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Ohio State University Extension


First Grade: Understanding Sibling Rivalry

Backpack Buddies for October
Family and Consumer Sciences
Kathy L. Jelley, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Brown County.
Betsy DeMatteo, Extension Program Coordinator—Family and Consumer Sciences, Hamilton County.

Probably nothing upsets parents more from day to day than bickering and fighting between brothers and sisters. Some rivalry and conflict is to be expected among siblings and is actually considered a normal part of growing up. Children are learning to get along with others and this includes their brothers and sisters.

There are natural reasons for sibling rivalry:

  • siblings are often different sexes.
  • they are different ages.
  • they have different temperaments and personalities.
  • competition for the attention of parents and other family members.
  • normal jealousy of what a sibling has or is allowed to do.
  • ordinary teasing that children do.

Handling the Bickering and Fighting

Try not to get involved in the fight or conflict; let the children work it out. The time to step in is before any physical violence or emotional abuse, such as bullying between children. If the children know you will not ordinarily step in, they usually can find a solution themselves. Do not get caught in the middle where you have to take sides or place blame without knowing all the details. If necessary, separate the children and do the detective work later when everyone is calm and in control. Do not be too quick to blame the older child; the younger sibling may sometimes be the one who started the conflict.

Ways to Reduce Sibling Rivalry

  • Give undivided attention. Try to spend time alone with each child doing something that they enjoy each day.
  • Encourage feelings of worth. Praise children for who they are, not just for what they can do.
  • Don't always insist on sharing. Each child is entitled to certain possessions that should not have to be shared with anyone.
  • Don't expect your children to play together all the time. They need some freedom from each other.
  • Allow the older child to have his or her own way at least half the time. Sometimes in our efforts to protect the younger child, we treat or blame the older child unfairly.
  • Emphasize family unity and belonging. Remind your children that no matter how unpleasant their behavior might be, they will always belong to you and each other. This will help provide inner security and help them feel brotherly and sisterly love.
  • Consult your children. A child can often give insight on what another sibling might be struggling with or trying to express.
  • Don't focus on the misbehavior, but acknowledge and reward appropriate behavior.

More information on sibling rivalry can be found on the website at

Here Is an Idea for Inside or Outside Play

Are you concerned that your child may be spending too much time watching television, on the computer, or playing video games and not getting enough physical exercise? If so, why not get them up and moving with a fun game of Exercise Tosser? The supplies you need to play the game can be made from items around your home.


  • Paper cut into a large circle (you may use a paper plate)
  • Scissors
  • Crayons
  • 1 penny or other small object


Help your child divide the circle into four sections with a crayon. In each section, write or draw an exercise (toe touches, jumping jacks, etc.) in a different color. Toss the penny onto the plate. Have your child lead the exercise the penny hits. When an exercise is repeated, your child can think of a new way to do this exercise (backwards, in slow motion, etc.). This is a great game for siblings to play together, along with other kids in your neighborhood. Have fun moving!

Source: Grawemeyer, B. (November 2003). Fitness Is Fun. Cloverbud Program Curriculum Instruction Materials. 710 GPM 3.2. Ohio State University Extension.


Crary, Elizabeth. 1993. Love and Limits: Parenting With Good Sense. University of Minnesota Extension.

Molgaard, Virginia. 2007. "Understanding Children–Sibling Rivalry." Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. PDF.

Edited by: Rose Fisher Merkowitz, Extension Educator—Family and Consumer Sciences, Highland County; Kathy L. Jelley, Extension Educator—Family and Consumer Sciences, Brown County; and Scott Scheer, Professor and Extension Specialist—Human and Community Resource Development and 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University.

Revised by: Betsy DeMatteo, Extension Program Coordinator—Family and Consumer Sciences, Hamilton County.

Originally posted Dec 9, 2010.