Tuesday Topic: Fierce Competition Among Siblings

I got an email from Sarah, who posed this question for our Tuesday Topic. It is such an important question, and we are all busier than usual right now, so I am going to give us two weeks to answer it. I will re-post the question as a reminder next week and share your answers on Tuesday, Dec. 29th.

My 4-year old Ethiopian princess and my 4 1/2-year old son are horribly competitive. We have done everything we know how to do to help each one of them feel special, unique, and loved, but seem to be making no progress. This is frustrating and makes life very unpleasant at times. It is especially hard to watch our son, who is not the same happy little boy he was before his sister came home. He loves her, and he doesn’t like being separated from her, but at the same time, he seems to be showing great deals of anger, insecurity, and jealousy. And, it is difficult to not be angry when we watch our daughter taunt him and put real effort into goading him by telling him that she isn’t his friend, that she likes our 6-year old son better, etc…

None of the normal “good parenting” techniques seem to work, and I would love to hear from other adoptive moms who may have encountered the same problem and have found effective ways to deal with it.

I know that many of us have experienced similar situations. Over the next two weeks, please take a few moments to share what has helped you overcome this in your family. I’ll hold all of your comments and post them on Tuesday, Dec. 29th.

Thanks for being such wonderful companions on the journey of adoption.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Sandee
    December 16, 2009

    My children are a little older, 11, 9 and 6. My 6 year old is adopted, home 3 years now. I have such fierce competition between my 9 and 6 year old…it is painful. 🙁

    We recently have been reading at the dinner table this book: Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends (Paperback)
    ~ Sarah Mally (Author), Stephen Mally (Author), Grace Mally (Author),

    And it is SLOWLY making a difference. Planting seeds. It is still a great battle, but the lessons learned is majorly impacint my 11 year old and it seems to rub off and trickle down to the younger ones.

    THere is another good book I have read, Sibling Rivalry…. But if I had to pick one, it would be the first one. It is written by two sisters and a brother and written in a way my children can understand.

  2. Paul and DeeDee
    December 16, 2009

    Oh I like this question a lot! My kiddos are 14 months apart but we think our adopted daughter is probably older so they are actually closer than that. They are already competitive at 2 1/2 and 18 months!

  3. heidi
    December 17, 2009

    Very much looking forward to hearing other answers to this one. We struggle with it as well and I find myself reacting in such a negative, condemning way because it is ugly, and I don't like it. Today, however, we had what I hope is a breakthrough. My daughter, who has been nasty to her brother since the two days after we brought him into the family, told him that she loved him and gave him a hug. I have to wonder if she is repeating what I often say, which is, "You can not be mean to your brother. You need to love him. He is one of the most important people in the world to you."

    I don't know, but I did pour on the accolades after that hug!

  4. gloria
    December 17, 2009

    We struggle with this every day as well. We have a 4 year old bio son and a 3 1/2 year old adopted daughter (as well as a 7 year old bio daughter). I think the closeness in age is a huge factor — some call it artificial twinning. Having someone else constantly in the same developmental stage as you must be tough!

    In some ways my son and daughter are incredibly close, but they also fight – a LOT! I don't know that there is any magic bullet; we try to take it day by day, situation by situation. And we try to be patient and respectful of both children.

    I think it's important not to take sides or presume that there is one guilty party and one innocent party (a bully or victim). It's way more complicated than that. I saw an interesting program once that featured parents who were frustrated by their kids' fighting. In many cases, the parents assumed that one child was the primary instigator, yet when the children were taped, the findings were that the one who perhaps was most obvious/overt in her "bad" behavior was often reacting to behavior from the other child that the parent didn't see (in other words, some kids are more covert than others!)

    I also try to understand the power dynamic/motivation. Our adopted daughter can sometimes goad her brother, but that's in part because it's her only place of power – he's bigger than her and he is more physical, so can take her in a physical fight. She's learned to use whatever technique she can – usually emotional. And of course a triad is notoriously challenging, as there is always one "man" out and a child can quickly figure out that saying she likes one sibling better can get a rise out of the other one.

    I try to teach all my kids not to give others (especially siblings) too much power over their own emotions/behavior — i.e. believe that their state of mind/emotions can be controlled by the other. So if my daugher is taunting my son, I suggest to him that he not react (because that's what she's looking for). Of course the flip side is harder — you can't ignore hitting or violence.

    Not sure any of this is helpful. It's tough, especially since sibling fighting is a trigger for me as a parent!

  5. Mamita J
    December 28, 2009

    Well…I wish I had loads of wonderful advice to give you, but we are suffering from the same troubles at our house.

    I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say. I hope I can pick up some wisdom. 🙂



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