Reducing Sibling Rivalry

By: Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.

If our two-year-old sees me hugging her four-year-old big brother, she'll rush over - saying loudly, "No! My mommy! Go away!" - and try to push him away. He's getting more and more frustrated with her and starting to push back pretty hard. Their squabbles are already probably the biggest single source of stress in my life -- and it's getting worse.

Our siblings are usually the people we know longest in this life, but it's striking how many people have distant, even hostile relations with their brothers and sisters. Family tensions related to sibling rivalries wear on parents individually, and sometimes can challenge their marriage - so it's important to tackle them in steady, systematic ways.

Signs of Deeper Issues

Sibling squabbles are usually a marker, a symptom, of underlying issues, such as:

Ask yourself if any of these could be a factor in the sibling issues in your family. If so, make a serious plan with your partner to address it - and consider the practical suggestions in the rest of this column. In a family, just like in any other situation, if we keep working at something - and stick with it - it usually gets better.

Before the Second (or Third, etc.) Baby Comes

Especially During the First Year - But Also Thereafter

In General

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 14 and 17. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the first and second authors of Mother Nurture: A Motherís Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at or email them with questions or comments at; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be possible.

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