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Feelings of sibling rivalry are incredibly frustrating to the children who are experiencing them, but also really tough for parents. What are some of the causes of sibling rivalry, and how can you address the situation in a way that benefits the whole family?
What Is Sibling Rivalry?
Some siblings are the best of friends, while others get on really well together but also fight frequently. What do we really mean when we use the phrase "sibling rivalry"?
Watching two or more of your kids fight is frustrating, especially if it happens a lot. It can be tough to know how to handle sibling conflicts. My two kids are close in age. While they often want the same things at the same time, they can also have completely different desires and can never quite agree which programs to watch, for instance. This can make them both feel angry.
Sibling rivalry is not the same thing as sibling conflict, however. Rivals are in constant competition with each other, and rival siblings are no different.
Sibling rivalry can start the moment a younger sibling is born and the older child feels her position is threatened — because newborns require a lot of hands-on attention, often to the detriment of the older child. It can also develop over time, for a variety of reasons, and it can strike any child regardless of birth order.
There are many possible scenarios. Perhaps one child is constantly praised for a talent another doesn't have, causing envy. Perhaps an older child has been given more chores than a younger one, causing a feeling of injustice. Perhaps one child is simply given more attention, because of legitimate reasons like special needs or inadvertently, causing jealousy.
Sibling rivalry occurs when a competitive environment is created, either by parents, due to circumstances, or among children themselves — due to personality differences, for example. It's fair to say that most siblings feel a certain degree of competition at some point in their lives, but most also naturally love each other.
Defining Your Own Feelings
As a parent, you will usually love all your children equally but in different ways — you appreciate each of your kids for who they are, and acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. It can be painful and frustrating to witness your kids fighting, and it can be even more difficult if it is clear that they are in competition or jealous of each other.
Before you start addressing sibling rivalry in your children, it is a good idea to define your own feelings about the situation. How do the negative feelings your kids have about each other affect you? What type of relationship would you prefer? Do your children's problems take you back to your own childhood in any way? To deal with your own feelings about the sibling rivalry within your family, it's best to talk to a non-judgmental and non-partial person, like a good friend or therapist.