Wish you'd stopped at one?

Jul 17, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

You love your children equally (hopefully), but they may not have quite as much love for each other. Sibling rivalry can be taxing but is there really anything a parent can do to improve the situation?

Whether it’s your toddler coping with your newborn, your middle-schooler irritated by your kindergartner or your high-schooler who has no tolerance for his junior high sibling, you can keep sibling rivalry in check as your kids grow.

A natural phenomenon

While it would be nice to completely eliminate sibling rivalry from your household, such a goal probably isn’t very realistic. "The unfortunate truth about sibling relationships is that there’s a natural sense of rivalry that sets in, not coincidentally, just as the second child is born," says Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. "There’s nothing you can do to prevent it." Yes, the reality might seem harsh but fortunately you can minimize the impact of sibling rivalry and bring some peace to your home.

Read more about favoritism and sibling rivalry >>

More tips

As a mom, use your best discretion to decide if ignoring a sibling argument is the best strategy. If you proceed, McCready offers the following tips:

  • When a fight erupts, quietly leave the room.
  • Listen discreetly from a distance so that you can determine if your involvement is necessary.
  • Take note of the issues at the heart of the problem.
  • Usually parents will see a decrease in the number and intensity of fights when the payoff of attention is removed for two or three days.

Everything in moderation

Constant bickering and heated competition can be a lot to handle when the participants live under the same roof. If you’re always searching for a way to end rivalrous feuds, you may want to reconsider. "Sibling rivalry is frustrating for parents, but in small doses, it can be healthy for kids," says McCready. "How else will kids learn to negotiate the ups and downs of relationships, if not with their siblings? Children who can successfully manage their own difficult interpersonal situations will be at a huge advantage as they negotiate classes, careers and their own families and friendships later in life." Of course, there is such a thing as taking rivalry too far, at which point it probably makes sense to step in.

Read more about sibling rivalry: How to deal with physical fighting >>

The best strategy

So what’s the best strategy for diffusing sibling rivalry? You may want to ignore it. "Ignoring bad behavior removes the payoff of attention your kids experience when they fight," says McCready. "It also gives you a chance to take a deep breath and determine whether you really need to jump in." Before you adopt this strategy, it’s best to give your kids a heads up before a dispute arises. McCready suggests saying something like, "I’ve noticed that you fight, I often jump in and get involved. But I have confidence that you can find a way to work it out on your own in the future. From now on, I’ll be staying out of your fights and leaving it up to you to resolve them."

Find out how to deal with sibling rivalry >>

Read more about sibling relationships

Should siblings share bedrooms?
Parenting Guru: Do you ignore sibling rivalry?
Sibling rivalry: The good, the bad and how to deal