Dealing With Sibling Rivalry

How you introduce or share the information with a child or children that another child is going to join the family (through mother giving birth or adoption) depends first and foremost on the age of the child or children at home. Young children may be enthralled with the idea of a baby growing in mom’s tummy, while teenagers may turn crimson at the thought of their parents having sex. Be mindful of the questions that may arise when a sibling comes to the family by way of adoption.

Keep It Real

Think through how they deliver this information and that whatever you share with the child is based in reality. Please don’t say to a young child:

“We love you so much that we decided to have another child just like you…and the baby is going to be soft and gentle…and you are going to love your brother (or sister)…and we are going to have so much fun together….

The reality is that while your child may somewhat interested in what you are saying, or perhaps is now sleeping as your sentence is entirely run on, he or she may already be wondering what is going on. The truth is that in many ways, the addition to the family will turn the family upside down.  The child is going to experience his parent or parents as sleep-deprived, frustrated, and cranky.  There will also be an infusion of energy and excitement, which will be a very positive experience for everyone. The child is also going to deal with the vast amount of attention that the new addition to the family will receive not only from parents but from extended family members and friends.

Competition For Attention Is Normal

It is natural for children in a family to compete and act the part of rivals with each other. For the most part, what we often see is normal and expected behavior. Parents need to be conscious of different situations and settings that can occur. One potentially tricky experience is when one child has or demonstrates a particular gift or attribute. Whether this is in art, music, academics, sports, or “popularity,” it is often challenging in this case to be the other child who is not the “star.” Parents also need to be very aware that although we say we don’t compare our children, the fact is we do so, and we do it all the time. Are you saying that you love your children the same? How is this possible? Each child has specific characteristics that you are drawn to, and each child has certain traits that you find it more challenging to be around. Not liking certain aspects of your child’s personality and or behavior does not make you a bad parent; it makes you an honest parent.     The more accurate you are with your feelings helps you to interact with your child healthily.

One particularly tricky issue to deal with within the context of sibling rivalry is how your children may compete for your attention. In many cases, this is more powerful than the competition between children regarding who is better at something, such as getting good grades or in sports.  The race for love and attention from the parent is the foundation of the rivalry. Parents must try as hard as they can to find the time and energy to provide for the unique needs of each child. It is helpful for children in busy, hectic families to have some “alone time” with a parent, but this is not always feasible.

Don’t Be Defensive

Children are also very adept at playing off the rivalry issue by wrapping it into the notion of “parent fairness.”  “You let Alice stay up till nine,” You help David with his homework.”  At a dollar a comment, we would all be retired. You must work very hard not to feel or react in a defensive position. It makes perfect sense that you do things differently with your children.  Stop feeling put on the spot when your child points out an obvious observation. The different ways in which you praise and punish is a function first and foremost with how that child behaves. Children who behave appropriately should have more privileges than children who don’t. It is as simple as that.



Contact Info

  • Dr. Joseph Rabinovitz, Ed.D., P.A.
  • 2295 NW Corporate Blvd., Suite 231
    Boca Raton, FL 33431
  • Phone: 561.241.8822
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