Sibling Rivalry – 3 Helpful Strategies (to Get Peace)

Picture this; you’ve just walked in the door after a long day of work, ready for a good cup of coffee.

Suddenly there’s a stampede through the house, a scramble for the TV remote, a thud, a scream, and now someone’s crying.

Sibling rivalry – the ultimate rollercoaster ride as parents 🥵!

For those of you who have been following on DaddyWins for some time, you’ll know I have one son, so this parenting arena isn’t exactly my forte.

I reached out to friends and family to ask them for their war stories… just kidding.

But they’ve given me some great insight into sibling rivalry – the causes and the ways back to the calm.

Encourage Shared Goals

While the odd competition here and there to get tasks done quickly or have a good time can work well, it’s a different ball game when your kids are constantly competing to win.

Often, this is due to two common root issues:

  • Kids are in a phase of developing as individuals. They are figuring out what makes them unique.
  • A child may be trying to fill an unmet need for reward or recognition.

Try to encourage cooperation and collaboration rather than competition if this is a repetitive issue for your kids.

This can look like teaching turn-taking (more on this later), teamwork chores, and shared goals (like a trip to the beach if everyone can do X by the end of the week).

If your kid is trying to meet a need for recognition – catch them being good!

Acknowledge Good Behavior

Following on from the previous section – often, in the exhaustion of life and work, we can end up shouting at our kids or complaining about something more than praising them.

Or we accidentally end up praising one kid more than the other. And someone feels left out. 

So, it’s important for us to notice good and kind behavior and let our kids know we like what we see.

No one thrives in an environment where they are only told about what they are not good at.

We don’t have to go overboard here with the clapping, cheering, and “oh wows!”

Praise often works better when you acknowledge the process rather than the outcome:

  • “Wow, Bud, I love those bright colors you used in your painting. Can you tell me why you chose them?”
  • “Sweetie, I noticed that you gently rubbed baby sister’s hands. That’s a great way of showing love.”

One-on-One Time

Kids will do anything for our attention – behaving extra well or extra difficult. 

Whether this is a common theme in your brood or not, quality time with each kid (without siblings) is really important!

This doesn’t have to be a full-blown day trip or a  huge expense; it can be just 10 or 20 minutes every other day of focused time together reading, playing Legos, or chatting together while your kid has a bath.


This is probably the most common type of sibling rivalry that my friends and family brought up. Especially those with kids aged 4+ as these kids now have more language to express themselves with.

For most, this is more along the lines of bickering rather than full-blown arguments.

A lot of “he said – she said” and “telling on” to Dad.

Here are some ways you can encourage kind-talk between your kids:

  1. First and foremost, model this type of communication between you and your partner.
  2. Describe what you see without judgment or belittling your kids. “I see two kids figuring out who was using the red crayon first.” And then allow each child to express their point of view.
  3. Set limits on meanness or rudeness. My one friend simply says, “redo”.
  4. Remind the kids of your family rules about kindness – even better, in a calm moment, draw up these rules as a family.

Pro-Dad Tip: Coach your kids on negotiating, taking turns, and solving problems. You may need to get out puppets and dolls to do some role-play.

Physical Fighting

This is a really tough one. Hitting, spitting, hair-pulling, and pushing.

Physical fights are usually caused when verbal arguments escalate. It could be due to kids not having the vocabulary to express themselves, or they allow their inner rage to get the better of them.

It’s totally normal to want to step in immediately and tell them off!

But there is a great opportunity to teach conflict resolution and problem-solving.

If there is no serious danger or blood, before swooping in, try this:

  1. Take a deep breath and make mental notes of what you observed.
  2. Step in if needed.
  3. Narrate the problem. Some refer to this as being a sportscaster rather than a referee.
    • “I see he took your toy truck. This has made you mad. You hit brother, and he hit back. This isn’t kind behavior. I wonder what we can do together to figure this out?” (Now, engage with your kids and hear them out).
  4. Apply appropriate and immediate consequences where necessary. For small kids, if the issue was about a toy truck, it makes little sense to them if TV time is taken away – bring the consequence to the immediate issue.

Pro-Dad Tip: If your kids are too worked-up – screaming and crying – don’t try to reason with them or talk about the fight. This isn’t a productive teaching time. Rather help them cool down, offer comfort, and then in a calm moment, talk about what happened.

It can be a tough pill to swallow if we notice bullying behavior in our kids. 

If you find that physical fighting between kids is bordering on bullying or even abuse, you should probably reach out to a family counselor or child psychologist for support.

Sharing Issues

This is common and also developmentally normal. I did some reading, and research shows that kids under 3 years of age developmentally cannot understand the idea or need for sharing.

So if you’re in the toddler phase, roll up your sleeves; it’s gonna take some time.

Earlier in the blog, I wrote about “turn-taking” rather than sharing.

For young kids, turn-taking is generally an easier concept to understand. It sets the foundation for teenage and adult notions of sharing and good citizenship.

Let me give you a scenario:

You’re busy working on the laptop on a detailed spreadsheet. Your co-worker arrives complaining that it’s their turn on the laptop. Next thing you know, your boss is in the room, takes away your laptop, and says “You need to share!”. But you were in the middle of something important?!

Now for kids, it’s pretty similar. A lot of “playing” is concentrating and working hard on a skill they are developing.

Forced sharing doesn’t actually teach sharing skills. Rather, it can result in resentment or teach kids that they must comply with a more powerful individual.

Turn-taking can look like this:

  • “Sister is using the baby doll right now. When she is finished, it will be your turn.”
  • “It’s hard waiting for our turn. While brother is finishing up, why don’t you play with the blocks?”
  • Family bat and ball games or board games teach the concept of waiting for your turn.
  • You may need to introduce a timer to set limits on activities. A sand timer is great as kids can see how much time is left and prepare to end their time with the toy.

Thanks for reading.

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