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Sibling Rivalry: What You Need To Know?

Written and reviewed by
Mrs. Anam Kaushal 90% (86 ratings)
MPhil Clinical Psychology
Psychologist, Delhi  •  9 years experience
Sibling Rivalry: What You Need To Know?

Sibling rivalry

Well, what drew my interest to this topic was when I read on a social networking site, how few mothers are experiencing problems in raising siblings. Some siblings are quite lucky enough to become best friends. While the other few do experience some or the other problem with our sibling during the growing up process. Problems and tussles like this that we experience are technically termed as sibling rivalry.

Sibling rivalry is the jealousy, competition and fighting between brothers and sisters. It is a concern for almost all parents of two or more than two children. Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up in a family. It's important to be aware of how powerful sibling rivalry can become. If sibling rivalry becomes a persistent problem, it's worthwhile tackling it before it gets out of control.

Research shows that often, sibling rivalry starts even before the second child is born, and continues as the children grow and compete for everything from toys to attention. Some common reactions to a new baby includes -

  • Showing anger toward the baby (hitting, kicking, punching, biting) 
  • Asking for the baby to go back in mother's tummy or back to the hospital.
  • Demanding more attention when the parent is with the baby.
  • Some degree of emotional disturbance usually following the birth.

As parents, we say that we treat our children equally but, in reality, it is not possible to do so. If such kind of rivalry is not dealt in a proper manner, the fighting between brothers and sisters is filled with physical and psychological aggression which traumatizes them and can lead to depression, anxiety and anger.

Signs of sibling rivalry

  • Children under 9 years of age may show these signs:
  • Fighting (verbal or physical attack).
  • Demanding attention.
  • Frustration.
  • Regressive acts such as bed wetting, baby talk, temper tantrums etc.
  • Older children may show these signs:
  • Constant arguing.
  • Competing for friends, grades or in sports.
  • Taking out their frustration on objects, pets or other people.

It is not necessary to get perplexed with this situation. Believe it or not, sibling rivalry is a natural phenomenon. However, what is important to know what causes it. Let’s uncover few common causes of sibling rivalry.

  • Attention – this is far most the most important factor of conflict between siblings. Children are always yearning for parents love, affection and time. When there’s a new baby, it can be hard for the other child to accept losing his or her position as the center of attention. If your child is acting out and misbehaving, then he or she is doing so to get your attention as they’re feeling ignored.
  • Sharing – is one principle which we follow and have been following from ages. But giving up a toy or other favorite possession to a sibling can be especially hard on young children.
  • Comparison – no two siblings can be alike, even twins are not completely alike. Every child has his own set of personality, interest, aptitude and often as a parent knowingly or unknowingly we land up praising and appreciating one child and forget about the other. This leads to a state of comparison. Moreover, an age and gender difference also brings forth sibling fights.
  • Jealousy – comparison always results in a feeling of jealousy. Siblings start feeling jealous of each other. If mother is taking care of need of one child, the other child feels neglected and develops negative feeling for his/her brother or sister.
  • Proximity of age - if you have children who are close together in age, it could stimulate sibling rivalry. This is because you will have to give the children the same kind of attention. This makes it easier for them to compare the care you give to each, and find subtle differences.
  • Gender- a son may hate his sister because his father seems more gentle with her. On the other hand, a daughter may feel that her parents love her brother more as he has more freedom than her.

Any of the above mentioned causes can be found in one or the other sibling. However, there might be few who will be non-expressive kinds. They would be piling up with emotions deep down inside them but will never be upfront and expressive about it. In a situation like this try to unfold the non – verbal gestures of your child such as has your child staying aloof lately? is the child performing activity in solitary? is he/she is not coming up and sharing things with you as he/she was doing before?

Even though these things might sound as a process of growing up (as we commonly hear this from our own parents and grandparents), they might have some serious repercussion in the process of development. 

To begin with sibling rivalry affects how children perceive themselves. As seen the rivalry begins at the time of the second born, the older child feels sidelined because his new born sibling has a much higher level of parental attention and care. He starts to feel unloved and thinks his presence is no longer valued. The feelings can quickly develop into jealousy, which is not good for his/her, sense of self – identity and emotional growth.

Even though we consider rivalry as a part of growing up, and overlook it, it can develop violent behavior in siblings. For instance when one child hits the other with a ball, you would think they are playing, while in fact, they are fighting. If unattended, such conflicts can get out of hand and erupt into a war, with kids getting violent.

Your child’s ability to develop interpersonal relationships may get hampered. As the social skills of the child’s get questionable, nobody would like to interact with him/her and make friends. Without healthy social skills the child may start feeling isolated as his/her friends will start labeling him/her as a person who “bullies”.

If you are experiencing any of these with your children, then you would be curious to know the possible solutions for this condition. So here it goes, know I will not provide you with false assurance that sibling rivalry will never occur after following these solutions, as I mentioned before that it is a normal process of growing up. However, these solutions will help you tackle the situation and bring out the best out of your child.

At the first place, give sufficient time between the birthsof each child so as to avoid having more than one child needing the same kind of care and attention at one time. When the family is expecting a new baby, the parents should begin early to talk and to convince their older children as to how important the children’s help is going to be with the caring of their new baby brother or sister. The parents should also discuss the child’s considerable responsibilities as older brothers or sisters.

If you have a new born coming home involve the older sibling with the new born. You can involve the older child in getting ready to welcome the new born. Decorate the house; choose decoration articles with the help of the older child. Involve the older one with the needs of the younger one for example – let the older one pick clothes for the new born, take his/her help with bathing, dressing and feeding the new one to name a few as this would develop a sense of responsibility, development of positive feelings and care for the new one. This will also make the older child feel wanted and be a part of the young one’s need and yet again you are spending time as a family. Do not forget to appreciate the older sibling with the amount of efforts he/she is displaying as this acts like reinforcement and boost the child.

Now, conflicts are bound to occur, you cannot avoid it. Nevertheless, you can help your child handle conflicts in a positive manner. You can teach your child to manage the disagreement in a constructive manner. Emphasize and develop listening skills in your child – by listening to their sibling’s point of view or not engaging in name-calling -- will be in a much better frame of mind to settle disputes and move past fighting.

Make them understand the meaning of “family”. They need to understand that family is just like a team, a team which includes team members like mom, dad, brother and sister. And just like how cricketers are a team and they play for the team and not as an individual and cooperate with each other, similarly family members need to work together to have a loving and peaceful environment. Family respects each other’s feeling, desires and expectations. Any fight in the house affects the team or the family.

Sometimes parents unintentionally or intentionally leaves it on children. They believe that it is best to leave it on kids. But now it’s time to come forward and become a mediator. Hold both the kids responsible and do not favor any child, even when sometimes one is right and other is wrong. Sit down with the kids and each of you talk as team; let each child narrate his/her part of the story and emphasize where who went wrong. Do not impose them with your solutions – wait for them to come up with their own solutions. When the solutions will come from both the end, they would defiantly follow it.

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