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Sibling rivalry can be good for your children

My husband works in another town. On one of his regular visits home, he brought toys for our two younger children — a water pistol and a colourful car.

By tacit agreement, the flashy car belonged to the boy while the water squirter belonged to the girl, but they were also supposed to occasionally swap them.

After the novelty wore off, they began to bicker over whose toy was superior; the previous informal agreement apparently not being worth the paper it wasn’t printed on.

When my son’s toy car executed a previously undiscovered, particularly impressive feat, his jealous sister promptly drenched him with her gun, which, in turn, led to a flurry of blows.

Any lectures about the prudence of sharing toys had long been forgotten. In fact, I realised that my daughter could recite verbatim what I was going to tell her before I even opened my mouth.

Their fight made me consider confiscation, but, because it is not a good idea to yell ‘fire!’ every time someone lights a match, I backed off.

Sometimes we parents have to let our children learn how to work around their conflicts, like my parents did with my siblings and I.

My older sister and I disagreed very often than with our other three siblings. I even remember solemnly beseeching God to ‘take her away’ in the night while we slept.

My parents rarely stepped in because we mostly engaged in pointless arguments.

We eventually learned how to resolve our differences and are now the best of friends.


In dealings with my kids, I have learned to identify each child’s preference.

Since the rivalry is more pronounced between the younger two kids, I have to be very careful when making purchases for them.

For instance, I buy cartoon DVDs, novels and yoghurt for my daughter, and documentaries, puzzles and soft drinks for her brother.

Even as I try to maintain peace in the home, I have to draw the line on sibling rivalry when it spills over into unacceptable behaviour such as physical or verbal abuse.

As a parent I must also be careful not to contribute to sibling rivalry between my children.

As Elizabeth Fishel said; “Comparison is a death knell to sibling harmony.” 

From experience, nothing is more annoying than being shoved into the wrong pigeonhole. 

Some siblings are like oil and water, and parents must learn to accept and appreciate each of their children’s different personalities; to bring up the children they have, and not those they wish they had.

Healthy competition

Not all sibling rivalry breeds healthy competition. A child who is made to feel ashamed by an envious brother or sister needs to be protected from the possibility of this jealousy escalating into action. 

Parents must also avoid applying the divide-and-conquer technique; openly showing preference for, say, an intelligent child. 

Although they may refrain from outright comparison, their actions will be clear to their children, and this might awaken feelings of inferiority. 

Disagreements are inevitable when a group of people live with each other. I try to teach my children to find amicable solutions to their sibling rivalry, which should translate into mature conflict resolution in adulthood.