Sibling Rivalry

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07 Oct 2013

Children sticking out tongues“One of my children is always interrupting conversations and telling us and her siblings her opinion. She is very bright and she does have good ideas, but the way she gives over her opinion annoys her siblings. We call her a “know it all” and a “show off.” I told her that she bothers her siblings, but that does not seem to help.”

“The baby of our family is very spoiled. He cries and whines all the time. His older siblings call him a “crybaby” and they are right. We are all finding his behavior childish.”

“I have twin girls. One of them adores her sister and will do anything for her. The other one ignores her sister and leaves her out when she is playing with her friends. She is downright mean to her sister and we all tell her so!”

Sibling issues can be tough and hard to handle but it gets even worse when children are place in negative roles either by their siblings or their parents. The “show off”, the “crybaby” and the “meanie” are just some examples of the derogatory labels that families may use to describe children.

This may sound counterintuitive, but to change a child’s behavior, we need to focus on their positive behavior, what he/she is doing right instead of what he/she is doing wrong.

When we see children exhibit a behavior that we find off-putting we tend to point it out to that child.  We might say, “You are acting like a show off!” The other children may or may not have picked up on the annoying behavior. But now that you have mentioned and labeled the behavior, they certainly will. At this point the whole family will most likely jump on the bandwagon and start calling he/she a “show off. Everyone will start to view this child in a negative way.

Unfortunately, he/she also begins to think of themselves in that way. Children often become the labels that they are called. A child thinks, “If my parents and siblings think I’m a show off, (cry baby or a meanie) than it must be true.”  It becomes a part of their self-image. He/She then naturally works to perpetrate that role.

As parents we need to avoid using negative labels to describe our children but once we have or our kids have, we need to work hard to eradicate the role in which that child has been placed. As one of my clients put it, Parents, are the chauffeur, cook, maid, but most important the PR agent of the family. You need to launch a campaign to change your child’s negative image. To do that you need to find that times that she is acting “right” and point it out to her and everyone around her.

For example, when she does not act like a “know it all” or a “show off” you want to make a big deal about it and point it out to her.

For the “Show off”, instead of saying,

“Sara, stop being such a show off! Let Eli have a chance to talk!”

Try this: (Even if she just stopped talking to take a breath)

“Sara you stopped your story to let Sam have a turn to talk…”

If she starts to brag and stops herself (even if it is because you gave her a look) you can say quietly:  “You wanted to tell everyone that you got a good report card but you realized just in time that you should keep that information to yourself.”


For the crybaby:

Instead of pointing out all the times he cries:

“You always cry about everything.”

Point out the times he handles life with equanimity:

“You were disappointed when Zac, cancelled your play date, but then you just invited Max over instead.”

For the meanie:

Instead of pointing out when she is mean:

“You are being so mean to your sister!”

Try to find the times that she is being nice, (it does not have to be something she specifically does for her sister):

“Your friend, Sam is allergic to peanuts and you found him another snack to eat. That was considerate.”

Finding the times your kids act right can be a challenge but it is the best way to reduce the sibling rivalry in your home and will also improve the overall good feeling in our homes.


Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.