Sibling Rivalry

 Sibling Rivalry

 Sibling rivalry is a type of competition or animosity among siblings, whether blood related or not.

Siblings generally spend more time together during childhood than they do with parents. The sibling bond is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as parentaltreatment, birth order, personality, and people and experiences outside the family.  Sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age and of the same gender and/or where one or both children are intellectually gifted.

Sibling rivalry often continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to parents. Adolescents fight for the same reasons younger children fight, but they are better equipped to physically, intellectually, and emotionally hurt and be intellectually and emotionally hurt by each other. Physical and emotional changes cause pressures in the teenage years, as do changing relationships with parents and friends. Fighting with siblings as a way to get parental attention may increase in adolescence. One study found that the age group 10 to 15 reported the highest level of competition between siblings.

Sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood, and sibling relationships can change dramatically over the years. Events such as a parent’s illness may bring siblings closer together, whereas marriage may drive them apart, particularly if the in-law relationship is strained. Approximately one-third of adults describe their relationship with siblings as rivalrous or distant. However, rivalry often lessens over time. At least 80 percent of siblings over age 60 enjoy close ties


According to Kyla Boyse from the University of Michigan, each child in a family competes to define who it is as an individual and wants to show that it is separate from its siblings. Children may feel they are getting unequal amounts of their parents’ attention, discipline, and responsiveness. Children fight most in families where there is neither any understanding that fighting is not an acceptable way to resolve conflicts nor any alternative way of handling such conflicts; in families in which physical fighting is forbidden but no method of non-physical conflict resolution (e.g., verbal argument) is permitted, the conversion and accumulation of everyday disputes into long-simmering hostilities can have an effect nearly as corrosive. Stress in the parents’ and children’s lives can create more conflict and increase sibling rivalry.

Suggestions for dealing with sibling rivalry:

1. Get into your children's world. The oldest usually feels "dethroned," just as you would if your spouse brought home a new lover. The youngest often feels inadequate when comparing herself to the capabilities of the oldest. Understanding how they might feel helps you interact with them with compassion.

2. Compassion does not mean sympathy. It is not helpful to overprotect your children and try to save them from the many feelings and emotions they will experience in life. Compassion helps you maintain kindness with firmness while applying any of the following suggestions.

3. Avoid victim and bully training. This happens when you assume the oldest is always at fault (the bully) and rescue the youngest (the victim). Often the youngest starts a conflict (that you don't see) just to get you to rescue her. Treat them the same. Verbalize faith in their ability to work things out, or separate them.

4. Make sure that you have one-on-one special time with each child sometime during each day. If a child is jealous of another, let him know that you want to be with each child and his time will come. Tell him that it is okay to feel jealous.

5. If the situation between the kids gets out of hand, see if you can redirect them into activities, such as contests or relays, where cooperation is more important than competition.

 Prevent Future Problems

1. Give positive messages to every child so each knows how special he or she is.

2. Find activities that stress group cooperation and teamwork. Help the kids discover that things are more fun when they include people who have different strengths.

3. Make it a point to let the kids know how much you appreciate their special qualities that set them apart from the other kids.

4. Don't compare the kids in a misguided attempt to motivate them to be like another child. This is very discouraging.

5. At family meetings and other activities, stress how great it is that we are all different and bring different skills and ideas to the family.

6. Don't gush and make a fuss over the new baby in front of an older sibling. This enhances the belief of the older child that she has been "replaced."

7. Get rid of your "fair button." Kids will push it and use it to manipulate you.

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