Teen Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry can be one of the most frustrating aspects of raising children. So perhaps you’ll be surprised when we suggest that it can actually be beneficial. We’ll explain why sibling rivalry occurs, how it helps your child develop, and what you and your teen can do to manage it.

Reasons for Sibling Rivalry

Relationships within a family are emotionally and physically close. Because they are so close, family members have a greater power than anyone else to make other members feel angry, sad, confused — and loving. This is as true for children and adolescents as it is for adults.

One of the first reasons siblings may not get along is their profound differences. They are of a different age and temperament. Consider that the oldest child may be burdened with responsibilities for the younger children or the younger child may be trying to catch up with an older sibling. A son may be jealous of his sister because his father seems more gentle with her. On the other hand, a daughter may wish she could go on the hunting trip with her father and brother. Our society teaches that to win is to be better. So, they feel compelled to compete.

Siblings are inevitably forced to share the one person, or the two people, they most want for themselves: their parents. The both want their parents’ attention, and the parent only has so much time and attention to offer. They also fight because they are jealous. They may perceive a parent prefers the other sibling to them.

Sometimes parents believe that teens should be old enough to stop this type of behavior, but lessons about jealousy, competition, sharing and kindness are difficult to learn. Adolescents are under pressure from many different directions. Physical and emotional changes and changes in thinking cause pressures, as do changing relationships with parents and friends. Fighting with siblings may be a way for teens to get parental attention they crave when they are too embarrassed to express those needs verbally.


Sibling rivalry offers your teens the opportunity to learn how to handle conflicts. Siblings are the people with whom we use our first attempts at socializing, and our experiences tend to define how we interact with our peers in the future. Through sibling rivalry, teens learn:

  • sympathy and respect of others
  • how to deal with other personalities
  • how to negotiate
  • conflict resolution
  • why ‘being fair’ isn’t always what happens
  • how to deal with not getting their way
  • how to win

Tips for Parents to Manage Rivalry

As teens get older, direct mediation is not required, but rules are.
If you jump in to their argument, it might make it worse. It reinforces fighting as a way to get your attention. Of course, there are limits – you cannot allow them to scream at the top of their lungs or hurt each other. Make it clear to your children that physical violence is not allowed. Set up consequences for this rule before the act occurs.

Spend some time alone with each child.
Recognize that each child is different and do something separately that the specific child likes. Everyone has their own talents and interests. Take the time to bring these out in each child. Try not to make one child’s interest more important than the others. Praise each child for who they are and not just for what they can do.

Give Them a Forum.
If your teenagers know that there is a time and a place to air their grievances, they will use it. For example, you could have weekly family meetings or have an open policy to discuss issues after dinner. Insist they are respectful to their sibling as they air their grievances, but do hear them out. No problem is too small.

Recognize cooperative behavior.
If your teenagers are able to work out a problem, take notice and give some praise. This will reinforce cooperation and help with future ‘battles’.

Tips to Give Your Teen for Handling Rivalry

  • Before you act, take deep breaths. 10 deep breaths are all you need to regain your temper and keep yourself from saying or doing something you’ll regret. If you stay composed, you might actually be able to resolve the argument peacefully.
  • Don’t let their words get to you. They’re only words, after all. No matter how nasty your brother or sister is treating you, be the mature one: instead of fighting back with more insults, just walk away.
  • Pick your fights. Most fights between siblings aren’t even worth fighting. Ask yourself, “Do I really care about winning this argument?” If the answer’s no, save your breath.
  • Go to your parents, but only if it’s a serious problem that you can’t solve yourself. And don’t approach them in the heat of the fight. Wait a couple of hours, and if you still want to involve your folks, sit down with them and make your point in a mature, even tone, as if you were an adult, too.
  • Give them space. You absolutely need to take a couple of hours a day to have sibling-free time. If you don’t have your own room, then do some of your homework at the library, or find a spot to volunteer, or go for a jog. Consider making a pact with your sibling to respect closed doors.
  • Give yourself a break. There’s no use aiming for a perfect relationship with your brother or sister, because perfect relationships with siblings don’t exist. Know that it’s normal to feel jealous, annoyed or frustrated every once in a while. Cherish the happy times with them, even if they’re rare occurrences. Those are the moments that’ll really stick with you when you’re living on your own.

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