SIBLING RIVALRY: Competition for Parental Love – Part I

children, sibling rivalry, parenting, co-parenting, step parenting, behavioural issues

For parents with more than one child, concerns around fair treatment may have crossed your mind. After all, each child has his or her own needs, personality, age, and temperament, so how can they be treated the same? How do you stop envy or jealousy from developing between your children? Here are some helpful tips:


If there is one thing that any parent needs to remember is that an attitude of comparison is not helpful. A sense of being “less than” or “more than” a sibling can develop. Some amount this is inevitable as each child has his or her own strengths or weakness, but encouraging these thoughts or comparisons is unhealthy for your children. Children may compare themselves on various things but there is no need to foster comparisons between your children. One child will have more privileges due to age (gets a later bedtime or can stay our with friends later or go to the park by herself)


Foster a sense of collaboration rather than competition. A family is a team and an organization. Teach your children how to help and support each. Show your children how each one of them has his or her own strengths and how their differences contribute to helping build a stronger family. For example, having a sense of humour helps everyone laugh, while someone else is very good at locating lost items.


Give energy to positive interactions between your children, and feed and reinforce positive and cooperative behaviours rather than resort to punishment for bad behaviour. Make this a habit. Use reinforcing positive behaviours to actually reduce unwanted behaviours. Remember parents are your child’s primary model of how to behave.


Instil in your children a feeling that mum and/or dad’s love is always there to stay – any feeling that the love is reserved for one child over another, no matter how slight, can create resentment, a damaged sense of self-worth and destructive jealousy. When you do correct your child tell them you do not like their behaviours and that you love them. I do tell my kids “ I love you very much even when I am not happy with what has just happened.”


Do your own work. Sometimes parents might not realize that they may be treating their children differently, similar to ways that they experienced childhood themselves. Unaware of their own childhood patterns, they may be repeating patterns. Therapy is like caring for your car or your home with tune-ups and routine maintenance.


Surely, all children are not the same and differences are bound to create different relationships between you and your children. One thing that can remain the same across the board is that each child is reminded and reassured that they are loved unquestionably. Not just with words, but with actions. Yes, you will treat each child slightly differently because each child has her or his own needs. But ensure you spend quality individual time with each child to develop a truly personal and unique relationship with each of your children.


See conflicts as the greatest opportunities to teach your children how to resolve conflict without resorting to aggression or put-downs. This is how children learn about and how to resolve conflict. Teaching your children how to resolve conflict includes learning that everyone involved in the conflict are worthy of attention, love and respect, no matter what the situation.


Step families or blended families come with their own unique challenges as two families try to figure out how to live together with people who grew up in different homes with different rules. Be on the lookout for attitudes of exclusion, and feelings of jealousy that a child may have because they now have to share “their parent” with someone else be it your new parent or another child. As parents, you have the power to create a sense of “we are all ok” or “all deserve to be loved” and focus on celebrating positive attributes each person brings to this new “family community”. It’s important to create special time and space for your own natural children as your family makes this huge transition.

…more tips to come in Part II soon!

These are only a few of the many possible things that you can do. If you are having problems with sibling rivalry, blended family issues, differences in your couple regarding how to raise your children, or any other issues in this area, there is help at Family-Therapy in Ottawa. Greg offers family counselling in Kanata and Barrhaven. Kelly offers family counselling in Kanata. Call and book an appointment with one of our family, child, and relationship therapists at: 613-287-3799.