Sibling Rivalry

How Parents Can Avoid Unhealthy Sibling Rivalry

Siblings bickering, arguing and fighting are as common as seeing the sun rise every morning. The challenge is when simple bickering becomes more serious. We want to discuss how parents can avoid unhealthy sibling rivalry. You might ask yourself how parents cause sibling rivalry. When parents interfere in the healthy competition between siblings, it could lead to unhealthy sibling rivalry that can affect relationships well into adulthood.


As far back as the bible there are several examples of siblings who were rivals. Some of these include Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers and this passed on to even David’s sons. If you study these stories, you can find some link to the parent’s involvement somehow except in the case of Cain and Abel.

In all the other cases there was a bit of influence from the parents.; Joseph’s father was guilty of favouritism and the famous coat of many colours. The mother was responsible for the rivalry between Jacob and Esau. In the case of David, all we know is that the dad did not remember to mention his son in the field and we know that his brothers did not take kindly to his suggestion that he could take on Goliath.

Is all Sibling Rivalry Bad?

How do you know if there are signs of sibling rivalry that you should worry about? The small fights such as who seats on mum’s lap on the way to school or who sits beside dad in the front of the car are relatively simple and can be dealt with fairly. These are relatively harmless though parents do have to pay attention to the signs if one child feels unloved or sad because he or she never gets to sit beside mum in the car.

The signs for concern can sometimes creep up unexpectedly, but usually, there are always some traits to look out for.

How Parents Cause Sibling Rivalry

Comments such as “Why can you not behave like your brother?” or comparing their abilities on academics is a no-no. No one likes to be compared to other people, talk less of to a sibling. Many Nigerian parents are especially guilty of this when it comes to academics. “Why did you not get 9 A*s like your sister?” These comments do not build confidence and do not encourage the child on the receiving end.

Sibling Rivalry Celebrate each child’s efforts and appreciate they are trying their best. Where you want to encourage your child(ren) you can make suggestions such as “do you want to get help from your older brother on how to solve your math problems” (e.g. if said older brother is a math whizz). This is more positive and acknowledges the fact that it is okay to get help from each other. Each child has a specific gift or talent. [Read: 5 Parenting TedX Talks]


This has been known to tear many families apart. Many times this rears its head when the children get older when the years of not being the favourite takes it toll on the child. Depending on who you ask, many parents feel that children should be loved equally. However, there are circumstances whereby a parent makes it clear that he or she has a soft spot for a particular child over another; and this is not healthy. Every child deserves to feel unconditionally loved by his or her parents.

As a parent be intentional about showing equal amount of love to each child. It is rather common that a parent who has a favourite child will also praise this child more. As a middle child, I was compared so much to my older brother and younger sister and it was very clear I was not the favourite child. The way this manifested was that I decided not to have three children so that the middle child will not suffer like me. Now as a parent, I am very conscious and make sure to never compare my children, I celebrate each child for who he or she is. Watch a video on this here

sibling rivalry
Raising entitled children

When parents raise entitled children, they end up becoming rather selfish and think of only themselves. As life gets on and the children get older things can go awry. If they have not learnt to take care of each other and look out for each other this can lead to sibling rivalry. These adults are the ones who could end up fighting over their parents’ will and property. Teach children to love themselves especially as siblings. Encourage them to be considerate of themselves.

Parental Disappointment

Sometimes parents have such strong opinions on what they want for a particular child. Parents can project this disappointment when the child does not live up to their expectations. It could be that the parent has a particular career in mind or desire to marry into a certain family type. When this does not happen as planned some parents tend to transfer their hope to the more compliant child. There are several cases such as this that make the one who chose a different path feel unloved. This can cause a rift and ultimately rivalry between siblings.

Different Parenting Styles

Different parenting styles over time could be a trigger for rivalry. Parents sometimes spend less time with their first child because they might have been busier building their careers. As the children get older the parents tend to have more time and resources to spend on the younger ones. The older children might feel that they did not get the best or that their parents were tougher on them than their younger siblings. Differing parenting styles could also show up in a different way; whereby parents treat the older sibling in a special way and do not give the younger ones a say. When not managed well it can cause a rift. [Read: Best and Worst Parenting Styles]

How Parents can avoid unhealthy sibling rivalry

Overall love and communication are critical ingredients when raising children. It is also important to ask your children how you are doing every now and then. Also, be intentional to catch yourself if you are guilty of any of these.

Sibling love is one of the most important relationships and is beautiful when they are adults with healthy loving relationships. Watch here

Overall love and communication are critical ingredients when raising children. Click To Tweet
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