What Causes Sibling Rivalry & What You Can Do About It?
Nearly everyone on planet Earth has heard the term 'sibling rivalry.' This phenomenon is formally defined as "competition between brothers and sisters." Countless studies into the psychology and underlying causes of sibling rivalry have been conducted over a period of decades.
What causes sibling rivalry? What can be done about it? Are there any undiscovered factors, which influence the intensity and duration of sibling rivalry? Every one of the questions above has an answer. Still, before one can understand the causes and solutions to sibling rivalry, one must first understand the ins and outs of competition between siblings.
An Overview Of Sibling Rivalry
Mott Children affirms that sibling competition occurs after the second child is born. At this point, siblings begin to fight amongst themselves and compete for the attention of one or both of their parents. Unfortunately, sibling competition does not usually disappear with time or run its course. If left unchecked, this type of unhealthy competition can grow, fester, and worsen as children grow up. In some of the worst-case scenarios, it can continue into adulthood.
Evidence supports that normalizing sibling competition can be problematic and lead to issues later down the line. For example, making a joke about sibling competition or even pitting siblings against each other in competition normalizes sibling rivalry. This form of competition is not only unhealthy but can be toxic when it is not properly addressed. Contrary to popular belief, sibling rivalry is not always as mild as two (or more) brothers and sisters attempting to get the attention or praise of their parents. In many cases, siblings engaged in a rivalry tend to harbor feelings of resentment, anger, and possibly even a bit of hatred towards one another.
Unfortunately, many parents remain at a loss on how to tackle and squash sibling competition. While this behavior can be upsetting to parents, some may be unwittingly causing or contributing to the infighting amongst their children. Whenever adults witness occurrences of sibling competition, they must first pinpoint the trigger or cause and then take the necessary steps to end the fighting once and for all.
What Causes Sibling Rivalry?
Many factors contribute to sibling competition. While some remain obvious, others are less apparent. For instance, a child who witnesses their sibling receiving more praise or attention from their parents may grow to resent their sibling. The less attended child may also begin to act out to get attention or even target their sibling out of resentment. Of course, the child who gets the most praise or care from their parents will likely retaliate against their less cared for sibling, hence the emergence of sibling competition.
The birth of a new sibling can also breed sibling competition, depending on the circumstances and family dynamics. Fear that parents will devote all of their attention to the newest, youngest sibling is a common, well-documented fear many children have. Thankfully, parents can counteract this potential avenue to sibling competition by making sure their older child knows that the arrival of their new brother or sister will not change or decrease the parents' love for their firstborn or eldest child.
In many cases, when people hear the phrase 'sibling competition,' they think of very young children who argue amongst themselves or work to get their mom and dad to notice them. However, this is not applicable in all situations. Sibling rivalry can fester among young and older teenagers. As children grow into adolescence, they go through countless changes, learning and growing, while discovering who they are and what they want out of life.
As siblings get older, sibling competition can take a turn for the worst. In many situations, younger siblings feel that parents show the older children favoritism by granting them certain privileges or seemingly allowing them to get away with different behaviors. Likewise, older children may dislike their younger siblings and feel that parents coddle them more often or give them more attention. Each of the perceptions above could be right or wrong, depending on the circumstances. However, regardless of the accuracy of the perceptions, they do inevitably impact the way siblings feel about themselves and one another.
Although parents are a huge factor in cases of sibling competition, they are not the sole cause of unhealthy infighting between children. Stress also plays a very big role in sibling competition. It can either cause or contribute to current animosity between siblings. Young people who are on edge or going through unsettling events are more likely to be irritable and more prone to lashing out at those around them.
Siblings who do not frequently spend time with one another are also more likely to have a tense relationship. Thankfully, this is something that parents have a considerable amount of control over. Family dinners, vacations, and outings are ideal ways of ensuring that siblings spend time with one another and develop healthy relationships.
What Can Be Done To Combat Sibling Rivalry?
Thankfully, parents have a lot of control over how well their children get along. They can also take several steps to either neutralize sibling competition or halt its inception. Primarily, parents should abstain from comparing their children to one another. In far too many cases, adults will sometimes ask their offspring, "Why can't you be more like your sister?" or "Why can't you listen like your brother?" Both of the preceding questions are counterproductive and unhelpful. Parents may intend to push their child to do better or work harder, but they are hurting their child's self-esteem and breeding resentment in reality.
