Sibling Competition, Quarreling and Clashing: What Gives?


My kitchen this morning, approximately 8:15.  4-year-old girl and boy twins breaking their fast over bowls of Fruity Cheerios.

Caroline: I’m beating you up, Will!

Will: (cramming a fist full of fake Froot Loops into mouth, close to choking) Noooo, I win! (my best guess of what he probably said).

Mom (puzzled): It’s not “beating you up” it’s “beating you.”  And in the name of God’s green Earth, WHY does it matter?

And so it goes.  Every day, sometimes by the hour.  My twins’ peculiar brand of competition then gives way to nastiness, shoving and yes, even growling.  This begs the question: What has created this insatiable desire among my sweet children to win at everything from the mundane (finishing a meal) to the ridiculous (who can produce the biggest spit bubbles)?


I grew up the younger of two siblings, 3-1/2 years junior to my sister.  Our parents cannot remember us having a single, solitary argument.  Neither can I.  Looking back, I feel that there was an absence of competition between us.  We each had our own “thing,” separate from the other.  I was obsessed with ballet while my wildly imaginative sister was engrossed in reading and writing.  I think I can speak for her when I claim that we both were quietly confident in our talents, never envious of each other.  Our parents were supportive of us equally so I never felt that either of us had to compete for their attention or affection.

I understand how incredibly rare this is and am grateful for the ease of this important relationship in my life.  Having said this, I have recently come to the realization that I could not be more ill-prepared to referee the daily…no, hourly squabbles between my 4-year-old twins.

All this confounded sibling rivalry.  Well, they didn’t get it from me!

WHY Can’t They Just Get Along?!?

For a gal like me who can’t relate to competition among siblings, I desperately first want to understand why my twins behave as they do.  They will be sweet and giggly one moment, until one of them will announce that he or she has “won” at something ludicrous.  Then, faster than a cheetah on roller skates, the storm rolls in while I stand there, mouth agape.  This mama needs some guidance, and fast!

It would seem from the reading I’ve done that twin rivalry doesn’t seem to be all that different from competition among siblings of different ages.

In scanning experts’ articles on the topic of sibling competition, I’ve come across several explanations:

Kyla Boyes, R.N. has provided a whole litany of potential causes of sibling competition.  Here are just a few:

  • Kids are trying to define who they are as individuals, separate from their siblings
  • They may be receiving (or believe they are receiving) unequal amounts of attention, responsiveness or discipline from parents.
  • Kids may not know how to get positive attention from a sibling so they pick a fight instead.

Dr. Sylvia Rimm suggests that parental labeling of children can be a cause.  In a nutshell, well-meaning parents may want to build their child’s self-esteem by pointing out that child’s particular gifts (“Sally is our scholar” or “John is the athlete”).  Sounds innocuous, right?  The unfortunate potential consequence of this kind of labeling could be the other sibling assuming that he or she is inferior in that area.  Little John may not want to give his all in school because he doesn’t think he has the same academic potential his sister does.  Sally may not want to continue playing softball because in her mind, her parents think she stinks at sports.

Guess I’d better dump the “My Ballerina Girl” and “My Little Soccer Guy” stuff.

Wait!  Have I ruined my children?  Well, however it came to be, sibling competition must be destroyed in the Peterson home ASAP!

But I don’t know how.

Strategies for Putting the Kabash on Sibling Rivalry

Just as there are multiple reasons why our little darlings may compete, there are apparently a variety of possible solutions to restore harmony in my abode.  I’ll try anything!

From Positive Parenting Solutions

  •  Each parent should provide each child 10-20 minutes of individual attention each day.  (Easier said than done, but something to work toward!)
  • When squabbles begin, parents should stay out of it.  If parents intervene, kids miss out on a conflict resolution opportunity.  Also, parental intervention just teaches kids that when they get nasty, they get more attention from Mom and Dad.  (I never thought of it that way!)
  • Put them all “in the same boat.”  To me, this means if bickering escalates, remove an item that appeals to both equally as a consequence.  (Mwahaha!  Daniel Tiger is my new secret weapon!)

From The Twin Coach:

  • Have clear, specific ground rules with no interpretation needed.  Remind them of the rules often.  (Whoa, this is gonna have to be some kind of a LONG list.  No hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting, pinching….you get the picture!)
  • Help your kids verbally express their feelings.  Little ones may lack the ability to put their thoughts into words so when they get ticked off, sometimes they only know how to show it physically.  We can help our tots figure out a more controlled way to express their displeasure by narrating the events and giving them the words they need to get their point across.  (Sounds lovely, but what if your kids KNOW the words but would rather take it up a few notches?)
  • Encourage their bond.  Find ways for them to grow closer.  (Perhaps we can come up with activities that are new and different for the kids, but not necessarily competitive.  Ice skating?  Water slides?  Gymnastics?  Think of the possibilities!   I’m digging this one….)

From University of Michigan Health System

  • Do not compare children to each other or label them.  (How about “not comparing them OUT LOUD?”  Isn’t it impossible for parents NOT to secretly compare their children?  Just bein’ honest….)
  • Pay attention to the time of day that squabbles typically arise.  Empty tummies or tired bodies may be to blame.  (Um, unfortunately not in our case due to the aforementioned hourly nature of the Peterson kids’ tiffs.  Unless my kids are hungry ALL the time, which would make me a really crappy mom.)
  • Ensure that your children have enough time and space of their own.  (Again, this makes perfect sense to me, but what if your children are GIVEN enough time and space, but still CHOOSE to hang out together all the time?)

I think that last bullet just solved the mystery for this mom.  My children enjoy every aspect of each other, including the conflict!  Even though I’ll never fully understand this, I can do my part. I can try to learn when I need to intervene and when I need to stay back.  I can show them through example how to treat others with kindness.

And I can make them feel equal and special in my eyes, which they are.  That’s the easy part.

As for everything else, all that’s needed is a little luck, a little prayer and a LOT of chardonnay.

Mary Peterson

Mary Peterson

Originally from South Carolina, Mary Peterson moved “up north” to the Tar Heel state nearly 20 years ago after graduating from Winthrop University (yay Eagles!).

After enjoying many years of employment in the banking industry and singlehood, she met her husband, married him six years later acquiring a dream of a stepson (now 21), had boy and girl twins after 4 years, and decided to say adios to her paying job.(I hope you’re not trying to do the math right now, because YES, she is no spring chicken!)

With her children now 4 years old, she is still working at the most demanding but gratifying job she has ever had and WILL ever have.She is extremely thankful for those women in her life who have shared their own mom stories with her. Your victories and catastrophes have served as blueprints for her own parenting, and now she hopes to do the same for others.
Follow her at Carolina Twin Mom
Mary Peterson
Please share, follow and like us:

3 thoughts on “Sibling Competition, Quarreling and Clashing: What Gives?

  • May 26, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Great post and tips ! You go girl. Siblings, gotta love em 🙂

  • May 25, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I definitely compare my two but not in their ear shot and it is perhaps more of a comparison of differences. Or at least I like to think so. Some days I can see this competitiveness coming through in my eldest when she wants to win at everything. We haven’t had a tatrum yet when she doesn’t but I’m sure it will come in the future.

  • Pingback: Sibling Competition, Quarreling and Clashing: What Gives?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enjoy these articles? Please spread the word :)