Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In Kate Duke’s charming children’s book entitled, The Tale of Pip and Squeak, Duke illustrates the challenges of different siblings living together:

Pip and Squeak are two bickering brothers. They share a home, but can’t get along. Squeak’s singing hurts Pip’s ears. The fumes from Pip’s paintings give his brother fits of coughing. Everything the mouse brothers do becomes a competition, including their annual gala celebration. One year, their efforts to outdo each other nearly lead to disaster – but a surprising brotherly collaboration saves the day.


Duke’s lyrical and imaginative story highlights a common and important issue in many households: sibling rivalry. Children who are born into the same family do not automatically get along or like each other. Yet, they are placed in close proximity, sometimes even sharing a room. The challenge for those children and parents is to figure out how to work together to make life easier and more meaningful. Is sibling rivalry inevitable or it is something families can overcome through social skills training?


Sibling Rivalry: Causes, Myths and Facts

Before we get into the drawbacks of having siblings, I should point out the many benefits of growing up in a home with multiple children. Marian Borden Edelman, the author of The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Sibling Rivalry, points out the emotional and developmental benefits of siblings:

On a simple level, a sibling provides ready companionship. Kids enjoy the company of their peers.

Fantasy play (imaginative play) – an important element of a child’s development is more fun with someone at around the same developmental stage.

Having a sibling means being part of another child’s world. The child is not forced to live in a world only populated by grown-ups.

Living with siblings required negotiating skills. Brothers and sisters learn about compromise – and they learn how to make up.

Now, on to the inevitable issue of sibling rivalry. It doesn’t matter how good a parent you are, your kids will at some point feel that a sibling got more attention, more gifts, or more cake than they did. Children often see parental love as a finite quality – therefore – if you give a certain amount to one child, you no longer have any for them. Convincing your children that you have enough love to go around is the first step towards reducing sibling rivalry. However, there are also multiple steps you can take to reduce sibling rivalry that help build social skills, self-esteem, and family bonds.


Fighting Against Sibling Rivalry

Before Baby: This process can start before the birth of a new child. Informing your older children of a new arrival before the birth will allow them to adjust to the idea that they will now be sharing their parents with an additional sibling. Also, when you return home from the hospital, be sure to spend a few moments with each child individually in order to ensure them that “Mommy is home and still loves being with you.”

Stay Out of It: The first rule when dealing with sibling rivalry is to step in only if there’s a risk of physical harm. When the fighting is not dangerous, the best advice is to allow your children to work out their issues on their own. Through disagreements, children learn conflict resolution and how to compromise. If you constantly get involved, they do not have the opportunity to grow.

Authoritative, Not Authoritarian: Even with preparing your children for the birth of a new child, sibling rivalry inevitably arises because children with different temperaments are sharing the same resources and space. How can you set rules that allow children to grow as individuals without addressing issues of jealousy?

The first rule I always teach parents is “be authoritative, not authoritarian.” Authoritative means setting clear rules and boundaries that are rational and consistent. For instance, if your son is upset because your daughter got a present for her birthday, simply state, “Everyone gets presents on their birthday. When it’s your birthday, you will get a present and she won’t.” Don’t say, “Stop crying! It’s silly to be jealous over a toy you wouldn’t even play with anyway.” Setting clear boundaries without inducing guilt allows children to attempt to understand the world they are leaving in. Through these consistent rules, they gain self-esteem and additionally have an easier time functioning in the outside world.

Find the Positive: Often, a child will pick a fight or throw a fit that is directed at another sibling because they crave your attention. For instance, if you are doing homework with your first grader, your two-year-old might start throwing her blocks at the four-year-old in order to take your attention away from your first grader with homework. Instead of responding with anger at the two-year-old (and giving him the attention – albeit negative – that he is seeking), tell your four-year-old to stay away from the two-year-old. Then, if your two-year-old decides to apologize to their older sibling or clean up the blocks, praise her for her efforts.

Remember, if you respond to the negative action with attention, she has gained her objective. As Borden writes, “Accentuate the positive. Praise a child when he is behaving well so that he associates good behavior with parental attention.” This technique allows child to understand that positive actions will be rewarded, setting them up to continue to try in the future.

Take Action: How many of us find ourselves saying, “If you don’t stop bothering your sister, I am going to take away your [favorite toy]?” Often, we threaten – and sometimes follow through. Instead of threatening, take action – but I don’t mean that you should take the favorite toy away. Rather, stand up, take your child gently by the hand and lead him to an activity that he enjoys (or needs to accomplish).

For instance, if your son will not stop taunting his older sister, move him to the train table in the playroom. Then, later when he is no longer focused on getting negative attention, talk to him about how he enjoyed playing with his trains more than bothering his sister. Taking action instead of threatening teaches children that changing course when they are stuck in the midst of a non-productive action can have positive results. In the future, they might be able to apply it to other areas of their lives.


An Opportunity for Growth

Sibling rivalry is a challenge in most family, but you can also use it as an opportunity for your children to gain important social skills that will benefit them later in life.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleWhat King Solomon Had to Say about Biden’s Quandary
Next articleDaf Yomi Brain Teasers: Baba Batra 5
An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].