Direct from
Dr. Lowenstein

Summertime and Sibling Rivalry

For many families, summer vacation is a carefree escape from the rigors of the school year – a time for your school-age kids to relax and have fun. But with fewer demands on everyone’s schedule and more time together as a family, there’s a pretty good chance sibling rivalry will occasionally rear its ugly head. When it does, your role as a parent will kick into high gear.    

Sibling rivalry grows out of a natural inclination to compete with a brother or sister, and everything from birth order to family dynamics can fuel the situation. But when the bickering and fighting feels like it’s getting out of control, don’t fret. Sibling rivalry may be a normal part of growing up with siblings, but there are things you, as a parent, can do to promote cooperation and keep it at bay.

Keep your cool. Not all sibling rivalry takes place as a knock-down-drag-out fight when you’re checking out at the supermarket – but that scenario could happen. If you’re a parent of younger children, this potential scenario may be your worst nightmare. When a disagreement takes place, however, be sure to remain calm. Losing control will only cause the situation to spiral. 

Avoid making comparisons. Sibling rivalry often occurs when children compete for a parent’s attention. The best way to combat those feelings is to show your children how much you appreciate them as an individual. This happens when you spend time with them. But it also occurs when you applaud their strengths – and you do so without labeling them. Labels set the stage for competition as one child may feel inferior if a sibling has been labeled “the smart one” or “the natural athlete,” for instance.    

Be a role model. The best way to teach your children how to get along is to model the behavior. If you and your spouse can work out your differences without fighting, your kids will witness that and learn from it. Likewise, when you openly apologize for something you’ve done wrong, that sends a message that they, too, must learn how to say they’re sorry when they’ve said or done something wrong.  

Set some ground rules. Kids respond best to a daily routine that includes rules and expectations. For instance, disagreements are less likely to occur when everyone in the family knows whose turn it is to help with the dishes, mow the lawn, or take out the trash. Similarly, there should be expectations about everything from sharing toys to talking civilly to one another.   

Listen before you judge. As a parent, you know your children better than anyone. But that can also lead to snap judgments on your part. When a disagreement breaks out between siblings, take the time to hear both sides of the story. For larger, more complicated disputes, get everyone in the same room and talk about what happened. Ideally, you want to create a situation where each child feels heard. But you also want each child to learn from the experience and understand how he or she might act differently in the future.  

Create a non-competitive environment. If competition is the root cause of why many siblings don’t get along, then your job as a parent is to create an environment in which they don’t feel the need to compete with each other. Be equally generous with your love. Openly praise each child. And be ready to dole out equal doses of support. At the same time, look for ways to teach your children about cooperation, sharing, and compromise. These are great skills for getting along with siblings – and for getting along in life.

Image by Ana Krach from Pixabay

Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.