15 Common Causes of Sibling Rivalry (What To Do As a Parent)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Are you tired of all of the bickering and squabbling going on between the kids at home? Are you weary from being pulled from one child to the next, as sibling rivalry seems intent on tearing your family apart? Yup, sibling rivalry is a real problem in many families. 

For some families, sibling rivalry is just a phase that’s grown out of, but for others, it can be a problem that lingers even during the adult years. If you want to restore your home to a place of peace and tranquility, you first need to get to the bottom of the problem. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at what causes sibling rivalry so that you can start looking for viable solutions. 

It’s never fun hearing and watching your beloved kids squabble. In fact, it may make you quite anxious. If you want to ensure that you nip the problem in the bud, you need to get to work on understanding what’s truly causing the rivalry and squabbling in the first place. Let’s take a look at the common causes.

Understanding 15 common causes of sibling rivalry:

1. The struggle to express individuality.

As kids start to grow older, they start to realize that they are indeed quite different from each other. In the early years, you probably treated all the kids the same, but as they grow older, they no longer like this concept and want to prove their individuality. This can result in the kids acting out against each other or getting aggressive when treated the same. You can quell this problem by noticing and catering to each child’s individuality. 

2. Mistakenly believing aggression is a normal way to resolve conflicts.

Sometimes children use aggression to solve disputes with each other because they have never been shown an alternative way of dealing with problems. If you and your partner are prone to aggressive fights or shouting, they could believe that’s the right way to be. If they have used aggression before and it has worked, they may believe it’s the best way to deal with problems. Either way, you need to lead by example and take the time to talk openly to all the kids about the right way to deal with issues. 

3. Unequal amounts of attention given by parents.

Whether you are giving positive or negative attention to one child, the other children (or child) might feel left out. It’s important to give each child a similar amount of attention. Of course, you cannot do this every time all of the time, but you should avoid giving one child a noticeable amount of extra attention.

4. A lack of hierarchy in the home.

Children thrive when they understand the hierarchy of families and life. For instance, the parents are at the very top of the hierarchy, then it’s the older children, followed by the younger children. 

This might sound a bit bizarre, but it really will help children to hold a good amount of respect for each other if they understand the hierarchy. For instance, your 14-year old daughter is not going to appreciate going to bed at the same time as your 6-year old daughter. She is also going to have different responsibilities and allowances because she is older. Implement this hierarchy firmly, and the rivalry should simmer down. 

5. Lack of quality family time.

In order for the family to get along and appreciate each other (and have fun together), you need to incorporate quality family time. Arrange fun weekend barbecues or family games nights and make it rewarding for the kids to actually enjoy each other’s company. Families that have close bonds are prone to suffer less sibling rivalry. Keep encouraging the kids to be friends with each other.

6. Kids feel their relationship with their parents is threatened when there’s a new sibling.

One of the biggest causes of sibling rivalry is when a new baby arrives on the scene. Small children, especially, may feel as if their close bond with their parents is threatened by the arrival of a new baby. You can avoid this problem by fully preparing your child for the new sibling and enticing them into getting excited about and helping with the baby. Before the baby arrives, try to develop a relationship between your child and the unborn child. 

7. Boredom or lack of stimulation.

Children who become bored or have no mental stimulation may start to pick fights with their siblings. It’s a form of acting out and expressing frustrations. Children who have hobbies, activities, and interests are children who are generally happier. Try to ensure that there are appropriate activities to keep the children stimulated and entertained. Encourage them to participate in these activities together. 

8. Need for interaction with siblings.

If you find that your kids generally have nothing to do with each other and when they do, they fight, it could be a sign that they need more interaction. If a child really wants approval or friendship from another sibling who ignores them, it could lead to arguments and fights. In a child’s mind, any interaction may be better than none. Encourage interaction between your kids. Try and find common ground between them. Perhaps they have similar interests that they could get excited about.

9. Bullying at school.

When a child is bullied at school, they may feel completely out of control and frustrated in their school environment. When they come home, they could take out this frustration on their siblings. Try to incorporate a debriefing each day with the kids. Encourage them to talk about their days and what’s going on in their lives so that any bullying that may be happening can be brought to light as soon as possible.

10. Lack of structure in the home.

Structure is important for children. Children need simple guidelines for living in the home and being part of a family. Giving the children some chores and responsibilities is one way of developing structure. Have set family mealtimes, have bedtimes and curfews, and have firm rules about how children are supposed to treat other family members

Without structure, children tend to lack an understanding of how to treat each other, which could end up in sibling rivalry and fighting. You don’t have to be overly strict, but with some guidelines to follow, the rivalry may diminish. 

11. Parent’s marital problems.

When the parents are at war with each other, it can filter down to the children. Marital problems can be sensed by kids, even if you believe they are completely oblivious. The unspoken uneasiness and lack of family happiness can cause children to act out with sibling rivalry. Children worry about what the problems mean and may blame themselves or each other. 

12. Lack of problem-solving from the parents.

Children may become deeply ensconced in sibling rivalry if the parents don’t problem-solve particular issues between the children. For instance, if your son is upset that his younger sisters keep going into his room and messing with his belongings when he isn’t there, and you don’t step in to create a boundary for the younger sisters to abide by, he may take matters into his own hands which will result in sibling rivalry. 

If you see there is an issue sparked between two of your kids, step in and try to solve the problem with their input. The sooner you nip issues in the bud, the better. 

13. The need for attention. 

They do say that any attention is better than none. If you find that you are really busy and don’t have time to give the kids attention, you may find that they start competing for it and trying to get your attention. Paying the kids equal attention is important if you want the rivalry to simmer down. 

14. Jealousy issues.

Jealousy can be tricky for adults to get over, so don’t expect your children to master it too quickly. One child may develop jealousy for their siblings, if there’s a feeling of inferiority or thinks that the sibling is better at something or has an easier time. 

It’s important to find that one thing that each child is good at and interested in and help them individually work at that thing. This will help the kids see that they don’t need to be jealous because they all have something they are good at or can absolutely lose themselves in. This may just help jealousy issues and therefore minimize sibling rivalry. 

15. Lack of personal space.

If you are living in a small space and the kids never feel as if they have their own space to enjoy and grow in, they may start to display sibling rivalry (especially if one child seems to have more space or allowances than the others). If kids are sharing bedrooms, it may help to get them into their own rooms, and you might benefit from creating a “chill” space for them to relax and unwind in their own way.

All things considered

The causes of sibling rivalry can be emotional, situational, or psychological. The good news is that if you can understand what is causing the rivalry, you can work on solving the problem. 

By understanding the causes of sibling rivalry, you can work at calming the kids down and getting them to get along a whole lot better. Of course, how you react to sibling rivalry can also play a big role. If you tolerate it and pay extra attention to it, then it is having the desired effect (of the kids), so find ways to show that this behavior displeases, calmly, of course.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.