What Causes Sibling Rivalry & What You Can Do About It?

By: Ashley Brown

Updated June 15, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

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.

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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 his or her sibling receiving more praise or attention from their parents may grow to resent their brother or sister. The less attended child may also begin to act out to get attention or even target their brother or sister 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 brother or sister, hence the emergence of sibling competition.

New Changes

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.

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External Factors

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.

Wondering What You Can Do About Sibling Rivalry?
Speak With A Family Relationship Expert Online To Learn More.

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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.

Seeking Help

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 access 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 access ReGain from the comfort and privacy 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.

Counselor Reviews

"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!"

Conclusion

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. Contact us today to alleviate family issues, whether they are old or new.


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