Top 10 Main Reasons for Sibling Rivalry

Article by ,

Siblings generally spend more time together during childhood than they do with parents. The sibling bond is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as special parental treatment, birth order, personality, and people and experiences outside the family. The clinical term ‘Sibling Rivalry’ can in no way encapsulate the mayhem siblings can create once they start fighting. Siblings maybe of the same gender or opposite, they maybe around the same age or ages apart, irrespective rivalry among them is commonplace. Only the intensity may differ. And so it is imperative for not only parents to understand the reasons for this, but also siblings themselves can gain from a little introspection. The following reasons are the most common cause for friction, embracing them would help any sibling relationship as these reasons arise especially due to circumstances surrounding a sibling relationship.

10. Need for space

Need for space

Having a sibling mostly means giving over your little space to another person constantly. Be it shared rooms or bathrooms, there is only so much parents can provide and children just have to learn to share. Still, it is valid need for some ‘alone’ time or space from the other sibling. Parents should recognize this need and not force the children to always be together. Tempers especially rise when parents tend to pressurize the elder sibling to ‘take care’ of the younger one, such that the elder never feels like he has his own space. The younger also finds an elder sibling sometimes over bearing. Therefore, the best remedy is to take ‘time off’ occasionally and give the other space. Parents can help in this by arranging different activities.

9. Unmet expectations

Unmet Expectations

Even though everyone needs a break from their sibling once in a while, most have a strong bond due to all that time spent together.  And so like any other relationship there are expectations from each other. Siblings often have terrible fights in adolescence when either and sometimes even feel both feel betrayed by the other. Siblings expect their brother or sister to ‘have their back’ and when a sibling tells on them, it often leads to loss of trust in the relationship. As a parent you should understand that for your children’ bond to remain they need to have secrets together, and not encourage behaviours of tattling where one sibling curries favour by telling on the other. As a sibling you can notice such behaviour in yourself and stop it, so that you brother or sister doesn’t feel like his/her expectation of you was misplaced.

8. Frustration


Frustration is caused when one is blocked when trying to reach a goal. Life is full of stressors that cause us frustration. Many a times, a fight with a sibling is just displaced anger due to the various stressors in one’s life and the brother or sister just becomes an outlet. A tip to the sibling would be to realize this, and one way to identify this is when a sibling starts a fight out of nowhere, ask if this is related to something that happened to them in their day. Don’t unnecessarily provoke them, especially if you can see that they have had a bad day. Parents too should pay attention and take note that not all fights are because of the most apparent reason, but rather the source might be something else entirely.

7. Developmental phase

Developemental Phases

Psychology has on the basis of extensive studies identified different developmental phases people go through in their lifetimes. A ten year old has different needs and desires than a 13 year old and even more different than a 21 year old. Most siblings have these age differences, and thus parents need to be sensitive to these varying needs. But why then do siblings close in age fight? One possible reason is the next on this list.

6. Different Temperaments

Twin Babies in Diapers --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Personality theorists state that everyone has not only unique personalities but also different temperaments, i.e. difference in the way they approach life experience. Some kids have more a ‘difficult’ temperament, whilst others are more easy going. When these temperaments clash it can be very difficult for a parent to understand how to handle them. By having a keen eye and a good understanding of their children, parents can head off some fights. Siblings too need to realize that their brother or sister isn’t exactly like them, and may need to be treated in a different way.

5. They need a safe person

Need a safe person

Families are something we can’t get rid of. An interesting theory of sibling fights is that, when one fights with a friend there is danger of losing that friend. And so many siblings just let out the frustration with a friend on their brother or sister, as they know that family will not leave them. This can be quite taxing for the family, but once you realise this, then even if you are the one doing the fighting you can control better. And if you are the sibling that has to face the brunt, then knowing this could be the cause could help stop fights from escalating.

4. Fostering Competition

Fostering Competition

It is but natural that all siblings won’t have the same skills. In fact many times what one is good at may not be what the other is able to excel in. Yet a feeling of constant competition is fostered among siblings and that in moderation might be healthy but more often than not leads to insecurity among the children. Parents have to be aware of the ways in which they might be comparing their children. They should be careful of the way they doll out praise. Try not to praise one child and then make the other feel bad for not achieving the same standard. Try and find something to praise in both children while also ensuring that they set higher goals. Siblings can also by mutual agreement try to not fall in the trap of showing up one’s sibling.

3. Jealousy

Sibling Jealousy

Competition though is healthy in some cases, jealousy never is. Being jealous of one’s sibling is often an expression of the old adage ‘grass is always greener on the other side’. Sometimes both siblings are jealous of what they perceive the other sibling has. Parents need to be able to identify fights that arise due to jealousy and be able to deal with them.

2. Unequal treatment

Unequal treatment

Whilst some instances of jealousy among siblings can be a manifestation of their own perceptions of how the sibling is treated but many times, it is the truth as well.  Parents are known to sometimes show more affection to a sibling, this can be extremely damaging to the self esteem of the other as well as leading to the other instances of competition and jealousy.  Parents sometimes show unequal treatment even in the amount of food each kid gets. This can make the children irritable, and you can’t really blame them for fighting. It’s only the parents who can put this to rights and this is a very common reason for sibling rivalry and thus is placed as the second most important on this list.

1. Attention Seeking

Attention Seeking

This is listed as the top most reason because it’s the root of many other reasons such a jealousy, competition and ill effects of unequal treatment. Children are inherently attention seeking, and many fights are just a cry to be noticed. Parents, who make a big deal of the fights without really noticing the root cause, are never able to deal with the situation. The only tips siblings can take from this is that, you can chose to recognize your sibling as an individual and build a relationship with them, rather than solely seeking your parent’s approval and attention.

Related posts: