In the beginning, there was Cain and Abel – every parent’s worst nightmare – the out-of-control expression of one child’s anger, frustration, and jealousy towards their sibling. The problem is a complex one and doesn’t have an easy answer. However, there are some things that parents should know about sibling rivalry, and there are some things that they can do about it.   


  1. Sibling rivalry is found everywhere in nature. For example – baby sharks will ingest one another in the utero until the last and largest one is left standing. The firstborn baby bird will toss his or her subsequent sibs out of the nest to insure their food supply, and we are all familiar with Darwin’s survival of the fittest as a natural struggle for food and other needed resources that are necessary to survival, not only of the individual but in effect, the entire species. 
  1. The same is true in the human family. The first child has the best chance of bonding, nurturing, and meeting his or her needs. That means they are getting one hundred percent of what their parents have to give, and in the best of all possible worlds, that means a lot of love and attention. Then suddenly, without his or her choice, knowledge, and options, a stranger is introduced into his or her world. And not only is this new person requiring a lot of time and attention, but it also has replaced him or her as the center of Mom and Dad’s universe. At first, the new baby on board is a novelty, and the older child may even enjoy some of the busy activities going on, especially if he or she is included. But in a very little while – usually, about two weeks – the older child tires of the novelty and wants his or her place back. However – that is not going to happen – and not only that, but they soon realize that his or her place is gone….forever. And a nagging thought sits on the edge of the older child’s consciousness that maybe this new baby is loved the best. 
  1. Now, this is where things begin to heat up, and the first sib, out of frustration, may become duplicit as he or she tries to sabotage and even injure the new baby. A pinch or slap when no one is looking, hiding the younger child’s toys, or even overt expressions of anger, such as, “I don’t want or like this new baby, and I want you to send it back,” are only a few examples of how difficult it can get. The first sib may become aggressive in general, even when the new baby is not around, or regress into more childish and needy behavior, all in an effort to reclaim his or her rightful and now lost place. If left without remediation, this competition sows the seeds to a lifetime of negative patterns that have their germination in the beginning. Then, if another child is born into the family, the resources of Mom and Dad’s time and attention in relation to nurturing, bonding, and meeting children’s needs are cut no longer in half but, if they’re lucky, in thirds. And so it goes until by the time the last child is born – the competition for goods and services is very scarce indeed. 
  1. To further complicate things, young children are in concrete operations, which means they are both egocentric and unable to process their emotions critically. Therefore when they are emotionally upset, they strike out reactively instead of thinking about things and choosing the best proactive course of action. Furthermore, their understanding of the here and now is concrete, and they don’t really understand the difference between a city, a state, a universe, or life and death. They are magical in their thinking and believe that what is killed today will rise up tomorrow. Along with this, since the brain is still forming, children might develop patterns based on these early frustrations that could stay with them for a lifetime and influence the way they think and feel about a brother or sister for the rest of their lives as well as influence their other significant relationships. Sibling rivalry is so powerful that it can even affect the roles that we take in a family and the careers we choose for ourselves in the adult world. What we often pick for our life’s passion is the direct opposite of our brothers’ and sisters’ choices. 


  1. Space your children, if possible, three years apart. This gives one child enough time to leave your knee as he or she reaches for independence, which is the best time to put another child on your knee.
  1. Even though there are times in all of our lives when one child is easier than the other or that we see something of ourselves or our mate in one child or the other, discipline yourself not to show any signs of outward favoritism.
  1. Parents must parent – this means stepping into the adult and even override exhaustion to give each child some private time with Mom and Dad.
  1. Keep your child in the loop. Explain to your child 1, 2, or 3 when a new child is about to be born, and invest them in the process of how to welcome the new baby and care for it.
  1. Make your child your ally. With a wink and a nod, this child can help you shop for the new baby, choose toys for the new baby, and even special foods for the new baby. If you bring the older child into the process, he or she will be more likely to participate with goodwill.
  1. Never make one child responsible for the other. No babysitting.
  1. Never make your children share their toys. I can hear the ooh’s and ah’s out there, but what belongs to your children is their possession, and only if it is their choice to share should it be brought into a common area.
  1. Never discount, demean or embarrass your older children. Never tell them to be a big girl or boy, to act grown-up, or to be understanding. They are children, and they have feelings too. Instead, confirm their feelings with sentences such as, “of course, you feel this way, I understand completely.” Empathy goes a long way towards cooperation.
  1. Never compare your children. No competition ever. No family games where one can win and one can lose. This is a family, not a sports arena, and children should be raised in collaboration, not competition.
  1. Never tell one child to do things the way the other one does.
  1. Never compare your children, their grades, their behavior, or the way they look. And never tell one child you love that child better than the other because they are behaving better. This is a form of splitting that can turn one child against the other forever.
  1. Never discuss one child with the other – you don’t like it when someone talks behind your back. Follow the same courteous behavior with your children. 
  1. Don’t manipulate. Manipulation is humiliation and makes your child feel undervalued, and they will not trust you, themselves, or others if you diminish their self-esteem.
  1. Be fair. This is one of the most essential rules. Children are watching you, and they’re very cognizant of even-handedness as it translates to them that they are loved equally.
  1. Practice and rehearse communication through listening. Let your children tell you how they feel. If you listen with empathy, they will tell you everything, and together you can find ways to problem-solve. Invest your child in the process.
  1. And finally, be prepared – when holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings occur – think ahead and find ways as a family to come up with some rules, a plan that can nip in the bud any of the regular stressful patterns with which you as a family are familiar, and can handle with love.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.