top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. Jennifer McGinness

"How to Help Your Kids Navigate Sibling Rivalry: Tips for Parents"

Defining Sibling Rivalry 

Most parents of multiple children are familiar with sibling rivalry. However, it can sometimes be unclear how the sibling rivalry developed. Sibling rivalry can take many forms including jealousy, competition, and conflict. Typically, sibling rivalry starts when one child feels treated unfairly or feels that the other sibling is receiving more attention. As all parents of multiple children know, sometimes one child requires more attention than another due to age differences, health concerns, academic needs, or extracurricular activities. Although parents love all of their children equally, it is not possible to give each child maximum attention at all times. However, it can be difficult to communicate this concept to a child who is feeling attention deprived. 

sibling rivalry

Discuss Feelings 

One of the biggest mistakes parents of siblings can make is brushing aside their children’s concerns over parent attention and perceived unfair treatment. For most parents, if a child asks whether the parent loves the other sibling more, the parent’s immediate reflex is to say, “that’s not true!” or “I love you equally!” However, by making a statement like this, the parent invalidates that child’s emotional experience. Instead, it is crucial for parents to approach this topic with curiosity and ask, “what makes you feel that way?” This allows the child to feel heard, receive attention, and express difficult emotions. The next step in this conversation is to ask the child to describe what they need. Ask, “how can we make sure you feel like you are both treated equally?” 

Provide Attention & Praise 

Another important facet of addressing sibling rivalry is to provide attention to each child in a way that feels equal for each sibling (even if in reality, one child requires more care). One way to do this is to “catch each child being good” as often as possible. Provide praise intermittently throughout the day to each sibling for even the smallest efforts. For example, try to start the day with praise for a job well done by saying something like, “great job getting up on time!” or “I noticed you poured your cereal yourself!” Providing descriptive praise for each child’s efforts helps to boost self-esteem and shows each child that you are noticing them. As an added bonus, this reinforces positive, independent behavior. Additionally, try setting aside small chunks of time throughout the week for each child to have one-on-one time with one or both parents. For example, on Wednesday nights after the younger sibling goes to bed, one parent can schedule 15 minutes of coloring time with the older sibling. Even a small amount of time can make a huge difference for a child who is feeling deprived of parent attention. 

sibling rivalry

Educate Siblings on Child Development

Another way to reduce sibling rivalry is to educate siblings on stages of development. For example, your seven-year-old may wonder why her three-year-old sibling doesn’t have to help set the table. In this case, it would be important to explain that the three-year-old sibling has not yet developed the fine motor skills to set the table efficiently. For additional information on educating older siblings about their younger siblings’ development, check out the CDC’s Milestone Moments Checklist. Likewise, if your 13-year-old daughter is upset because her 17-year-old brother is allowed to date and she isn’t, she may benefit from learning about emotional development in adolescence. Similarly, it can be helpful for siblings of chronically ill children to be educated about their sibling’s needs. This helps the child to understand that the parent is not “playing favorites” but instead, acting out of necessity for the ill child’s wellbeing.  

sibling rivalry

Establish Family Rules & Privileges

Finally, it can be helpful for families to establish well-defined rules, expectations, privileges, and consequences. For example, a privilege for a 10-year-old could be a 9:30 pm bedtime instead of 9:00 pm bedtime. If each sibling is aware that this is a household rule, it is less likely to seem like the older child is getting special treatment by having a later bedtime. Similarly, establishing age-appropriate chores based on developmental abilities can help to reduce conflict among siblings. For guidance on establishing developmentally appropriate chores, check out the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s guidelines: Chores and Children (

For additional information on addressing family and sibling conflict, check out my previous posts: Tips for Communicating with Kids and The Power of Active Listening. If you are facing challenging family dynamics or difficulty managing conflict among siblings, it can be helpful to talk with a therapist!


At Balanced Minds Psychology  & Wellness we specialize in assisting young adults, teens, and children with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile.  If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation, either over telehealth or in person!


bottom of page