NZ Woman's Weekly

How to put an end to sibling rivalry

It’s the bane of Jen Marshall’s life. On their own, each of her two daughters is sweet, thoughtful, kind and loving. Put them together, though, and all they seem to want to do is kill each other.

“They are lovely girls, really, but they are driving me insane,” she says of Rose (10) and Lily (8)*. “They bicker over just the smallest things and that can lead to full-on hair-pulling fights. “They have both actually said they hate each other’s guts, which is pretty terrible. I know sibling rivalry is quite normal, but this is totally over the top.”

Sibling rivalry is common and is often due to jealousy – your child’s age and their stage of development can affect how they relate to others, especially those they spend lots of time
with – such as a sibling.

Your children’s temperaments can play a part in how they get on. Having completely different personalities can make it hard for them to relate to each other. It’s important to deal with sibling rivalry in a way that won’t make the situation even worse.


  • If you can, try to let them sort out conflict themselves. Getting involved could lead to you inadvertently appearing to take sides and could make things worse. Of course, you do need to step in if things are getting physical and there’s the chance that someone could get hurt if you don’t.
  • If you need to get involved, separate them until they are calm. Don’t immediately go over what has happened or tempers could flare again. If they are calmer they may be more reasonable.
  • Don’t try to work out who was to blame – it takes two to fight.
  • When they have calmed down, see if they can come up with solutions themselves to resolve a conflict (eg, devising a time share plan for a toy they have squabbled over).
  • Talk to them about how they felt and how they think their sibling might have felt.


  • Don’t play favourites or take sides. This will just feed the resentment.
  • Never compare your children, eg, by saying, “Why can’t you keep your room tidy like your sister?” “Please keep your room tidy,” will do.
  • Enjoy each child’s individuality. Let them be who they are.
  • If rivalry is an issue, try to avoid competitiveness between them. Don’t say, “Let’s see who can put their toys away the fastest.” If one is continually the loser (and younger children could be disadvantaged), it could make them resentful. Giving the younger ones an advantage (eg, by helping them to put their toys away) can lead to the older ones feeling jealous that you didn’t help them.
  • Work out when the fighting tends to happen and what triggers it. If they bicker before dinner or bedtime they could be hungry or tired. Earlier meals or bedtimes might help, or you may try to keep them apart and occupied during these times. If toys, TV shows or computer games are a bone of contention, set up rules around these to avoid confrontation, eg, by making them take it in turn to decide who gets to choose what they watch or play with.
  • Make sure each child gets enough time and space on their own, without having to share things with their sibling.
  • Also ensure that they have time alone with you and their other parent. Even 10 minutes a day of one-on-one time can help them to feel valued and loved, and can make a big difference to their behaviour.
  • Do fun things together as a family. It’s hard for them to squabble when they are laughing and having fun. Sharing happy experiences can foster feelings of affection.
  • Be a good role model. Learning to control your anger (even when they drive you mad) will show your kids how they can manage their frustration and fury. If the conflict between your children does become so bad it seems to be affecting the self-esteem or mental health of any member of the family, then you may need to get professional help.

* Names have been changed.

Issue 1541

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Simon Barnett’s 7 magic rules

In this week's issue of New Zealand Woman's Weekly magazine: Simon Barnett reveals his seven magic rules for raising girls.

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