Parents can also combat sibling competition by allowing each child to be themselves. Sometimes, if one sibling is good at sports, parents try to push their children to adopt sports. While parents may do this with the best intentions, the act can easily come off as playing favorites, another factor that breeds resentment and fuels sibling competition.
As children grow and mature, they will inevitably take up their interests and hobbies. So long as the preceding activities are not dangerous, detrimental, or illegal, they should be celebrated and encouraged.
Parents can also combat sibling competition by paying attention to certain patterns or triggers that engender discord between their children. If their children tend to argue with one another in the morning, perhaps parents could switch up the morning routine. If animosity tends to strike after school pickups, perhaps parents can see which after-school activities their children are interested in. Structure and well-roundness can work wonders, especially as young people are growing and discovering who they are.
Finally, each sibling should be allowed time to themselves. This is not the same as isolating one or more children from the rest of the family, but it does mean that a degree of solitude can be healthy. Children need time to process things as they learn, grow, and develop. For as much as family time matters and is essential to healthy maturation, too much of a good thing is never good. There should always be a balance between the time siblings spend with each other and parents versus the time they get to spend by themselves or with other people who may not be relatives.
A Final Word
Many factors affect how siblings interact with each other. Parental treatment and family dynamics are two of the most impactful elements, as previously stated. However, intelligence levels, personality traits, and age differences can make a considerable difference as well. Children who are twins or very close to each other in age are considerably more prone to sibling rivalry than siblings with sizable age differences are.
Other parallels such as gender and IQ levels can increase levels of likelihood of sibling competition. Ultimately, parents have the responsibility to encourage and breed amiability amongst their children.
Difficult times are a part of life. Every one of us has battles and difficulties that we have to overcome. Sometimes they present themselves in sibling rivalry, parental troubles, or other versions of familial discord. Regardless of the case, it is very important for every person to feel as though they have someone they can talk to.
Sibling rivalry is common, and it is something that may take many years to get over. It is okay to acknowledge that you have been experiencing it (or allowing it to happen) and that you want to move on. Talking to a licensed counselor, so you can learn how to build healthy and fulfilling relationships between siblings is effective. However, not everyone has to reputable counselors nearby, and not everyone has the time to drive to an appointment during regular office hours. This is where online counseling services like Regain offer solutions.
You can Regain from the comfort and of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Below are some reviews of Regain counselors for you to review from people suffering from an issue like this.
"George has been flexible in working with my sister and me through some issues we have been dealing with over the past year. We both felt heard and respected. George asks good and relative questions. We're thankful to have a service like Regain."
"Sailys is highly professional and very sensitive to my issues and the ones of my family. Her advice is extremely accurate, and it has helped me grow and be more helpful to others. I highly recommend her!"
It is sometimes hard to wrap your head around your place within your family, especially if you have siblings. If you're a parent of siblings, it can also be difficult to ensure a healthy relationship between them. In either case, there are tools to help you move forward toward fulfilling family relationships. In case you experience difficult sister relationships, contact us today to alleviate family issues, whether they are old or new.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What Are The Main Causes Of Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling rivalry is a situation where there is an ongoing conflict between two or more siblings from the same household. Sibling rivalries often manifest as fighting, trading insults, engaging in unhealthy competition, envy, and sometimes ghosting each other.
Sibling rivalries often stem from problems that date back to their childhood. A sibling rivalry could be problems ranging from:
Poor communication and conflict resolution skills during childhood
Parents pitting their children against each other and comparing them to each other
Unhealthy competition between siblings
Feelings of jealousy and bitterness
Feeling that the other sibling is appreciated by their family more than they are
What Is Considered Normal Sibling Rivalry?
Every family with multiple children experiences sibling rivalry in one way or the other. When people think of sibling rivalry, the image that comes to mind is of siblings who hate each other. While that is a true representation of sibling rivalry, it isn’t the only one. No matter how many siblings that live together in the same home love each other, there will always be mild sibling rivalry. This can be referred to as normal sibling rivalry.
When you live with someone for most of your life, there will be times where you find them unbearable to be around. There will also be times when you compare yourself to them and feel a little envious.
