Sibling rivalry can destroy the household peace and regularly has parents across the country tearing their hair out.
Brothers and sisters often spend more time with one another than they do with their parents. Whilst this forms a unique connection, it can also involve a dose of competition and resentment. Just like the US and UK, we could call this a ‘special relationship’.
Is sibling rivalry normal?
Sibling rivalry is a standard part of family life. Whether between blood related kids or within a blended family, children living under the same roof will naturally clash. This is an age-old issue for parents. Just think of Cain and Abel, Cleopatra and Ptolemy, Cinderella and the ugly sisters. Real or imagined, siblings have clashed throughout the ages.
The niggly confrontations of young siblings can actually be beneficial, teaching kids key diplomacy skills, patience and how to treat others. On the flip side, kids know that fighting with one another is a particularly effective way to get attention from parents and this can ramp up in adolescence.
What causes sibling rivalry?
Psychologists have suggested that sibling rivalry stems from children needing to establish their position in the family dynamic. Each child competes to define their unique place in the pecking order and define themselves from their brothers and sisters. Here are some key examples of causes behind sibling rivalry:
Position in the family: Older children can be unhappy with the additional responsibilities they have compared to their younger siblings, whilst the younger ones may be frustrated about always trying to catch up.
Gender: Even today there can be defined gender roles which can lead to competition or resentment. This may potentially affect the parenting approach and could also influence areas of interest as children are socialised to fit into gender roles.
Age: The gap between children and their specific ages can have a significant effect on sibling rivalry. A 5 year old and an 8 year old may find common interests and be happy to play together, whilst a 10 year old may struggle to get attention from a 13 year old sibling. The age gap can also result in other frustrations. Older children may be annoyed if younger children can’t do certain things they are able to. Likewise, younger siblings can get frustrated and feel bad about themselves if they can’t do something their older brother or sister can.
Parental attention: The most significant factor is vying for attention from their parents. Kids can act up if they think they are getting an unequal (less!) amount of attention or recognition from their folks.
How can parents deal with sibling rivalry?
Parents can have a significant impact on conflicts within the younger members of the family. There are some key things to think about which could reduce the bickering:
Be fair. This isn’t the same as equal! Different ages have their own age-appropriate priviledges. For example, an older child may have a later bedtime. Explain that the younger child will also get to stay up till the same time when they reach that age. The younger child may be afforded a little more tolerance as they are not old enough to be able to control themselves in the same way their older sibling is able to. Be prepared to explain why things may be different for each child so they can understand that they are not just being treated differently.
Don’t compare. This is a key driver in sibling rivalry. Each child is unique and they are fighting for recognition of this. Statements such as ‘When Michael was your age he could…’ or ‘Susan never…’ really don’t help. Understand each child and their own characteristics and abilities and set individual goals and expectations based on this and not their brothers and/or sisters.
Be positive: Sibling rivalries can escalate when children are seeking attention from their parents. Notice the positive behaviour/actions/reactions and praise these openly. Make sure the focus is on this and they may be less likely to try and get attention through negative actions. Praise their individual successes, speak positively about them to one another and encourage them to be positive about each other.
Encourage collaboration: Encourage children to put their energies into working together to achieve tasks rather than compete to achieve them first.
Make time: Try to spend some one on one time with each of them. This can be difficult to manage in a busy household, but even your undivided attention with a homework task or a story time session can have a positive impact if they each have their turn. This has many benefits and gives them the space to share their thoughts and feelings with you. Priceless!
These tips and insights should help reduce the sibling rivalry but remember a certain amount of ‘negotiation’ is part and parcel of every family. Minor conflicts can help to develop understanding and diplomacy skills!