINK:  What can we do? What might the consequences be?

DO:      Choose, Act, Revaluate.

  • When a disagreement arises – Calmly stop what is happening. Ask each child’s point of view using constructive questions, with NO INTERUPTIONS. Ask each child to talk to each other, with eye contact. No blaming, right or wrong. ( remember to breathe)
  • Always validate each child’s feelings, and empathise with them.
  • Each child sees life through a different filter so the versions of one disagreement may be different, yet true to each child.
  • Ask questions listed further on to help discern the truth.
  • Watch their eye and body language and tone of voice this will help in resolving the issue.
  • Parents need to act instead of reacting, and encourage the children to work out their problems themselves, instead of the parent always intervening. Foster responsibility instead of being judge and jury.
  • Find a solution not someone to blame. It takes two to fight, and no-one can ‘make’ you do anything.
  • Focus on the solutions; if the children need support in finding one, offer 2 or 3 suggestions. For as long as it reasonably takes, sit together; nothing is resolved if we walk away from each other.
  • Teach children to make agreements or compromises with each other.
  • Kind manners and respecting each other is crucial for sibling harmony. We make REQUESTS to each other not DEMANDS.
  • Remind them of their contract obligations, and help them fulfill them.
  • Teach communication skills such as the speaker coming from, ‘I feel’ not ‘you……’ which is focusing on blame.
  • ‘DOBBING’; don’t take the bait. Often children can be competing for your attention. Encourage children to talk about the rules and guidelines you have set down as a family.
  • Talk about how to express anger, and offer tactics on how not to take it out on their sibling. No hitting; help children channel their energy by running outside, exercising, or having a good old scream to release tension. Getting angry is permissible, but bullying or hitting is not.
  • Do not allow name calling or ‘Liar, you always lie’. If things get heated have time away from each other until calmness prevails and try again.
  • If either both or only one of the children is feeling aggressive and acting out strongly, it is better to separate and talk later.
  • If you are confronted with ‘It’s not fair’, you may comment back that ‘ no, it is not fair, and I understand you feel that way, but this is what needs to be done to help you grow into a loving, caring fantastic person.’
  • If issues of jealousy arise assist your child to focus on what they have and how they may get what they want within the family guidelines. Gratitude is a wonderful trait to acquire.
  • Share with your children how unique and special everyone is and how we all do things and think differently. Ask them what they think their siblings gifts are, and what their own gifts might be.
  • Sometimes the older sibling may take on the role as the ‘pseudo‘ parent. They assume a natural authority, like to be in charge and will fight to hold on to that power. Nip this behaviour in the bud.
  • All children go through different stages and will test their limits, and watch to see how you react, so be mindful and know how to model your reactions.
  • Mums and Dads have special dates with all of your children, make the time it will be the best investment you ever made.
  • Remember hugs, laughter, wrestles and silliness are great tension releases, and the most precious ingredients in creating a loving, harmonious family life.
  • Define for yourselves when you will mediate and when you can safely let the kids sort it out for themselves. Offer them a learning opportunity.
  • Let go of control, I know it is hard, but showing your children you trust them is a wonderful gift.
  • Last but by no means least, take care of your relationship with love and respect, the children are watching and modeling your behaviour.


Ask these questions calmly, with constant eye contact and gentle touch if it is appropriate.

  • What do you think is happening?
  • What have you been doing and feeling?
  • How did that start this problem?
  • What did he/she do? What did you do and why did you do it?
  • How can we change that?
  • What can you do next time?

Once a resolution is found, both parties can apologise to each other. (Never force an apology or it won’t mean anything) Not just ‘I’m sorry’, but specifically for what they did or caused. Then an agreement is formed, and the discussion is finished.

Sibling rivalry is often created by seeking total parental attention and approval, and a natural process that assists children in learning how to interact in the world and cultivate their individuality and self efficacy. I feel the family is the most natural and safe environment to practice these life skills, better in the family than out in society.

So hang in there this too will pass, with your loving guidance.

 Suggested Reading:

“Giving the Love that heals” Harville Hendrix Ph.D. & Kelly LaHunt Ph.D 1997 Atria Books. New York.

“Parentcraft –  A practical guide to raising children well.” 2nd Edition. Ken & Elizabeth Mellor.  2001 Finch Publishing. Sydney

“Children are people too – A parent’s guide to young children’s behaviour”.4th Edition.  Dr. Louise Porter.Ph.D.,M.A.(hons),M.Gifted.Ed.,Dip.Ed.  East Street Publications.

“Social Savy Help your child to fit in with others”. Lindy Petersen 2002 Acer press.

“Raising the best possible child” Jo Jackson King. ABC Books  2010


Avatar of Arnaum Walkley

Arnaum has been a Parenting Counsellor for over 25 years, assisting and nurturing parents in developing their own unique parenting skills, and how to develop Conscious Parenting skills. In this time she has been involved in South Australia and other states and communities as an Early Childhood Worker, Breastfeeding Counsellor, Parenting Educator, Public Speaker, Counsellor, and Writer focusing on child development and parenting.

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