Sibling rivalry

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If you have two or more children; have at least a brother or a sister…chances are that you will have encountered Sibling Rivalry. Sibling rivalry, in a very simplistic sense, is the rivalry, or the feelings of antagonism between offsprings of a single set of parents. So it can be between brothers or between sisters or between a brother and a sister…whichever way it happens, this feeling of resentment, animosity and even hostility, forms a large part of relationships between siblings, especially during the growing up phase. Therefore parents need to be aware of it and even be accepting towards it.

Sibling rivalry does not remain confined within the childhood stages only. In fact poor handling of this aspect can spill into adulthood and mar future relationships. Hence it requires a lot of deep understanding of the children involved, the problems that are peculiar to the situation and lots of love, patience and in some cases a firm handling of the matter.


[edit] The Root of Sibling Rivalry

Theory of Scarcity

Sibling rivalry is a form of competition that is relegated within the confines of the home and between the children of a family. This form of competition is not very new or unnatural and is very much prevalent in the happenings in the natural habitat. For example, a baby shark will eat up other eggs within the mother’s womb so that he is the only one left to feed on the scarce resources. Similarly the eaglet that is born first will invariably push off his siblings from their nest which is mostly perched upon a high cliff ensuring that he gets to feed off the scarce food that is available.

Therefore the competition arises due to the resources which are scarce, in the above cases it is ‘food’. ‘Survival of the Fittest’ is a rule that is followed by all species, even man. Since the Dark Ages man has been in competition with others of his kiln to procure food and other resources that are required for survival. In this procurement there have been fights, squabbles and fierce competition. This race is still on, albeit in different forms and for different set of things. Today it is not only relegated to food, it has been extended to oil, water, land, air space and a lot of other things.

Within the family, the ‘scarce resource’ is the time the parents get to spend with each child. Children lack rationality, especially in the preoperational stage and often equate time and attention with love. So the scarce resources in this case therefore stands rephrased as love of the parents for their children, their approval and attention and the amount of time the parents get to spend with each child. Most of the rivalry issues evolve around these and squabbles are thrashed out to attain the largest portion of the parent’s time, attention, approval.

In the case of a single child family, things are naturally very easy because both parents can give their whole and absolute love and attention to this child. In the case where there are more children than one, the parent’s time goes divided. This is the genesis of the problem of sibling rivalry.

Evolving Needs

It would be a gross mistake to think that children, being children, lack sense and sensibility. In fact they do and much more. As the child grows up and is well into the Preoperational Stage which is between 2-5 years, the capacity to cognize, and make sense of the world around develops. Coupled with this is the process of language acquisition, arming the child with the power to express. The powerful amalgamation of perception, cognition and expression leads to an all round development of the child. The child does not only is able to sense his needs, his environment, but is also able to express them.

This is also a time which marks the birth of a sibling (considering the birth spacing plan which most people follow). The advent of a new addition to the house, especially into the fold of the immediate environment, which is the parents, sets off a chain of anxieties. This, their own changing needs, and a sense of their own identity, undergoes rapid changes which can be overwhelming for a little child. A lot of things he cannot comprehend. Some things he cannot express, and for a lot of others, there are no clear answers. It is in this foggy environment that the first signs of rivalry emerges. So a toddler who is naturally ego centric and protective of his belongings will resent it if a younger sibling touches his toys.

Little older children with well ingrained concepts offairness and equality will not be able to quite comprehend why the younger child is able to get away with a lot of things they are forbidden from. “Why don’t you tell my little sister to share too…” such statements are not so uncommon and often parents are at a loss as to how best to tackle such situations.

Adolescents are more marked in their changing needs and have attained a sense of identity that is individualistic. They like their own space and quite naturally they resent the intrusion of a sibling into their world.

All these evolving cognitions and perceptions lead to some amount of resentment which is manifested in fights and quarrels, generally named Sibling Rivalry.

Individual Temperaments

A lot of sibling rivalry may also be contributed to the temperament of the children. As a singular entity, a child also has his own unique temperament that can clash with that of his brother and sisterleading to resentment and rivalry.

For example a child who is clingy and gets easily moody or is given to frequent episodes of temper tantrums will most definitely resent the attention given to a younger sibling. This will result in more attention seeking ways that the child will resort to to get the parents attention.

Special Needs due to the Presence of Challenged Children

In some cases, a sibling may be emotionally, physically or mentally challenged which will have the parents spend more time and energy there. This can also be a trigger. Many kids see it as a disparity in treatment and learn to dislike their sibling. Again this makes a perfect ground for sibling rivalry.

[edit] Sibling Rivalry – The Solution

There is no one supreme solution that can solve all sibling rivalries in the world. This is because sibling rivalry is a conflict between two individuals, unique in their needs, temperaments, cognitions and understanding of the situation. It is this uniqueness that does not allow for a single rule to come into play as part of conflict resolution.

