How to Deal With Sibling Rivalry

ByKate Kelly

At a glance

  • Brothers and sisters of kids who learn and think differently might feel overlooked or unappreciated.

  • It’s important to make sure each child gets time in the spotlight.

  • Open communication can make a big difference in helping all children in a family feel loved and valued.

Brothers and sisters sometimes resent a sibling with specific issues or struggles. Here are some common reasons why — and how you can help keep the peace.

1. “I get less attention.”

How it plays out: Kids who learn and think differently often require more time and attention from parents in order to do well in school and stay organized. It’s no surprise, then, when brothers or sisters feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick.

What you can do: You may not be able to make everything equal between your kids, nor is it necessary. But do be sure that the other child gets time in the spotlight. Spend one-on-one time together. If the other child gets a good report card or tries out for the school band, be sure to offer praise for this achievement. And when things aren’t going so well for that child, address those needs, too.

2. “The rules aren’t fair.”

How it plays out: You expect a lot from the child who gets good grades in school and always behaves well. But you accept lower grades and inappropriate behavior from your child who learns and thinks differently.

What you can do: Make sure kids understand a brother or sister’s struggles — and how these struggles affect teachers, parents, and siblings as well as themselves. But also let your child know that you love all of your kids, no matter what their grades or abilities are.

3. “I have to do more than my share.”

How it plays out: Your child makes the bed and fixes lunch every day. Often, too, you ask your child to take care of the brother or sister who learns and thinks differently. On the other hand, the child with learning struggles has zero chores, and you take care of lunch and making up the bed each day.

What you can do: It’s important for kids who learn and think differently to do as much for themselves as possible. They can have chores just like their siblings. It can help them become more independent. It might also lessen resentment from their siblings.

It takes a lot of energy to model, practice, and explain how to do these tasks. It may seem easier to just do them yourself. But you’ll find that it’s worth it — for you and for your family.

4. “My sibling embarrasses me.”

How it plays out: Your child is embarrassed by the behavior of a brother or sister with learning or thinking differences. Maybe your child doesn’t want to have friends over or be seen in public with the sibling.

What you can do: Try to relate to your child’s feelings. Could your child be trying to protect a sibling from teasing? You can help kids brainstorm what to say to peers who make comments or ask questions about their sibling’s issues. It can also be helpful to arrange for kids to have friends over when their sibling isn’t home.

5. “I’m not allowed to get upset.”

How it plays out: Kids with a sibling who learns and thinks differently often say that they feel they have to “be perfect” for their parents. They might feel like they’re held to different standards — that they can’t make mistakes or express emotions like anger, fear, and frustration. When their sibling is crying or screaming, they might feel like doing the same. But they worry that acting out will only make things worse or disappoint their parents.

What you can do: Take time to talk about how your child is feeling. Allow the space for your child to express emotions. If your child needs a break from the action, go on a walk together or suggest a game of catch. You can each vent your feelings while getting out of the house. It’s important to remind kids that you don’t expect perfection and that you know they’re dealing with stress, just like the rest of the family.

Key takeaways

  • It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting less and doing more for kids who learn and think differently.

  • Siblings notice these differences and might feel resentful.

  • Each child in the family doesn’t have to be treated the same. But it’s important for all the kids to feel that their needs count.

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About the author

About the author

Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.