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Oh, great. The kids are fighting again. (Part 1 of a 2-Part Article)

Image of Oh, great. The kids are fighting again. (Part 1 of a 2-Part Article)

The wails. The screeching. “Mommy!!!” You hear. You sigh. Great, yet another sibling conflict that makes you want to pull your hair out. “Weren’t they just fine 5 minutes ago?” You ask yourself.

Sibling rivalry – the competition between siblings for love, attention, and recognition from one or both parents – is often part and parcel of growing up, even in the best of families. It could include some of the following:

  • Calling each other names‌

  • Telling on each other, whether truthfully or not‌

  • Verbal sparring, but not good-naturedly‌

  • Poking or hitting each other‌

  • Breaking or hiding each other’s possessions

  • Being in constant competition for parental attention

Some fights can seem downright ridiculous to us adults, but it’s serious business for the kids.

Why can’t my kids get along?

Living with someone can get pretty frustrating. Let’s be honest: sometimes your spouse just… gets on your nerves, right? It’s perfectly normal to not always see eye to eye and get irritated with one another. The same thing happens between siblings – and on top of that, other factors also come into play:

  1. Lack of skills. Keep in mind that children don’t come equipped with the skills to reflect on what’s upsetting them, keep their impulses at bay, and maturely manage conflict. They’re still learning and often don’t understand that they can’t always get what they want, and they may not know how to express their needs or be appropriately assertive.

  2. Comparison. Human beings are quite naturally oriented towards comparison, and siblings provide an easy point of comparison – they grow up in the same environment, have similar experiences (such as going to the same school), are constantly around each other, and are often just a few years apart in age. Both similarities and differences in interests and talents can become sources of contention as children try to assert their individuality and stand out to get parental recognition and attention.

  3. Fairness. The idea of fairness is fundamental to children, and sometimes, their concept of fairness isn’t the same as ours. Younger children may be jealous of what their older siblings are allowed to do (such as going to bed later), and older kids may feel resentful that they were granted privileges at a later age (“Why didn’t I get a phone when I was 9?”) or are given more responsibility (Having to care for their pesky sibling? No way!). If a child in your family has special needs, they may require more attention and time, which could spark feelings of unfairness among your children.

Please stay tuned for the Part 2 article on “Minimising Sibling Rivalry” in our next eDM!

If you would like to have more parenting support, register your interest at https://go.fycs.org/PSS, email us at [email protected] or call 88694006. Our parenting support services are offered free. 

Written by Helene Tan, Programme Executive, Fei Yue Community Services


Leung, A. K. D., & Robson, W. L. M. (1991). Sibling Rivalry. Clinical Pediatrics, 30(5), 314-317.

Brennan, D. (2021). What Are the Main Causes of Sibling Rivalry? MedicineNet. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/what_are_the_main_causes_of_sibling_rivalry/article.htm

Healthline (2020). Give Peace a Chance: Sibling Rivalry Causes and Solutions. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/sibling-rivalry

Morgan, K. (2021, November 24). Does sibling rivalry ever end? BBC Family Tree. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20211122-does-sibling-rivalry-ever-end

Caron, C. (2020, May 8). Oh, good, the kids are fighting again. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/08/parenting/kids-fighting-quarantine-coronavirus.html

McCready, A. (n.d.). Sibling rivalry. Retrieved from https://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/sibling-rivalry

Kramer, L. (n.d.). More Fun with Sisters and Brothers. About the Program. Retrieved from https://funwithsistersandbrothers.org/about-the-program-3/

Dirks, M. A., Recchia, H. E., Estabrook, R., Howe, N., Petitclerc, A., Burns, J. L., Briggs-Gowan, M. J., & Wakschlag, L. S. (2018). Differentiating typical from atypical perpetration of sibling-directed aggression during the preschool years. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12939