Tuesday’s Answers: Fierce Competition Among Siblings

We are back from our family vacation and I wish I could sit at my computer writing about so many things, but there are still suitcases to unpack, laundry to be washed, and an empty refrigerator to fill. First, I must thank the wonderful Guest Authors who stepped in and did a fantastic job sharing their thoughts about life as adoptive mothers. I have three more great posts I will be sharing during the month of January and I know you will love them.

Second, although I don’t have time to write much, I do have answers to our last Tuesday Topic which was suggested by Sarah:

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…

This is what you all had to say:

Blogger Sandee said…

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.

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Blogger heidi said…
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!


Blogger gloria said…
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 daughter 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!

Blogger Mami
ta J

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. 🙂

Blogger Paul and DeeDee said…

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!

Dee Dee and Julie weren’t offering suggestions, but their comments reflect what many of us feel. This is one of the tough issues so many of us face. We have had significant struggles with competition between some of our adopted children and our children by birth. The stress of this grew to crazy proportions before we finally got professional help.

With the help of our amazing therapist, we continue to work on this issue. Here are a few things we are trying:

1. Russ and I create a “barrier” between the children when the tension of competition gets too high and unbearable. I often separate my girls when I see this happening. I’ll have one of them come work with me, or send one to play in another room.

2. We talk openly with the children about the fact that making other people feel sad or bad is a symptom of having a “broken heart” and that sometimes it is difficult for Dimples to feel happy for other people. As she heals, we know she will become increasingly capable of sharing another person’s happiness even when there is no benefit to her.

3. I try to anticipate situations before they happen and be ready to defuse them quickly. For example, if one child gets a special privilege that I know will be a powerful tool to hold over another sibling, I inform the other sibling of it in advance and help them process their feelings which removes some power from the child who struggles with this problem.

4. Deborah has also addressed this very directly in therapy and talked about how our birth children seem to have “easier” lives than our adopted children who suffered such great losses and tragedies in their early years. We acknowledge this is true, but that now that Dimples is in a family, she can let us take care of her. She does not have to protect and care for herself, which leaves room in her heart for love…even love for a sibling who has had an easier life. She doesn’t need to waste her time and energy making sure that everything is fair anymore.

5. We continue to work on helping Dimples learn what it means to be a “family girl”. In our experience, much of her competitive behavior stems from the skills that were so desperately needed for survival as an orphaned child. These skills are what protected her and kept her alive. They feel safe, even if they are no longer truly helpful to her.

My prayer is that as Dimples feels safer and as her heart heals, we will see these behaviors begin to slip away, like the shedding of a snake’s old skin, to be left behind. I think it is going to be a long process, but I am hopeful.

Thank you to everyone who responded. Please feel free to add more comments and answers to this post.


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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. Ann
    December 29, 2009

    When we adopted Vu at the age of six there were a lot of arguments between him and his same age brother.One night, they were asleep in the same bed and I posed a picture of them snuggled up with their arms around each other. (Yes, I'm not above being sneaky in my quest for siblings to get along 🙂 I printed out the picture and put copies all over the house–on the fridge, their bedroom door etc.–I said it was an example of how I knew they would someday become like Jonathan and David–best friends. I talked a lot about the idea for several days and complimented their positive interactions saying they were, indeed, becoming best friends.And guess what? They did!

  2. Sandee
    December 29, 2009

    Ann, your picture is a sweet idea. Another thought I had, after reading all the comments…is my role as the parent. I have to not be so busy or occupied with my own tasks that I am not willing to jump up and get involved. Being a single parent, I get pretty tired and weary and find myself letting an interaction go that I should be involved in and stop.

    Also it to take the initiative to set up good play and the opportunity to interact positively…Takes more time and work. But I gotta do it.


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