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Improving Sibling Relationships

Signs and symptoms

Arguments between brothers and sisters are one of the ways that children learn the importance of respecting other people’s feelings and belongings. It is also one of the ways children learn to sort out problems. Learning to argue fairly and without hurting each other at home will help children learn how to sort out issues for other relationships in the future.

How common is conflict between siblings?

It is normal for siblings to bicker from time to time. However, high levels of conflict are detrimental for those involved and disruptive for others in the home.

What causes sibling conflict?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to conflict and poor sibling relationships. Some common factors include:

  • Siblings may fight to compete for your love, attention or time. If you seem to have more time for one child than you do for another, they are likely to be jealous. Many adult children can still get upset and feel jealous of their siblings.
  • Older child who are feeling hurt and angry may try to get at a new baby or younger child in some way. If the parents then rescue the younger child (as they have to) while punishing the older child, it makes the older child feel more unloved and misunderstood.
  • A habit may develop over time, where one child always seems to be the one who starts the fights. The parents may then always rescue the child who is being picked on. This makes the one who ?started it? feel worse, and so this child will start another fight when the chance comes.

Helping yourself

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent quarrels:

  • Protect the needs of each child, e.g., prevent older children’s activities from being messed up by younger children and vice versa.
  • Spend special time with each child on a regular basis.
  • Allow each child to own some special things that they don’t have to share.
  • For younger children, see that there is more than one of the same toys such as Matchbox cars so that they can play together without having to share. Two second-hand tricycles are often better fun than one new one that has to be shared.
  • If you have three children, make sure that the same one is not left out every time. Invite other children over.
  • Children need their own bit of space which will not be interfered with by others, even if it is only a special drawer.
  • Try not to compare children with each other – this always leads to bad feelings.
  • Be generous with hugs and affection to all your children.
  • Together make ‘ground rules’ about what behaviour is not allowed in your home, e.g., no name calling or hitting. Then if you have
  • Step in - you do so because someone has broken a rule that everyone knows about, and not to just take sides.

Getting professional help

If you, or someone that you know, is in need of additional assistance, the best person to speak to is your GP. They may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The following services may also be of assistance: