How to avoid sibling rivalry


A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek.

A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many parents want to know how to foster good sibling relationships. So what factors affect sibling relationships? Some parenting experts suggest that age gap affects sibling relationships. However, psychological studies show that age gap between siblings is not a significant factor in whether siblings get on well or not. An age gap of 18 months to three years is linked with more intense sibling relationships but this can be positive or negative. Sibling relationships are also not affected by family structure such as how large the family is. Gender has some impact but not much. Children tend to be slightly closer to sisters than brothers.

However, the way parents treat their children is a significant factor in sibling rivalry. Siblings are much more likely to fight and resent each other if parents are not equally affectionate and responsive to their children (Brody, Stoneman, & Burke, 1987).

Stocker, Dunn and Plomin (1989) observed mothers at home with their children. They found that many mothers directed more affection, control, attention, and responsiveness to younger siblings than to older siblings. You may argue that it is normal for a mother to hug a younger child more or to be more responsive to a younger child. However, children are able to see the difference between their mother meeting the needs of a younger sibling and favouritism. So how can parents treat their children equally? Parents need to be careful in the number of positive versus negative remarks they give to each child and the amount of physical affection they show each child. Parents can also try to give their children similar amounts of attention, for example, by responding to their children’s comments or gestures in equal measure. Sharing each child’s excitement or disappointments is also important. I know that many parents may think that they already try to be as fair as possible but that it can sometimes be an impossible task. However, if parents monitor their own responses, they may be able to reduce sibling rivalry in the family.

By now you may be worried that your children’s fights are all your fault but sibling rivalry is considered a natural instinct according to Freud. It is also important to note that children’s individual characters have an impact on sibling rivalry. Brody and his colleagues (1987) found that highly active, emotionally intense children showed more negative behavior towards their siblings.

So what should parents do when siblings squabble?

The most important thing is for parents not to take sides. A common mistake is for parents to ask the older child to give in but this is not dealing with the situation fairly and can cause resentment. Children can be taught how to disagree with each other without ridiculing or hurting each other.

What should parents do if one child is more academic or sporty than the other?

Parents can reduce sibling rivalry by praising their children’s efforts rather than achievement (see my previous blog on this). Children can also be taught that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, to celebrate other people’s achievements and to win gracefully.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.



Are only children spoilt?


Child 1

Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

An increasing number of families have only one child often out of choice. However, there are social pressures to have more children as the commonly held belief is that only children are lonely, spoilt and lacking in social skills. China’s one child policy has led to a generation of only children who have been dubbed ‘little emperors‘. On the other hand, research such as Falbo and Polit (1986) and Falbo and Poston (1993) have pointed to the beneficial effects of being an only child in terms of increased achievement and higher self-esteem. The research has also highlighted the negligible differences in personality between only children, first-borns and those from two-child families. Mellor (1990) found that only children scored significantly higher than children from larger families for trusting others, being independent, taking initiative, being responsible and productive and having a good self-image and high self-esteem. Oliva and Arranz (2005) found that only children did not differ from other children with regards to family relationships, peer relationships and psychological adjustment. However, there is some negative evidence about being an only child: Jiao et al. (1986) found that children with siblings were more persistent, cooperative and popular than only children. Internet accounts of being an only child suggest that it can be quite a negative experience but then such accounts can be biased as only certain types of people are likely to write their accounts on the internet or to look for support from internet forums. A recent survey ‘Understanding society’ (2009) found that the greater the number of younger siblings in the household, the less satisfaction with family life. It also found that sibling bullying is found in half of UK households. Being an only child comes with a number of benefits, such as better achievement, higher self-esteem and closer relationships with parents. The perception that only children are spoilt is simplistic. It does not take into account that being spoilt with attention is actually a good thing for young children in terms of their self-esteem. I have two friends who are only children and they are generous, kind and very unspoilt! They say that their parents gave them lots of attention but that they weren’t spoilt materially. So maybe parents of only children just need to make sure they don’t spoil their children with material items.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

Does having children make you happy?

Leave a comment

Does having children make you happy? The commonly held view is that children bring joy to your life. Anyone who is a parent knows that any joy and rewards received are mixed with the sweat and tears of parenthood. Research shows that parents are less likely to report that they are very happy compared to their childless peers. They also report less marital satisfaction and are more likely to be depressed. To add a sting to the wound, one study found that older parents whose children had left home reported the same level of happiness or less than childless couples. Based on this research I should never have had a child but I certainly have no regrets. I guess that is the thing about having children-most people don’t regret having them but they may regret not having them. The problem with these studies is that they focused on how happy people reported themselves to be at a single moment in time. When people were asked in a different study how rewarding parenting is they responded in a very different way.  People were much more likely to rate childcare as’ pleasurable’ when this word was placed alongside the word ‘rewarding’.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.