Sibling Rivalry: First, Address the Root Cause

girls holding signs blaming each other

Mary asked in the comments of Verbal Fireworks for some Love and Logic responses to sibling rivalry that might work. I’m putting my thoughts here and in the next post on this topic; any other suggestions that you may have to add to the comments section would be just fantastic. 🙂

Here’s Mary’s comment, so you don’t have to go look for it:

Do you have more responses to arguments with love and logic. I read it but didn’t get all of it. what worked when they were younger does not seem to work as well. I know we’re supposed to let them work it out but what about when they begin hitting…..or it’s just driving me crazy to hear. At the same time, I remember fighting with my sister and pulling hair but we were best friends in high school and even shared a locker …..by choice! Is it just natural for siblings to fight and how much do you let it get “worked out” and how far do you intervene or when do you start giving consequences. I would love different feedback from people!

Okay, my thoughts on sibling rivalry. First, you need to try and determine what’s causing it. My own brother is 2 years younger than me, and we fought just terribly growing up. Seriously, in high school I believed that I truly hated the boy. After college, he wound up moving in with me for several months while I was working and he was taking classes and we got along beautifully. In fact, I was having one of the worst years of my life, and lil’ bro was able to put up with me with no conflict whatsoever. (Personal note to bro: thanks, buddy.)

One afternoon during this time we went out to dinner with the folks, and I was astounded to find myself at odds with bro again. All the old rivalries started bubbling up and we found ourselves starting to argue at the table. That’s when it hit me: we weren’t fighting because of a difficulty with each other. We were fighting because we were vying for attention from our parents.

As soon as I reached that conclusion, I was able to back down and we haven’t fought since. Now, we were both adults when we reached the level of maturity required to get along. Clearly that won’t be the case most of the time with younger children still living at home.

My point is this: as with the rest of the Love and Logic approach, it’s how you change your own parenting behaviors that your children’s behavior is changed. If a need for attention is driving your kids’ fighting then perhaps it’ll subside if you find ways to connect individually with them. If their Love Buckets are filled, then they’re less likely to pick on each other.

Captain Earthquake and The Manager have been experimenting with just plain getting under one another’s skins lately. We were shopping for clothes recently, and first the Captain was crying because The Manager was ‘following him’. 5 minutes later, the roles had switched, and it was the Manager complaining because the Captain wouldn’t stop dogging his steps. The pattern continued for the rest of our time in that store.

What was happening? Well first, they were tired and hungry. Second they were shopping for (gasp) clothes, an activity they don’t enjoy. It’s natural for a tired hungry boy who’s out of his element to act up. Some of this was developmental as well. Experimenting with words and manipulation is something children do as they learn how to get along with other human beings.

I didn’t choose to ask many Love and Logic questions during the shopping trip drama. Instead, I stopped, got down on my knees, made eye contact, and explained that I knew they were tired, hungry, and wanting to leave. I told them exactly what we needed to do to get out of the store (try on 3 shirts, pay for clothes, walk to car) and about how long I thought that would take. Then I promised that we’d drive straight to a food vendor as soon as we got in the car.

My point is that it’s important to address the reason for the arguing. Frequently, the arguments have no direct connection to the root cause of the problem. My brother and I fought over everything under the sun, but never did we tell our parents “I just want your attention.” Heck, I doubt either of us realized that was the need at the time.

I haven’t directly answered Mary’s question yet. 🙂 I will…in the next post on this topic. Putting it all into one was getting too long. In the meantime, if you have reactions to this post or suggestions for Mary, please leave a comment. We love input here at Earnest Parenting.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who don’t enjoy sibling rivalry.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

View all contributions by

{ 2 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment


9 − six =

CommentLuv badge

  • What Moms Say January 5, 2009, 12:17 am

    “In my opinion, the causes of sibling rivalry are:
    Evolving needs
    Individual temperaments
    sick kids
    Role models
    how to deal:
    don’t get involved, unless there’s a physical harm.
    if they start calling bad names, teach them how to express their angry feeling with appropriate words.
    shouting is never going to work
    you are acting as a judge, so try to set up a win-win outcome so that every child feels he had gained SOMETHING by fair decision.
    quarreling and rivalry is what teach kids the following:
    how to respect others self esteem
    how to control aggression
    how to keep peace
    how to value norms
    how to negotiate
    and above all, they gain skills to live a better life.

    Reply