Top 7 Causes of Sibling Rivalry

brothers fighting
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Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up. Kids of all ages argue, pester, and complain about one another. Understanding the root causes of sibling rivalry can help parents address it appropriately and put an end to the fighting before the conflict gets worse. Here are the top seven causes of sibling rivalry:

1. Jealousy

Whether you’re bringing home a new baby, or you’re dealing with a child who wants to do everything an older sibling gets to do, jealousy is at the root of much sibling rivalry.

Children are often uncomfortable sharing their parents’ attention and affection. When they see a sibling receiving praise, attention, or rewards of any kind, they’re likely to retaliate and take out their frustration in a hostile or outright aggressive manner.

2. Identity Formation

Name calling, hitting, and competition may stem from a child’s quest for independence. In an attempt to show they have their own talents, skills, and personalities, children will often compete to prove they’re “the best.” Their desire to stand out from the crowd may lead them to try to out-perform or outshine one another in multiple ways.

3. Boredom

Boredom often drives kids to pick fights with one another. Whether they lack stimulation while riding in the car, or they’re tired of playing by themselves, annoying a sibling often serves as a source entertainment. Getting a reaction from a sibling - even if it is negative attention - can amuse kids of all ages.

4. Attempts to Establish Hierarchy

Just like in the animal kingdom, rivalry among siblings often results as young family members work to establish a hierarchy. Kids try to fight for their place in the family to show who's really in charge. A younger sibling may want to prove he’s “tougher,” or an older sibling may try to assume the role as caretaker.

Changes within the family – such as the birth of a baby, adoption of a new child, or the blending of stepfamilies – often leads to more rounds of sibling rivalry as each child tries to prove his place in the family.

5. Low Frustration Tolerance

Dealing with an annoying younger brother or a bossy older sister requires a lot of patience and many kids just don’t have the tolerance. Some kids have a fairly low threshold for frustration much of the time, while other kids only seem to struggle when they’re tired, hungry, or stressed out. Sharing, playing nice, and taking turns can be especially hard for children running low on patience. They may react aggressively or impulsively toward a sibling who grates on their nerves.

6. Lack of Conflict Resolution Skills

Sometimes kids just aren’t sure how to negotiate, problem-solve, or compromise in a socially appropriate manner. As a result, they yell, hit, or make unreasonable demands. Learning how to regulate their emotions, manage their anger, and experience empathy for others can go a long way to reducing ongoing sibling conflicts.

7. Bids for a Sibling’s Attention

Sometimes kids just don’t know how to ask for help or how to invite a sibling to play nicely. They may fear rejection or may not want to admit that they even want to play with one another. Rather than asking, a child may hit his brother or steal his toy. Those types of behaviors are likely to get a sibling’s attention, but aren’t likely to result in peaceful play.

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