Siblings – Best of Friends and Rivals

Colleen McKay is Manager, Outreach Services, Haemophilia Foundation of New Zealand Inc.

This article is reprinted with permission from Bloodline, the newsletter of the Haemophilia Foundation of New Zealand Inc , vol. 43, no. 1, March 2015

If you have children, you know that maintaining peace in your household can be difficult. One minute your children are getting along and the next minute they’re enemies. Knowing when and how to intervene can make a difference in how well your children relate to each other.

In families each child is an individual and their needs differ. If there is one or more members in a family with a bleeding disorder such as haemophilia or von Willebrand Disease (VWD), the entire family is affected in some way or another. This is why open communication with each and every member of the family, as well as listening to how each person feels about what is going on with the bleeding disorder, should be a high priority.

The first part of this article focuses on the common feelings and behaviours of siblings with bleeding disorders and tips for the parent to deal with them. The second part is more general and deals with strategies for understanding and dealing with sibling rivalry.


In families each child is an individual and their needs differ. The child with a bleeding disorder can often require greater time and attention from their parents. Other children in the family can come to resent the time and attention that is given to the child with the bleeding disorder. If the bleeding disorder becomes the focus of your family, siblings may feel left out and even guilty that they are healthy.

Two things are certain. Firstly, the child with the bleeding disorder must have his / her needs met, and secondly, the other children are entitled to your love and attention also.

Possible feelings and behaviours of siblings of children with bleeding disorders:
  • Jealous about the attention that their sibling gets
  • Angry that no-one pays any attention to them
  • Feel neglected and left out
  • Feel guilty because of the feelings of resentment, jealousy, and anger
  • Resort to bad behaviour in order to get attention; negative attention can feel better than no attention at all
  • Worried about their sibling and scared that they might lose their sibling
  • Feel isolated and alone, and unable to express their own feelings
  • Minimise their own needs, because they do not wish to bother their parents
  • Feel empathy towards their sibling, are caring and concerned
  • Over-protective and look after their sibling.
Helpful tips for parents to help siblings deal with these feelings and behaviours, and to manage the conflicting demands:
  • Be open and honest with siblings about the bleeding disorder and any complications
  • Provide age-appropriate information about their sibling’s bleeding disorder
  • Encourage siblings to be involved in treatment
  • Set aside time for talking about their feelings can help siblings to build coping skills and know that their feelings are acceptable.
  • Recognise the needs of all of your children, including those who do not have a bleeding disorder.
  • Value each child and spend individual, special time with each of your children.
  • Accept that you might not be able to be completely even-handed – one child might need more of your time.
  • Expectations regarding abilities, interests, and aptitude should be consistent for all of your children.
  • Feelings and accomplishments of siblings should be respected and praised.
  • Discipline must be safe and appropriate for all of your children.
  • Avoid the temptation to treat the child with a bleeding disorder differently than you treat your other children.
  • Remember to take care of yourself too so that you don’t become too exhausted. For example, plan with your partner to take some time out for yourself. Sole parents need to ensure they have support from parents, other family, friends and neighbours to enable this to occur.


Because brothers and sisters live closely together within the family and affect each other’s lives, they often get angry and frustrated with each other. They sometimes compare with each other and can become jealous, bossy, resentful or competitive. They often test out their strengths and weaknesses on each other. These tensions are called sibling rivalry.

The biggest problem faced by young siblings is that they have to share the most important person/s in their lives: their parents.

International research shows that serious sibling rivalry happens less often in families where:
  • Physical aggression and violence are not acceptable behaviour,
  • Children are shown good anger management and problem-solving skills by adults
  • Family members have good times and fun together.

Sibling rivalry is very common, but it can still be very tiring and difficult to put up with for the parents and the rest of the family. As a parent there are a number of things that you can do to at least minimise the conflict.

The most important one is to accept that it is a perfectly healthy process during which both children are learning a lot of important skills about getting along with other people. Everything you do should be aimed at supporting and enhancing that process.

There are good things about sibling rivalry.

As the children in a family discover how to get along together and grow up together they will learn very important and helpful life skills. Skills such as:

  • How to understand, respect and consider another person’s needs and ideas
  • Ways to compromise, negotiate and problem-solve with others
  • Ways to express and safely manage angry feelings
  • How to forgive and patch things up after anger.

These are great skills to have. It is important that children have the opportunity to learn them and have opportunities to practice them in a safe environment.

Tips for parents to deal with sibling rivalry:
  • Try not to get involved – as far as possible encourage them to sort out their own differences and get along together. Mediate between them only if it’s really necessary.
  • If you do have to step in, separate them until things have calmed down. Don’t focus on who is to blame. Work with the children on ways of resolving the dispute; try to find a win/win solution.
  • Acknowledge the resentment or anger, e.g., ‘I know that you feel very angry with Anne, but you can’t hit her with a stick.’
  • Help them to learn not to expect everyone to always do or see things the way they do. Teach them to respect others. Everyone is different.
  • Let them express angry feelings in safe ways. Teach them that it’s OK to feel anger but hurting others or things when you are angry is never OK.
  • Manage your own anger well. If anger management is a problem for you, seek help so that you can role model good anger management strategies.
  • Teach forgiveness. Learning to patch things up and forgive is a life skill.
  • Set ground rules for acceptable behaviour. Get the children involved on working out the ground rules. Keep them simple. Write them down and stick them on the fridge door or family notice board.
  • Praise good behaviour. Let them know that it’s great when they get along well together and enjoy each other’s company.
  • Don’t make comparisons – each child is unique and resents being compared to another. Never show one child special treatment.
  • Make time to have fun together as a family. Find things to do that everyone enjoys, even just simple things. Making memories is something special that siblings can share again together in the future. Celebrate special events.

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