Why can’t they get along?

Sib­ling ri­valry can be a headache for par­ents. Here’s how to stop your kids from bick­er­ing and try­ing to outdo one an­other

DRUM - - Advice - BY NICI DE WET

FAM­ILY time . . . words that should elicit warm, fuzzy feel­ings and bring to mind im­ages of to­geth­er­ness, fun and laugh­ter. But not for Nomsa*, whose four sons range in age from nine to 16. She’d love to have re­laxed fam­ily time – but in­stead she’s at her wits’ end thanks to the boys’ con­stant bick­er­ing. “It can be any­thing from who’s go­ing to sit in the front seat of the car to who goes on the PlayS­ta­tion first,” Nomsa (46) says. “And if I show pref­er­ence to one, they take it out on one an­other. It’s like they’re con­stantly try­ing to ex­ert their power over one an­other – it’s ex­haust­ing.”

While it can be drain­ing for Nomsa, her sons’ be­hav­iour is ac­tu­ally quite nor­mal, says Kirsten McLeod, a child coun­sel­lor at Foun­da­tions for Life in Cape Town. “Sib­ling ri­valry is all about kids work­ing out their place in the fam­ily.”

Dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and ages play a role, but sib­lings tend to see them­selves as ri­vals com­pet­ing for an equal share of lim­ited fam­ily re­sources. How it plays out dif­fers from fam­ily to fam­ily, and it can drive par­ents crazy. We asked a few ex­perts for tips on how to han­dle it.


While con­flict be­tween sib­lings is nor­mal, in­ces­sant squab­bling needs to be ad­dressed. But be­fore you can do some­thing about it you need to un­der­stand where it comes from. Th­ese are the most com­mon trig­gers.


Most house­holds don’t have un­lim­ited re­sources, which means sib­lings at some stage have to share at least some of their pos­ses­sions. It’s par­tic­u­larly hard for a young child to hand over a favourite toy to an­other sib­ling.


Your el­dest child might be an in­tro­vert while the youngest is out­go­ing and head­strong, or vice versa. Dif­fer­ences in tem­per­a­ment as well as age and gen­der can lead to sib­ling con­flict.


A younger sib­ling might com­plain that her older sis­ter gets to go to a con­cert when she has to stay home.

Or an older sis­ter whines about hav­ing to babysit her lit­tle brother in­stead of go­ing out with her friends. Feel­ings of un­fair treat­ment and jeal­ousy can lead to re­sent­ment and ri­valry.


Chil­dren are al­ways vy­ing for their par­ents’ at­ten­tion and when they see a sib­ling get­ting more at­ten­tion than they do, it can make them act out.

This can be made worse when par­ents com­pare them with each other, for ­ex­am­ple by say­ing things such as, “Why can’t you be more like your sis­ter?” or “Stop be­ing so sensitive like your ­brother.”

A com­mon cause of ri­valry is the ar­rival of a new baby – it can be hard for the other child to ac­cept los­ing their po­si­tion as the cen­tre of at­ten­tion.


“When one child sees a sib­ling achiev­ing things while they’re not achiev­ing to the same level, it can also lead to ri­valry,” says Dane Chan­non, a pae­di­atric psy­chol­o­gist based in East Lon­don.

“This can be re­in­forced by the par­ents, of­ten un­know­ingly.”

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