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Sibling Rivalry

Methods to coach your children through conflicts with their siblings

Expert: Laura Markham

Positive Parenting Conference by: A Fine Parent


Why does sibling rivalry happen? Older siblings go into an immediate panic. We expect them to “like” the new baby, and when they don’t, they start feeling like a bad person and internalize those feelings, which harbors resentment. This can last a lifetime if they are not helped in dealing with those feelings, so it is extremely important to deal with them in that first year.


Fact of the matter is that siblings are going to fight, but one can use those opportunities to teach them social skills and work things out with each other to get along better.


It is important to note that you should not lecture your child, you do not know who is right or everything that may have happened in a situation. The important thing is to try and allow children to solve their own problems, however, if you don’t intervene, the same child will win over and over again.

This is in fact a form of bullying - your role is to come in and coach both kids. In any argument, both kids usually think they're right.


Coach the child who feels victimized to stand up for themselves: “David, you can tell your brother that the family rule is: No hitting.” 

Coach the children to express what they need without attacking the other person: “Evan, you can tell your brother that you need a turn”.


Let your child feel heard: “Tell your brother how do you feel. What did you hear your brother say?… That’s right, your  brother feels______".

Empathize with your child: don’t argue! Your child first needs to be heard in order for the anger to diminish. Validate and acknowledge their feelings: "Hmmm, what can you do that you both end up happy?"


Teach your child to use the Calm Down Technique: "Even though I feel_______, I know I can calm down and forgive my sibling”.



When your child tells you what happened after a heated situation with their sibling, respond to your child by saying: "I see. It must have been really hard that_____... At the same time, I expect you not to hit, violence is not ok."


EQ skills, listening skills, negotiation, standing up for themselves, setting the limits and re-enforcing family rules are all skills that can be learnt during these situations.


A resentful child is more likely to start fights. 


Do preventative maintenance. This includes1-2 months of intensive coaching, which will result in your child having fewer breakdowns. 


The following reduces sibling rivalry: Routines, one-on-one time, laughter which bonds and reduces stress hormones. If you can get a child laughing you’re filling their real need of love.

Also, when your children cry, let them cry in your arms or allow them the opportunity to do so later if they don’t want to now.


When parents make comments that compare their siblings to each other, the kids fight more. It’s important to remember not to like / dislike one child more so than the other, but to love them equally, because they are both YOUR kids.

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Laura Markham's


AGES & STAGES: Pregnancy through Teens


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