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Sibling Rivalry

Topic Overview

Preparing for a newborn

Be prepared for a variety of reactions from your older child when a newborn joins your family. It is normal for an older child to feel jealous and displaced when you have another baby. The older sibling may go back to thumb-sucking, abandon potty training, or display other similar behaviours. These acts are children's unconscious efforts to take attention away from the newborn and focus it back on themselves.

Plan for and respond to sibling rivalry before your baby is born with these tips:

  • Prepare older siblings early in the pregnancy by talking to them about the new baby. The most important tool in helping older siblings adjust is to acknowledge their crucial role in the family. For example, you might say, "You are sister's only big brother. You can help us teach her about life. That's very special."
  • Visit your local library or bookstore. There are many excellent books for siblings about having a new baby in the home.
  • Ask your child's opinion when getting ready for baby, such as decorating the baby's room.
  • Realize that sibling rivalry often intensifies after the baby is past the newborn stage, when your older child realizes the permanence of routine and lifestyle changes.

After your baby is born, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Give your older child tasks to do for the baby. The tasks can be adapted to fit the older child's abilities, such as bringing diapers, letting him or her choose the baby's clothing, feeding the baby, helping get the baby dressed, and holding the baby or pushing the stroller.
  • Praise your child for helping with the baby.
  • Plan time alone with your older child. This can help him or her to have something to look forward to when your attention is focused on the baby.
  • Reassure the older child that your love for the baby won't replace the love you have for him or her.
  • Prepare your older child for being out of the limelight. "When we go to the party, your baby brother will get a lot of attention. That's because people love babies, not because they don't like you."
  • Give your older child extra attention when the baby is being fawned over. Also, ask close friends or relatives to give the older child extra attention in these situations.

In time and given the right encouragement, your older child will learn how to deal with his or her feelings toward a new baby sister or brother, to share, to feel responsible for other family members, and to get along with others.

Rivalry between older children

Older children have an intense need to measure up at home and get positive feedback from their parents. Often conflict arises because children feel they are competing with their siblings for this attention. Be sensitive to these often subtle struggles between siblings. And avoid comparing your children to each other.

If there is a war going on between the siblings in your house, don't be discouraged. Dealing with this conflict often serves as a useful training exercise in which siblings gain real-life experience in overcoming problems.

Like much of parenting, responding to sibling rivalry involves walking a fine line. In this case, parents might allow siblings to work out problems on their own, while also making sure that one sibling is not taking advantage of the other.


Current as of: September 20, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics