Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a common yet unpleasant situation in family life. The envy creates an atmosphere of frustration and sometimes suspicion among all family members involved in the conflict. Beyond these feelings, we often witness verbal or physical arguments which may result in tense and distant family atmosphere.

Naturally, the parents didn’t plan to have such kind of dialog or behavior as part of their family relationships, but it is important to remember that sibling rivalry is an integral part of almost any family. Moreover, quarrels are an integral part of any healthy, developing relationship.

It is OK to disagree and argue, but the question is what tones and wording are used? Is the conversation respectful or not? Are there many cynical and insulting statements during the argument?

Using drawings analysis it is possible to obtain a reliable and comprehensive view regarding the reason that leads children to be jealous of each other and fight over and over again. Informed observation of children’s drawings enables parents to understand which tools are best for them to solve things at home and make a real change in the family atmosphere.

This improvement in relationships between siblings and their ability to contain envy will allow them to better cope with various domestic situations and in most cases will dramatically decrease their rivalry.

Reasons for sibling rivalry

First and foremost, envy or recurring fights between siblings occur when there is a gap in temperament. Such gap is fairly common, because most siblings have different personality traits, clearly evident since infancy.

Secondly, sibling rivalry might be caused by a change in family’s status and hierarchy. This reason is mainly related to the birth of a new sibling. In these moments, when the entire family structure is changed, the child’s perception, of his status in his family, also changes. For example, the youngest girl in the family becomes a middle child, with all its connotations and known characteristics, which are partially based on her anxiety caused by her new place in the family structure. Therefore, we often observe behavioral regression among children who changed their position in their family following the birth of a new sibling.

Thirdly, siblings fight when they feel their territory is threatened by other family members. Such a feeling usually arises when all family members are at home, together, especially during long holidays. We see an increase in behavioral problems in the family at such times, because the rules and structures are weakened.

Case study

These drawings made by 5½ year-old twins are a good example for differences in temperament. On the one hand, it is possible to see in the right-hand drawing that this child does not take page boundaries into account, despite his age. In general, his drawings may be characterized as stormy and free.

Sibling Rivalry2      Sibling Rivalry

We concluded that there is a similarity between the way he invades his brother’s territory, causing constant disputes, and the way he lets the drawing extend beyond page boundaries, invading other spaces.  On the other hand, his brother’s drawing on the left is made with a precise, careful and slow drawing style. This child attaches great importance to his personal space, just as he considers every line in his drawing to be important. Every trespassing, even a minor one, into his territory arouses his anxiety.

When the root cause of children’s behavior, discovered through their drawings, is clear, it is possible to fit the right solutions to this specific family and improve its relationship.

How to cope with sibling rivalry?

Disputes among family members, even at older ages, are a natural and integral part of their relationships. It is recommended not to interfere in these disputes, but also not to ignore them.

Tell the children: “I trust that you can find a good solution by yourselves. You should talk about it and find a solution which is good for both of you.”

At the same time, it is important to be around when family atmosphere starts to be stormy. If required and in accordance with your educational approach, you should separate the children if the argument between them becomes physical.

It is important to understand each child separately, in addition to referring to the disagreement or to the feeling of envy which arouses it. You should check the reason for the dispute – whether it is related to territory, level of attention, family hierarchy and so on. Knowing the source of envy is the first step to reaching an effective solution.


Sibling rivalry and envy can be contained within the family, assuming the parents are aware of the situation and take the right approach to cope with it, supporting each family member in the appropriate way, according to their needs.

Do not expect siblings to behave as if they should understand the meaning of “sibling rivalry”, act to prevent it and give way to the other sibling on a daily basis.

Every child, even a small one, has personality, ego, needs, wishes and preoccupations. Hence, each child should be understood separately, using his drawings, in order to provide the solutions suitable for him.

Creating a family “map” based on the siblings’ drawings will enable in-depth understanding of family relationships, which is important for providing the right professional tools to the parents.

Always remember that things can change at any age, in any family. Coping with sibling rivalry and envy is possible. Using drawings analysis is the first and most important step towards a united, supportive and loving family.

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