Sibling rivalry is found everywhere in nature. For example: baby sharks will ingest one another in utero until the last and largest one is left standing. Baby birds may toss siblings out of the nest to ensure their food supply. And, we are all familiar with Darwin’s survival of the fittest as a natural struggle for food and other resources that are necessary to survival — not only of the individual, but the entire species.

The same is true in the human family. In my years as a researcher and educator, with a Ph.D. in Psychology and Doctorate of Education, I’ve witnessed sibling rivalry at different levels. The following is a common scenario that I have seen happen in many families.

Your first child receives 100 percent of what you have to give, and in the best of all possible worlds that means a lot of love and attention. Therefore, your child has the best chance for bonding, nurturing, and having his/her needs met.

Then suddenly, without your first born’s choice, knowledge, or options, a stranger – the new sibling – is introduced into his/her world. Not only is this new person requiring a lot of time and attention, but also has seemingly replaced him/her as the center of Mom and Dad’s universe.

At first the new baby on board is a novelty, and your older child may even enjoy some of the busy activities going on, especially if he or she is included. But soon enough, your older child may begin to tire of the novelty and will want his or her place back as the sole recipient of Mom and Dad’s attention. However, that is not going to happen. Not only that, but your child soon realizes that his or her place is gone…forever.

A nagging thought sits on the edge of the older child’s consciousness: that maybe this new baby is loved the best.

Now this is where things begin to heat up and the first sibling, out of frustration, may become duplicitous, as he or she tries to sabotage and even injure your new baby. A pinch or slap, when no one is looking; hiding your 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 sibling may become aggressive in general, even when your 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. This competition, if left without remediation, has the potential to sow the seeds for a lifetime of negative patterns. 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 your last child is born, the competition for goods and services is very scarce indeed.

To further complicate things, young children are in concrete operations, meaning 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, your 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 other significant relationships.

Sibling rivalry is so powerful that it may even affect the roles that we take in a family, and the careers we choose for ourselves in the adult world. For example, due to competition with our siblings, what we pick for our life’s passion may be in direct opposition of our brothers’ and sisters’ choices.

So as a parent, how do you manage this rivalry between siblings? I’ll share some tips in my next blog post.


  • 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.