Sibling rivalry is not always unhealthy. In fact the genesis for competition with the outside world can be tracked to the conflicts which take place within the home. So how well a parent equips the child to face competition from his or her sibling will ultimately decide how the child, as an adult, will adjust and compete in the real world. In this regard the parents can help view this competition positively. A healthy starting ground will be they ‘themselves’ for ultimately parents themselves are active role models for children and how they view this conflict and resentment may tell on the child’s capacity to evolve and face real life challenges.

Another important point that second time expectant parents need to do is to start preparing the child a few months before the arrival of the new baby. This would act as some sort of a buffer. However this is in no means a sure fire method of de escalating sibling rivalry because one can never be sure how a child reacts when he is actually faced with his new sibling and the thereon changed equations.

Involving the older child while taking care of the other is also a way one can combat the issue of sibling rivalry.

However what does one do in case there is a huge amount of sibling rivalry that is eating into the peace and harmony of the home and family?

The one cardinal rule in these cases is, do not get involved in the fights. This teaches children how best to resolve conflicts on their own. Infact getting into the brawl may force you to take sides sparking off more resentment. Also a parent may not understand the problem in its entirety and taking a decision can worsen the outcome. Taking decisions would also tantamount to protecting one over the other and may act towards widening the gulf.

This is not to say that one must never interfere. Infact one must do so judiciously and intelligently and certainly when things appear to be going out of control. Do put in an appearance if the fight gets physically dangerous or emotionally damaging or there is a lot of abusive language being exchanged.

It is always good to talk it over with the children, but only when the tempers and emotions have abated a bit. Rehashing the experience, when things have not yet cooled down, could lead to a fresh round of fighting, this time with you in the middle of it all and each child vying for your approval. This is highly avoidable if a parent talks it over with those involved in the conflict at another appropriate time.

Talking it over has many benefits :

  • it improves communication between the child and his parents;
  • It helps the child gain a fresh perspective;
  • It helps the child in learning to respect another different point of view;
  • It helps him learn early on how to negotiate and compromise;and,
  • Finally it encourages a sense of togetherness and cooperation.

It is also only fair that as parents one should listen to a child, however unreasonable or unjust his behaviour is and tactfully guide this aggressive expression into more accepted forms. Like if a child beats up his brother or sister for touching his story book, reprimand him alone, then head him out and then teach him how to express his resentment in a better way .Perhaps he could be asked to give her another book or another toy, or he can be encouraged to share his book and see how good it makes him feel. Place positive examples while you are doing this.

Help your kids get along with each other. This way they will be building their first friendships in life which may well endure the ravages of adult trials and tribulations. What are the possible ways of doing this:

  • Encourage family times where the entire family bonds as a single unit. This teaches children to learn from positive behaviour in a happy receptive environment.
  • If both children want the same things, it is best to post a schedule so that both children can be fitted in and both get a chance to have a go at the coveted item.
  • Be proactive and cater to the varied needs one at a time. For example if one child likes a certain kind of food and the other does not make sure you cook both kinds of food interspersed with your favourite food or that of any other family member.This shows that you are fair, teaches a child to be more conscious of others needs and desires and encourages the idea of trying out a variety
  • Recognize the differences between each child and let them have hours where they have their own space and need not share or do things together. Having to share all the time may become a bother and fuel resentment. Let him have a whole chocolate once in a while. It makes him feel he is an individual without an appendage all the time. The next time he may be more receptive to sharing.

[edit] Recognising the Genesis of the Rivalry

Parents need to know and understand the fundamental point that all rivalries invariably seek to satisfy the need for attention and love. Children therefore need to be given a sense of security that no matter what happens, the parents will continually love him. At the same time explain that as parents you also love the other children and are there for each one of them at all times. This gives a sense of security and contentment. The attention seeker in them gets satiated and the incentive to fight is often gone.

If all fails, then it is only advisable that the parent leave the scene of conflict for a while for this gives the person some time to gather ones thoughts and actions. Simultaneously it gives the children no incentive to fight for the parent’s attention and approval.

[edit] Seek Professional Help

Sometimes sibling rivalry may have the most unhappy of endings. A sibling may fatally harm his brother or there may be disputes so violent that it mars the diurnal functioning. Therefore it is only prudent to seek help in such extreme cases. Seek help if

  • The sibling conflict is very severe and refuses to die down;
  • There is physical or emotional threat that is coming in the way of normal development of both the siblings and there is a palpable lowering of self esteem, feeling of happiness and well being;
  • The cause for the rivalry or conflict may be a deep psychological disorder, like depression.

[edit] Sibling Rivalry – A form of Abuse

So is sibling rivalry a form of abuse of power. The answer is YES and this is recognized by psychologists all over the world. Most of the relationships have some amount of power play and the relationship between siblings is no different. This power is yielded by one child over the other, sometimes by dint of birth order or by having more physical power. Either ways it does get reduced to an exhibition of who is stronger and is able to win the parents approval and attention and love.

As parents one needs to recognize and accept this display of power and then look for solutions that best answers the problem. Also imparting good values and encouraging their children to loathe any form of abuse of power can go a long way in resolving the conflicts over time as well as shaping their lives into responsible and sensitive adults.

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