Sibling rivalry: Helping your children get along

Sibling rivalry starts early. Understand what causes it and how to encourage your children to develop healthy bonds with each other. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have children, you know that maintaining peace in your household can be difficult. One minute your children are getting along and the next minute they're at each other's throats. Knowing when and how to intervene can make a difference in how well your children relate to each other. Find out what you can do to manage sibling rivalry.

What causes sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry typically develops as siblings compete for their parents' love and respect. Signs of sibling rivalry might include hitting, name-calling, bickering and immature behavior. Children often display this kind of behavior after the birth of a new baby. It can also happen anytime one child in the family receives extra attention or what's perceived to be preferential treatment.

What factors might affect how well siblings get along?

While sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up, many factors can affect how well your children get along with each other — including age, sex and personality, as well as the size of your family, whether it's a blended family and each child's position in it. For example:

  • Children close in age might battle each other more than children farther apart in age.
  • Children of the same sex might share more of the same interests, but they might also be more likely to compete against each other.
  • Middle children — who might not get the same privileges or attention as the oldest or youngest child in the family — might act out to feel more secure.
  • Children whose parents are divorced might feel driven to compete for the attention of the parent with whom they live — especially if step-siblings also live in the home.

As your children get older, the way they interact is likely to change. While younger children tend to fight physically, older children are more likely to have verbal arguments. Friction between siblings typically peaks between ages 8 and 12, when children become physically stronger and more opinionated. As teens become more independent, however, they might spend less time with family and younger siblings. This can lessen the sibling squabbling but also be difficult for younger children to accept.

Feb. 23, 2012 See more In-depth