Another example of normal sibling rivalry is the competition that often exists between siblings. Siblings commonly compete for the affection and approval of their parents. Parents often a structured idea of what success looks like. They unknowingly judge their children through the lens of their ideals and values, dismissing everything that doesn’t fit into that picture. The rivalry that stems from this often manifests during the pre-teen years when it is obvious that the parents approve of one child more than they do the other. As parents, it is wrong to compare your children.
Feelings of envy and bitterness can develop from normal sibling rivalry. While this doesn’t always lead to serious cases of sibling rivalry, it does lay a foundation for future conflict.
How Do You Fix Sibling Rivalry?
It can be very difficult to stop sibling rivalry. Fixing it is a challenge that will require time and dedication. Fortunately, parents have enough influence to get the job done.
If you’re fortunate and can notice it at its inception, it will not be difficult to stop sibling rivalry. During this stage, you can easily uncover and eliminate the thought and behavioral patterns that caused the conflict. Simple steps like discussing their emotions and encouraging open and honest communication will help you stop sibling rivalry. You can also teach them conflict resolution skills. This will teach them to communicate effectively and become more considerate and kind.
If the rivalry has had time to mature, you will have to take a completely different approach. One that is more open and interactive. You will need to discover the roots of the conflict; this will take a proper intervention and maybe even family therapy.
It could also be the case that the parents themselves are the cause of the conflict. Perhaps they have been pitting their kids against each other and elevating one sibling while unknowing the self-esteem of the other(s). As parents, there is the tendency to compare your children, favoring one and encouraging the other to be more like their sibling. There is no better way to breed resentment between children than comparing them to each other and favoring one against the other. Even if you don’t think you contribute to the sibling fighting, take time to make sure you aren’t unknowingly contributing to it.
Finally, look out for any triggers. What are the things that cause their fights? This could help you uncover the roots of the problem. Take a holistic approach to fix their relationship. Try to make one little part of their relationship a little better and keep doing that until you have a breakthrough.
What Causes Sibling Rivalry In Adulthood?
Adulthood can increase sibling rivalry significantly. If there were envy brewing when they were younger, there would be more things to be envious of as adults. Both siblings will have a greater ability to hurt each other, and since they are both adults, it will be very difficult for their parents to intervene. The causes of adult sibling rivalry include:
Expectations: Parents have their fixed idea of what success looks like. This automatically means they will expect their children’s lives to go in a particular way; anything that goes off that established path will fall short of their expectations. For example, most parents expect their children to attend a reputable university and get a prestigious job. If one of their children decides to be a painter, they will unknowingly project their disappointment in that child’s life choices. This becomes a real problem if they consider another child to be successful and make comparisons between them. This can cause a terrible case of sibling fighting.
Favoritism: Children can tell if their parents favor one of them over the others. This often continues into adulthood and can make the parents favor one child over the other in conflict resolution cases. Some parents prefer to spend more time with one child than with the other, making the other sibling feel unappreciated. There are also cases where parents favor one daughter-in-law over the other or one grandchild over the other. This can breed resentment and bitterness.
Inheritance: Inheritance disputes are a popular cause of sibling feuds. One sibling might feel like another was favored during the writing of the will. This can cause intense feelings of jealousy and can lead to siblings cutting each other off.
Disputes: Disputes between their respective spouses can cause siblings to argue and even fight. It could also sour their relationships and cause them to avoid each other.
What Is A Toxic Sibling?
It is an awful thing to realize that you have a toxic sibling. This is why many people find it hard to admit that their sibling has a toxic personality. A toxic sibling is bound to increase sibling rivalry. If you suspect that your sibling is toxic, there are some signs you can look out for that will help you know for sure. These include:
They constantly gaslight you and accuse you of acting based on malicious intent
They tell you lies about other persons in your family and tell them lies about you
They are constantly getting into conflict with other relatives or causing conflict
They are pessimistic and always find a way to ruin good moments
They don’t celebrate with you or mourn with you
Manipulating you emotionally or financially
If they are physically, emotionally, financially, or verbally abusive
What Is An Example Of Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling feuds can manifest in completely different ways. The most common example of sibling rivalry is when kids compete for their parent's affection. This can be in the mild form of working harder at their education and comparing grades and other achievements to prove they are better than the other sibling. It can also manifest when siblings try to tarnish the image of their other siblings in the eyes of their parents.
At What Age Does Sibling Rivalry End?
Is It Normal For Siblings To Fight All The Time?
What Is Healthy Sibling Rivalry?
How Does Sibling Rivalry Affect The Family?
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