“Who’s your favorite kid?” How to handle sibling rivalry

By Olivia K. Pitkethly, MA, LMHC

Sibling rivalry can occur at any age, and can happen when there are changes in the family, such as a new baby, job change or move. When I think of sibling rivalry, I think of Kevin and Randall Pearson, two characters in America’s latest TV drama-filled obsession, “This is Us.” The show has depicted the two brothers as rivals on a high school football field, in a swanky restaurant and on a quick neighborhood run. More notable, however, is the competition for their mother’s affection, which seems to be the root cause of most instances of sibling rivalry.

Attention

“Most sibling rivalry stems from wanting parent attention,” Leslie Costello, mother of two teenagers, said. She advised parents to recognize individual traits in each child and to avoid comparing them to one another.

“Recognize the unique talents and strengths that each one has,” she said. “Allow them to find their own paths, and then devote equal time to each child’s passions. Never allow one child to put down or dismiss another’s passions.”

Individual time works well for children as well. By providing your child with individualized attention, you let her know how important she is to you. This shows her that she does not have to compete with her siblings for your approval.

Adis Davis does her best to spread her time among her three active boys. “I try to give them individual time, like a date night,” she said. “It’s not the antidote, but it helps. They also have individual venting sessions on a regular basis.”

If finding that one-on-one time is difficult with busy schedules, recruit other family members to help out. “We try to give them one-on-one time as much as we can, even with Nana and Papa, so they get some time that is focused just on them,” Kimberly McAlhany, mother of two girls, said. “The one-on-one time helps everyone regroup and helps the girls realize there doesn’t need to be a competition for attention.”

Comparison

To further reduce competition, be sure not compare your children. This might seem obvious, but it can also be difficult, especially if you find your children are very much alike. Silvana Fajardo, a mother of twin boys, said that this is a challenge for her, but it is worthwhile to see her boys praise each other for their achievements.

Encouraging a positive and loving relationship between your children can provide a solid foundation for the future. Teach your children how to resolve conflicts through open and honest communication. Discuss the importance of family bonds and note that one day, they will only have each other.

Jin Robles credits her mother’s lesson from childhood for her friendship with her brothers in adulthood. “She gathered us and said, ‘look at each other. These are your only brothers and sister. Someday you will only have each other. Apologize, and think of a way you can work together,’” said Robles. “I really think it shocked us so much that it worked. She did this on more than one occasion, but I’ll never forget that first time. Epiphany.”

The Funny Side

Parents were asked “What approach has worked for you?” when dealing with sibling rivalry. Some of the answers were too funny not to share!

“Boxing gloves” – dad of two

“Drink” – mom of three

“I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m hoping they’ll just turn 18 and move out…” – mom of three