Psychology Explains The Biggest Causes of Sibling Rivalry

Psychology Explains The Biggest Causes of Sibling Rivalry

sibling rivalryFamily

It’s a well-known fact that you spend more time with your siblings during your childhood than with your parents. Some of these relationships are excellent as they have a strong bond, while others are precarious, and sibling rivalry is unfortunate.

Sibling rivalry can be caused by birth order, personalities, parental treatment, and things outside the family unit. Once siblings begin arguing, it can become an ugly war that can last for a lifetime.

Thankfully, many have their differences and can quickly work through them. Both parents and siblings need to understand the dynamics and what causes this friction to work through the issues.

The Top 10 Reasons That Cause Sibling Rivalry

The sibling relationship is complicated. Some naturally tend to get along, while others tend to be at each other’s throat more often. Here are the most common reasons for tension among brothers and sisters.

sibling rivalry
1. Attention Seeking Behaviors

One of the top reasons why sibling rivalry exists is because of the inherent attention-seeking nature to be noticed. If mom is spending more time with a daughter getting ready for a wedding, the brother who doesn’t even have a girlfriend feels left out.



While mom would give brother just as much time and attention, it’s the sister that needs her devotion now. Kids want their parents’ attention, and they can’t reason why their attention might be focused elsewhere at the moment.

2. Unequal Treatment Among the Group

Parents always say that they don’t have any favorites among their children. However, that statement is not 100 percent truthful. Each child goes through different phases in life where they need the parent more than others.

Additionally, one child may allow you to love and nurture them more than another. Parents tend to be closest to the sibling that needs them the most. If a child is sick and having surgery, then it’s natural that the parent caters to them at that time.

Children often get unequal treatment based on circumstances. While the parent has every right to cater to the sick child as they need attention, the other kids in the home may not see things that way. They may feel neglected and left out when nothing could be further from the truth.



Children naturally vie for their parents’ attention, and sibling rivalry can begin when they feel one is getting preferential treatment. If a parent gives more attention to one over another for no good reason, they are setting the stage not for rivalry but war.

3. The Green-Eyed Monster: Jealousy

While a little friendly competition can be healthy, having jealousy in the family is never beneficial. Envy can be there in early childhood, but it seems to grow as children get older. Parents must be careful never to foster these feelings, identify any potential issues, and immediately deal with them.

4. Promoting Competition Within the Group

No sibling has the same skill set. While you may be good at football, your brother may excel at art. There can be constant competition in any group of kids, which is sometimes healthy. The key is that the differences should never be used to build one or destroy another.

Some kids make the honor roll with little effort, while some struggle to get a “C” average. Parents must use their praise strategically so that they’re not praising one while cutting down the other. Parents must remember to honor each child for their accomplishments as individuals and not based on their sibling.



The last thing you want to do is cause a sibling rivalry over silly inner family competitions.

5. It’s a Safe Place to Vent

You get to choose your friends, but your relatives are something you can’t get rid of in life. Sibling rivalry is often steeped in the fact that they are ever-present. Many people feel safe letting their frustrations out on their siblings because they know they can’t leave even if they wanted to.

6. Unique Temperaments and Personalities

Did you know that you not only have a unique personality, but you also have a distinct temperament? These differences will dictate how you approach life’s situations.

You may be easy going and don’t see the reason to get upset over anything, while your sister may be high strung and is an anxious ball of nerves. Your sister could become terribly upset that you’re not reacting as aggressively to a situation as she.



She may find it hard to understand why you’re not reacting the same. Parents can step in and help by understanding their children and their views on issues. No two people will act the same, so each person should be treated as an individual.

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7. Changing Phases in Life

Each person will go through various developmental phases throughout life. For instance, a four-year-old has different needs than a 13-year-old. By the time a child reaches the older teen years, their developmental needs are even more altered.

These phases are one of the main reasons why children fight. Each one has different needs as their body is growing and changing, and they are less likely to understand how the other sibling thinks or feels. Being at different stages in life can cause sibling rivalry.

8. Frustrations

It’s frustrating when you don’t reach a goal you’ve set for yourself. The stress of life can be challenging, and you can take out your angst on those closest to you. In many cases, sibling rivalry is nothing more than misplaced anger from life’s woes.

How many times do you come home from work and yell at your spouse because you had a bad day? They became your sounding board because they were the safe place and the one there to take the heat. Siblings work the same way regardless of their age.

If your brother or sister has had a bad day, don’t stir the pot. Parents must also be wise to see if the argument was because of stressors outside of the relationship or because of something the sibling did to upset them.

9. Unmet Expectations

It’s only natural that spending so much time together can cause both a tight bond and issues. You learn to expect things from each other. For instance, if a group of kids is picking on you, your sibling should have your back.

Betrayal can be a devastating thing when you thought someone was there for you, but they weren’t. Even if it’s something as innocent as telling your parents that you took the extra piece of cake that’s missing, it’s the fact that they didn’t keep your secret.

Being a tattletale is never acceptable in any relationship. The loss of trust in a bond can come with bad blood. Parents need to realize that children need to have some secrets to connect.

A parent doesn’t need to know everything that goes on in their home. Allow children to have things that are kept just between them. The key is that you must know when things are severe, or someone is in danger.

Even into adulthood, some siblings feel the need to call the parents and report everything they know about their brothers or sisters. It can cause great rifts when you betray one of your siblings when you’re grown. It’s easy to see how expectations can become misplaced when involving relationships.

10. The Need for Space

When you have a brother or sister, you must share your attention throughout your life. You don’t get the love and devotion you would if you were an only child. Siblings share bedrooms and bathrooms, not to mention your parent’s affection.

Every person needs alone time and some space. Both parents and siblings should recognize that it’s okay not to be with your family 24/7. When children are always together, it can cause great turmoil just from frustration alone.

Additionally, if children are expected to step in and help with the younger kids, they may feel resentment towards their parents and siblings. Older siblings tend to be overbearing when put in this position, and it can strain the relationship.

Allow children to have time apart and some space when needed. Parents can help to facilitate this by coordinating activities with each one that gets them away from each other for a period.

sibling rivalry
Final Thoughts on Sibling Rivalry

Even in the best of families, there will be some rivalry amongst the siblings. It’s natural, can be healthy, and hard to avoid. However, parents must watch that their actions don’t foster these unhealthy wars.

Favoring one child over another is easily done without much thought, especially if you have one child who is a delight and the other is a challenge to raise. Thankfully, most sibling rivalry issues can quickly be resolved. When you spend time with someone so much, it’s only natural to expect there to be a few bumps along the way.



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