5 Positive Ways to Reduce Sibling Rivalry

It's a fact—where there's two or more children in a family, there's sibling rivalry. Try these 5 tips in your home, to encourage more kindness and less competition.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #577

"She keeps touching my doll—make her stop!"

"We always have to watch Jack's stupid shows!"

"I told you to stay out of my room!"

If you're the parent of siblings, bickering like this is the norm. Squabbles amongst siblings are a constant source of frustration for families. As much as we'd rather not have our kids at each other's throats all day long, sibling rivalry is a normal part of family life. How a parent deals with sibling friction, however, can help turn feuds into opportunities for growth and harmony.

Why do sibs squabble?

If you grew up with siblings of your own, you probably remember anything from petty bickering to all-out brawls. Why can't brothers and sisters just get along?

There are many reasons—stress, being overly tired or hungry, not feeling well, or being protective of possessions are common themes. The ultimate reason, however, is that it’s challenging for kids to share Mom and Dad with others, particularly their siblings.

Sibling jealousy, which leads to continuous rivalry, stems from each child’s deep desire for the exclusive love of his parents.

A book with terrific insight—Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish—explains that the experts in this field agree: sibling jealousy, which leads to continuous rivalry, stems from each child’s deep desire for the exclusive love of his parents.

While raising my eight kids, who were very close in age, I knew that although I had plenty of love to go around for each of them, it was also vital that they knew it. Here are five positive ways you can show each child the love, and help them constructively manage their sibling setbacks.

5 positive ways to reduce sibling rivalry

1. Try a Leader of the Day program

Once, my kindergartener snuck into her big sister’s bedroom and helped herself to the colorful Sharpies sitting on the desk. The bloodcurdling screams from my older child lead me right to the scene of the crime, the bathroom. My five-year-old was using the markers to perform a makeover on her doll, and then herself! I was preoccupied with a project at work and hadn’t spent much time with her. Now, she had my undivided attention.

And that was often the case! My kids would aggravate one another to get me to interact with them.

One way to be proactive in keeping the peace is to find ways to shower your kids with special time.

One way to be proactive in keeping the peace is to find ways to shower your kids with special time. We started a fun practice called “Leader of the day.” Twice a week (we chose Monday and Friday), we rotated kids into the leadership role. Leaders got to do things like selecting a dinner item, picking the TV shows for the evening, and having exclusive one-on-one time with Mom or Dad.

Because each child knew they would regularly have a turn at being the family leader, it drastically cut down on the routine battles for attention.

2. Encourage respect for personal turf

Most kids have a favorite possession. Although the art of sharing is an important lifeskill, forcing sibs to share beloved items can undermine their feelings of security and cause resentment. 

RELATED: 7 Ways to Raise a Caring Child

Keep special toys and spaces off-limits amongst siblings. When my kids were younger, the majority of the toys and games in our playroom belonged to all of them. Each child also had a bin marked with their name. Those things belonged exclusively to the child whose name was on the bin, unless he or she decided to share.

We also created individual nooks within our home designated for activities like reading, arts and crafts, or quiet time. Establishing these boundaries taught our siblings to respect each other’s turf.

3. Take away the target

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to teach our children to work out squabbles on their own. A sibling relationship offers the ideal environment for learning life skills like negotiating and compromising with peers and coworkers. That's why one of my personal rules for handing sibling rivalry is "don't get involved."

My kids know that if I reach three and the problem isn’t resolved, I will intervene and they’ll have to deal with the consequences.

When I see trouble brewing between my kids, I try to wait it out. (Unless, of course, the argument gets physical and someone might get hurt.) I quietly observe, and if the squabbling continues, I give them gentle reminders and warnings. I also count to three. My kids know that if I reach three and the problem isn’t resolved, I will intervene and they’ll have to deal with the consequences.

Another simple strategy is to remove the item that’s causing the fight. If they can’t agree on how to share the X-Box, I take it away. They’ll get it back the following day or when they can show me they're able to interact appropriately.

4. Create sibling bonding activities 

Teamwork is essential for building healthier relationships amongst siblings. When brothers and sisters work together to achieve a goal, they learn to bond rather than compete.

Watch this YouTube video, How to be Kind to Your Sibling, which shares some heartfelt ways that siblings can show each other the love.

Visit Pinterest for some creative and fun sibling kindness charts you can use.

Once my older kids got a driver’s license, their relationship with their younger siblings took a positive turn. Older kids are able to drive their younger siblings to a friend’s house or team practice. After, they stop to get ice cream or a burger. It warms a mother’s heart to see her children enjoying time together, and there's the bonus of getting help with transport, too!

Another way to keep the peace is to get crafty.  Check out 13 Exciting Things to Do with Your Younger Brother or Sister. (The magnetic car looks super fun!)   Note these are projects for siblings old enough not to need close supervision.

5. Issue boarding passes for car rides

In 8 Ways to Become a More Clever Parent I shared one of my favorite parenting hacks ever—issuing boarding passes for the car. This idea solved all of my transport hassles and made our driving excursions fun! Here’s how it works.   

I started by figuring out seating positions. I decided the driver's side of our SUV would be Side A and the passenger Side B. We have three rows of seats, so I gave each spot a name like "Side A, Middle Row, Window Seat" or "Side B, Back Row, Middle Seat." Then, I typed up descriptions of each seating position and glued them to pieces of heavy cardstock.

If I know we're going to have a seating war, I issue each child his boarding pass before our departure, and they know that this is where they are to sit, no questions asked. I make sure to rotate the seats regularly so that everyone gets a turn in the favorite spots. Driving is much more pleasant now.

That is, until they start in about what radio station we should listen to!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.