Sibling rivalry is the act of siblings contending with each other for the same thing, objective or superiority. It entails constant disagreement and bickering and in some cases fighting.

Sibling rivalry is a common phenomenon in many families around the world and can be observed as early as childhood; where siblings compete for the attention of their parent(s), contend for toys and other belongings etc. It can be mild in some cases and easily resolved and some children will outgrow them as they become more mature. In other cases, it can be very severe, starts from childhood and deteriorates into greater degrees of hatred and animosity as it continues into adulthood. Some siblings start well relating cordially and care for one another, but along the line, they turn out to become each other’s rival necessitated by certain happenings.


In the bible, sibling rivalry was recorded in one of the earliest accounts among two brothers, Cain and Abel. Cain killed his brother because of envy. God had respect for Abel’s offering and this infuriated Cain. He was not just angered; he proceeded to kill his unsuspecting brother who did him no wrong but offered an acceptable sacrifice to God

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast” (Genesis 4:2-5-NIV).

Cain’s anger speaks of unhealthy competition and inability to stand the success of his sibling. He would have been pleased if God accepted him, and not his brother. His anger progressed into taking the life of his brother

“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:7-8-NIV).

Another common example of sibling rivalry in the bible is recorded in the account of Jacob (also called Israel) and his sons. He loved one of his sons Joseph greatly and it was outrightly obvious to the others that Joseph was given preferential treatment.

“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he had been born to him in his old age, and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (Gen 37:3-4-NIV).

Also, when Jacob was going to see his brother, Esau whose birthright he supplanted, he sent messengers ahead of him to inform Esau of his return. The messengers told him Esau was coming to see him with 400 men. He was afraid Esau could attack him, so he divided his families into groups. In this division, he also put Joseph and Rachael at the rear and other members of the family ahead. This also typify preferential treatment for Joseph and his mother, Rachael.

“Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear” (Gen 33:1-2-NIV).

Joseph also had dreams whose interpretation meant he would rule over his brothers. This in addition to the favouritism Joseph enjoyed from his father made his siblings hate him more. They ployed to kill him and make void his dreams, however, they sold him in exchange for money instead of killing him because Joseph was a man of purpose, and God had plans for him. In Josephs case, his father contributed to the hatred he experienced from his brothers. Sibling rivalry has always been in existence among families and not a new trend. Therefore, deliberate steps should be taken to prevent it or manage it discreetly when it occurs.


Parental disposition towards children: parents can unknowingly induce sibling rivalry by their actions and disposition towards their children. For instance, favouritism as seen in the case of Joseph above can make the other siblings rival the favoured child. Child preference can be necessitated sometimes to the child’s peculiar abilities, special skills, academic performance, love from that child or even resemblance to parent. When a parent displays extravagant affection for one child and much less to the others, it can promote jealousy from them to the favoured child. Parents can also induce sibling rivalry in handling conflict resolution. Parents who take sides regularly with one child as against the other can make the other feel cheated. Perceived inequality and unfairness can trigger sibling rivalry.

Children disposition towards one another

A Cantankerous child may likely get disciplined more than the easy-going and well-behaved child. The constant discipline he gets may make the child feel less loved.

Polygamy: Some half-siblings may also naturally want to get at each other due to certain disposing factors in the home, their mothers attitude, inequitable distribution of resources etc.

Jealousy which can be triggered by any of the above-mentioned points.

Lack of understanding of the purpose of the family: ignorance of the reason family exists can fuel sibling rivalry. Some people don’t see beyond themselves and don’t value and celebrate their differences and fail to understand family is a gift. Siblings are blessings and when things get awry, there is always a place you can return to and be safe and supported which is the family.

Sibling rivalry is sometimes limited to childhood and fades out as the children grow into adulthood and become more mature. However, in some severe cases, the status quo remains and as adults, sibling rivalry still exists. Some common causes of this include:

  • Long unresolved or poorly resolved conflicts
  • Influence of spouses among married siblings
  • Societal status of one sibling relative to the others
  • Inability to stand the success of a well to do/gifted sibling
  • Inheritance: one sibling feel cheated in the allotment of their father’s assets
  • Polygamy


Do not initiate rivalry among your children whether directly or indirectly. Ensure fairness in children upbringing and be seen to be fair. Though you love a particular child greatly for reasons best known to you, don’t put it in the face of the other children. Be fair in giving gifts, quality of education, enforcing discipline, display of affection etc.

Resolve conflicts among siblings amicably without taking sides and follow through the process to ensure the conflict is truly resolved.

When your kids compete, it’s an avenue to teach love, sharing and caring. It’s natural for young kids to compete for your attention, toys, sit in a position in the car etc. Take advantage of these moments to teach them to unite and look out for each others’ welfare. Start early to bond your children and make them involved in each other’s lives. Teach them to celebrate each other’s attainment and pray for one another. Encourage them to be friends with each other and care for one another.

If you are drawn to academic performance, it's okay you will likely be pleased with a high flier or gifted child.  Also use the peculiar attributes the others have to celebrate them too. Every child is unique and can be celebrated if you seek to discover your child.  One child may not be intelligent, but a gifted singer, homemaker, industrious etc, celebrate that child’s uniqueness and also make provision for its development just as you do to the one who loves academics.

Both parents should unite to bond their children purposefuly. In some homes, mummy has her favourite and daddy has his favourite and they turn out to rival one another, mummy’s favourite against daddy's favourite.  Above all, be proactive to make your children positively involved in each other’s life. Set them up to love one another and not against each other. There is strength in unity and it is good and pleasant for siblings to be united.



 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!  It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133-NIV)


God bless you!