Sibling Rivalry




As long as families have existed “Sibling rivalry” has existed too. The moment we say Sibling, rivalry seem to follow it automatically. Despite the fact that there are many solid sibling relationships in families, it’s typically rivalry that gets the most attention.

What causes Sibling Rivalry?

Siblings may be of different genders, of different ages and temperaments, and worst of all, they have to share the one or two people they want most for themselves: their parents.

  • Position in the family. The older child may be burdened with the responsibility of looking after the younger ones, or the younger one may be burdened with living up to the image of the elder one, or catch up with him all the time.
  • Daughter may resent what she perceives as the preferential treatment being given to her brother by her mother or the son may resent his father treating his sister more favourably.
  • A five and an eight-year-old can play some games together but when they become thirteen and sixteen, they will likely have very different interests. Parents may have been told all along that they should treat their children equally, but it is not always possible. Different rules will have to be set for different age and requirements but this can cause resentment among the children. If parents allow a nineteen year old to stay late in the evening with friends his sixteen year old sister will resent it if she is not given the same privileges.

Here are some do’s and don’ts that may be helpful in reducing conflicts as well as the negative effects of sibling rivalry:

  • Don’t make comparisons(e.g., “I don’t understand it. When Hamsini was his age she would pack her bag herself). Each child feels he is unique and rightly so; he is his own person and resents being evaluated only in relation to someone else. Instead of comparison, each child in the family should be given his own goals and levels of expectation that relate only to him.
  • Don’t dismiss or suppress your children’s resentment or angry feelings. Anger is not something we should try to avoid at all costs. It’s an entirely normal part of being human, and it’s certainly normal for siblings to get angry with each other and have the impulse to physically fight. Parents need to assure them that they get angry too, but there are ways to express it and it is not permitted to behave in cruel and dangerous ways. Sit down with them, acknowledge the anger (e.g., “I know you hate Akash right now but you cannot kick him.”), and talk it through.
  • Whenever possible, let brothers and sisters settle their own differences. However, use your judgment to step in and mediate if the contest is between unequals or if the situation looks like it is getting out of control. Sometimes this could result in long-lasting grudges among grown siblings. Bullying could be another fall out if the fights between siblings are not monitored. Bullying is discussed in detail in the next section.

Some Useful Sibling Conflict Resolution Strategies

  • Don’t take sides. You don’t know how long the child who is founding pounding on his brother was putting up with his taunting before taking this drastic measure. However when the sibling rivalry progresses to excessive physical or verbal violence OR when the number of incidents of rivalry becomes excessive, take action. Talk with your children about what is going on. Provide suggestions on how they can handle the situation when it occurs.
  • Reward appropriate behaviour. Parents often don’t notice when children are putting up their best behaviour and notice only fights and arguments. Behaviors that are ignored or unrewarded decrease while behaviors that receive attention or rewarded increase.
  • Introduce a family plan to help with the situation that provides negative and positive consequences for all concerned. When there is a fighting or shouting as a consequence you can introduce temporary withdrawal of screen time. If a day goes without fighting you could give them a reward that you consider appropriate like play a game with them or give them a favourite snack etc.

Sibling Bullying

Sibling bullying is not necessarily an isolated moment of anger. It might reflect an ongoing pattern in a sibling relationship in which one may be emotionally or physically abusive toward another. It may take the form of denigrating, shaming, embarrassing, or threatening behavior.

Consequences of Sibling Bullying

Victims of sibling bullying may minimize, suppress, or deny the emotional pain caused by their abuse–with regard to their anger, hurt, fear and anxiety. They may also internalize their anger, viewing themselves as being at fault.

A child who is the victim of sibling bullying develops a sense of helplessness and isolation, feeling confused, frustrated and powerless. When such suffering is ignored, a child does not feel safe within his own home and may withdraw seeking connection with his parents.

Such a child who is neglected at home may turn into a bully himself outside his home. He may develop a longing for connection with others which may, in turn, lead to associating with peers who similarly feel isolated, angry and powerless–whether seeking affiliation with gangs or resorting to addiction. On the other hand the hurt and anger may completely inhibit their desire to connect with others.

  • Be attentive to how siblings interact with each other. Closely monitor them if you suspect bullying is occurring.
  • Privately address any concerns you have about a child, whether in regard to behavior, school performance, feelings, etc.
  • Reward positive sibling interactions–including their working on a project together and sharing interests.
  • Provide your children with specific guidelines for resolving conflicts. Teach them problem-solving skills like assertive communication, negotiation, collaboration, compromise etc.
  • Teach them to verbalise their feelings.
  • Avoid making comparisons.
  • Make it very clear that any form of bullying will not be tolerated and there will be consequences.
  • Try to be consistent in your interactions with each child.
  • Be fully present with your child, truly attentive to them, without attending to other tasks.
  • Be alert to your interactions with them or with your spouse. Specifically, be alert to any discrepancy between what you say about bullying and behavior that may provide a different message.
  • Avoid playing favourites with your children, based on any of their traits and qualities.

Siblings can create certain stresses, but if they are overcome successfully, they will give your children resources that will serve them well later in life. Siblings learn how to share, how to come face to face with jealousy, and how to accept their individual strengths and weaknesses. As they watch you handle sibling rivalry with equanimity and fairness, they will be gaining knowledge that will be valuable when they, too, become parents.

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