How to Respond to Brother Rivalry in Order to Foster Better Relationships

Estimated read time 5 min read

If you have more than one son, you are most likely familiar with the near-constant fighting, wrestling and competing that goes on in a home with boys. While it can drive a mom crazy, it’s interesting to understand what’s going on between siblings, as well as how to handle their fighting in a way that is ultimately constructive for their relationship.

How we intervene and respond to brothers fighting, will determine the kind of relationship they have with each other in future. There are a few ways we can respond:

Punish or Separate:

Years ago, old school methods were just smacks for each child involved, and they learnt that fighting resulted in a warm bum, so found other ways to deal with their conflict. Nowadays, most parents don’t resort to smacks, but timeouts are a good alternative. Siblings are separated as soon as they start fighting and are given a chance to calm down and think about their emotions and the situation more objectively.

Reason With and Resolve:

When siblings are fighting, the parent comes in and helps each party think through the situation, and see it from the other sibling’s point of view. This helps build objectivity, empathy and develop EQ. It’s also constructive to the relationship, as a resolution to the conflict is found, and the siblings can make up and get close again.

Force a Make up or Share:

When siblings are fighting, it’s sometimes easy to march in, force the child who has the toy, or has taken the toy away, to give it back or share. There are a number of situations that could have led up to that moment, and without asking what happened, we can jump to the wrong conclusions and force a resolution that both children feel is unfair. This isn’t conducive to sibling closeness or resolution, and may cause resentment towards you, as you react before finding out what the situation involves.

Research shows that brothers will both love and fight with each other. Both emotions occur at the same time in a child. As a parent, we can teach them how to love each other even when the punches are flying.


Positive reinforcement:

When siblings do share or play well together, take the time to notice and affirm them. Don’t only step in when they are killing each other or making a huge scene. Give attention that is positive too. Reward good interactions with positive recognition of their agreeability.

Younger children:

Fights are an attempt to understand and figure out social relationships. Young children need help in earlier years to understand other people’s perspectives and emotions. They’ll need  coaching as to how to deal with their overwhelming emotions in the heat of a fight. Help them to calm down, and then speak them through their emotion and the situation. Teenagers, on the other hand, may feel the need to work out disagreements themselves without your ‘interference.’ As they can reason a lot better than they did when they were young, see how they reason and if it makes sense to you, and if so, leave them to figure it out on their own.

Recognize that it may be a fight for YOU and your resources:

Children may compete for your time, attention and money. Many siblings become obsessed with fairness, checking to see who gets the biggest slice of cake or the most lunch money. Children may constantly check and compare, to see who is receiving the most time or attention from mom or dad, and then react accordingly in a way that tips the scales in their favor. If there’s chaos with sibling rivalry in your home, stop and check who is getting more of YOU, and see if the other siblings are perhaps just reacting to that in an effort to get your attention.

Could it have something to do with birth order?

Oldest: Studies have found that first-born siblings are particularly vulnerable to stress, and tend to seek  approval from others. Take some time to calmly speak them through stressful situations that occur, as well as help them process situations they are in the middle of. Reinforce your approval of them, and look out for situations you can encourage and affirm them in.

Middle: the second-born and/or middle sibling may tend to feel inferior to the older child or children, since they don’t understand that their lower level of achievement is a function of age. They may come across as less confident in trying or learning new things, or managing themselves. Help a young middle child to see that when their older sibling was their age, you had to help them learn or do the same things that they are learning to do now, and that there is nothing wrong or slow with them because they’re not at the same level as the older sibling. Affirm their efforts where they are, and focus on spending a little extra time and effort boosting their confidence in small things they do well.

Youngest: always known as the ‘baby’ of the family, and often has a strong sense of security. He/she is usually not competitive. They are usually successful socially and have high self esteem.

A great book to read on this topic:
Leman, Kevin. The New Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are.

All 20 chapters of Raising Boys is available to download and read right here.

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