Remember when your mom asked:

“Why can’t you be as nice as your sister?”

“Your brother used to get As when he was in Calculus, why are you barely getting Bs?”

Have you found yourself making similar types of remarks to your child?

Sibling rivalries can be initiated by seemingly benign comments such as these. However, they can often escalate and plant the seeds for unhealthy sibling dynamics that can continue into adulthood. As a parent, you may be inadvertently fostering rivalry between your children; as a child, you may unwittingly be the pawn in your mother’s or father’s attempts at splitting and/or manipulating.

Why do some parents foster sibling rivalry?

Parents who engage in this kind of conduct may, in some cases, actually be projecting their issues of low self-esteem, narcissism, lack of control, and insecurity. It’s possible they were compared to their siblings, and are now projecting their past experiences onto their children. A form of splitting and/or manipulating occurs when parents compare and contrast their adult children in an effort to control them or make them jealous.

What’s really happening is that parents use splitting and manipulating as a way of asserting their control. They play one child against the other or play favorites, implying that one child is preferred. However, children are sensitive and perceptive, and pick up the nuances when it comes to matters of the heart. And when it comes to demonstrations of parental love and affection, they can detect favoritism and rejection immediately. If sustained over a long period of time, this parental splitting and manipulation can have lasting consequences.

All parents love their children. However, it is undeniable that for some parents, childrearing is informed by their own agenda. Ultimately, parents hold the power, and if they act in the best interest of their children, then they can leave a legacy of a happy, healthy family. In spite of their controlling and manipulating behavior, most parents do want their children to be close and not burdened with childhood jealousies.

What can parents do?

  1. Recognize and acknowledge your behavior. Ask yourself: “Am I creating hostility between my children in order to gain love, attention, and control?”
  2. Recognize that your children are separate individuals both from you and your partner, and also from each other, and it is important not to compare them.
  3. Step back and let your children individuate.
  4. Seek counseling when needed.

What can adult children do?

  1. Recognize and acknowledge what has been done.
  2. Create boundaries that you can live by, as boundaries will liberate you.
    • Example of a boundary: if a parent brings up your sibling during a phone conversation in a way that feels uncomfortable, change the subject or let your parent know you are busy and will have to call her back. Ultimately, she will get the picture and start adjusting her splitting and/or manipulative behavior.
  3. Be cordial; don’t fight. Let your parent know you are not going to participate or get hooked, by kindly refusing to engage in unhealthy behavior. The more you refrain from participating in this way, the more you are teaching your controlling or splitting parent that her style is no longer working. If you don’t react, she will not get what she wants…or needs, and, she will slowly begin to change her actions. When she realizes that her old style of splitting and/or manipulating is no longer working, she will often regroup and change her behavior.

What’s interesting is that when parents die, and then children come together – each child carries some part of the parent back to the primary family unit, and they find they need each other in a new way. Parents who can get a handle on their behavior can be integral in creating this loving and supportive dynamic between their children while they are still living.


  • 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.