Sibling rivalry seems to be a universal fact of life. Since the time of Cain and Able, siblings have found themselves butting heads. This rivalry can be caused by many things, such as jealousy, competition, favoritism, and fighting. While disagreements between siblings are inevitable, thankfully, the sibling relationship is not destined to be marred by hate.
As a parent, the rivalry between your children can be a source of distress. As an involved sibling, the stressors are apparent, but you are not powerless!
This article will discuss the most common causes of sibling rivalry, especially brother-sister rivalry, and provide simple solutions that parents can use to ease tensions between their children.
Table of Content :
Beginning of Rivalry in Early Childhood
Sibling rivalry typically begins in early childhood, sometimes before the younger child is even old enough to participate. It’s understandable- for the older child, they suddenly share their parents’ love and affection with another child and often find their needs placed behind the new infant’s needs. As the children grow, their need for attention, fairness, and their own individual identity will cause tension.
Younger children typically display this rivalry by stealing toys during playtime, taking clothes or other items without asking, or crossing boundaries. As the children grow, the rivalry may lead to more verbal or physical altercations.
This type of behavior is inevitable, as anyone with a sibling knows. However, if left unchecked, it can lead to unhealthy relationships in childhood and adulthood. Therefore, it is vital, as a parent, to step in early and ensure that your child’s annoyance with their sibling doesn’t evolve to hatred.
What are the Causes of Sibling Rivalry?
Numerous things can lead to sibling rivalry. In most cases, multiple factors work in tandem to contribute to the issues between siblings. While each case is unique, several causes seem to be common for most siblings:
1. New Baby
The arrival of a new baby is typically the first spark of future rivalry. Older siblings frequently feel neglected or ignored when parents focus their attention on the new child. As a result, older siblings can feel threatened by the new child’s role in their parents’ lives and can see the new baby as a detrimental addition to their family.
The people in the children’s lives, including parents, family members, teachers, and neighbors, tend to group siblings from an early age. The strengths or interests of one sibling are automatically assumed to be the strengths and interests of another. As children grow, they search for their own identity, interests, and talents and have a hard time constantly feeling like their sibling’s identity is being thrust onto them.
3. Unequal Attention
Sibling rivalry is frequently caused by two siblings vying for their parent’s attention. Many children feel that their sibling receives more of their parents’ attention and will act out negatively towards their sibling in a bid to be noticed.
4. Development Stages
The developmental age of children can impact their rivalry positively or negatively. For example, young children tend to be protective of their belongings. When a younger sibling, who does not yet understand the importance of possession, takes a toy from their older sibling, it can cause the older sibling to react aggressively.
As children age, they begin to understand the concept of fairness. For example, if they feel that the parents are making decisions that are not fair, such as allowing different bedtimes or different activities, they may resent their sibling.
A child can become frustrated for numerous reasons, such as hunger, boredom, exhaustion, or the many other points listed in this article. When a child becomes frustrated, it can cause them to be hostile towards their sibling, leading to rivalry.
When a child is bored, they will seek the attention of those around them. If their sibling is busy or uninterested in playing, most children will resort to annoying behaviors to spark a reaction. This behavior can lead to conflict between siblings.
7. Family Dynamic
The family dynamic can add additional stress to sibling rivalries. When parents favor one child because of special needs or special skills, the other siblings can feel unseen or unwanted. These family dynamics can cause rivalries between siblings (where none previously existed) or enhance rivalries that are already present.
8. Parents’ Acceptance
Many parents, especially those who had siblings themselves, think that rivalry between siblings is normal. Therefore, they let the fighting continue unchecked, even when it escalates to unhealthy levels.
As a parent, it can be challenging to know when to get involved. When children are in a disagreement, parents need to give them the time and space to find a solution independently. However, when it becomes clear that the argument has escalated to unhealthy levels or that an agreement will not be reached without assistance, it is time for parents to step in. It is a parent’s responsibility to help their kids learn to navigate conflict in healthy ways.
9. Parents’ Time
In our fast-paced society, it is challenging for many parents to find quality time with their children. Between work, school, extracurricular activities, and social engagements, both parents and children are busier than ever. However, the time a parent spends with their children is important. If one child feels that they are not getting the same quality parent time as their siblings, it can lead to anger or resentment.
10. Stress in Children’s Life
As with anyone, when a child is under stress, their patience and tolerance decrease. A sibling can be the perfect trigger to ignite the fuse, leading to arguments and conflicts between siblings.
11. Parents’ Reaction
When a parent sees conflict or rivalry between their children, their response can either help or hinder its resolution. If a parent chooses to ignore an escalated conflict (or even supports it), it conditions the children to believe conflict between siblings is acceptable.
When a parent reacts to a conflict without listening to both siblings’ sides of the story, it can also communicate that there is inequality between them. This perceived inequality can add to rivalries.
12. Age difference
Age differences can also create a minor rivalry among siblings. When siblings are close in age, it can lead to rivalries for friends, positions on teams, or grades. When siblings are farther apart in age, the added responsibilities placed on the older sibling can lead to conflicts.
How to Resolve Sibling Conflicts
Above, we have discussed the leading causes of conflicts between siblings. While all siblings will experience at least some of these during their upbringing, it does not mean that they are destined for lives of competition and rivalry. Instead, siblings and parents can work together to promote healthy solutions, such as those listed below, to resolve conflict and improve relationships.
1. Avoid Favoritism
Actual or perceived parental favoritism can lead to conflict. Therefore, one of the most important things parents can do to improve the relationship between their children is to ensure they are not practicing favoritism. Treating children fairly and equally can help remove parental-inspired rivalries.
2. Avoid Comparisons
All parents find themselves comparing their children at some point. Whether it is an offhand “why can’t you be more like your sibling?” or a more consistent opinion about which child is more athletic or intelligent, these comparisons can harm the relationship between siblings. Parents must identify and celebrate each child’s unique talents and traits and help their children gain confidence in their own identities.
3. Promote Cooperative Behavior
As mentioned above, competition between siblings causes conflict. Promoting cooperation, rather than competition, places siblings on the same team and encourages them to work together. From an early age, practicing teamwork by encouraging siblings to share toys, play together, and resolve disagreements in healthy ways can lead to less sibling conflict later in life.
4. Acknowledge External Stressors
Most conflict between siblings occurs when external stressors are acting on the children. Is it mealtime? Bedtime? Have they had a long, exhausting day? When children are tired, hungry, or upset, it decreases their patience and increases the likelihood of conflict. Helping children identify and manage these stressors can help stop sibling conflict before it begins.
5. Practice Fair Parenting
To prevent sibling conflicts, parents need to be fair in their treatment of siblings. Discipline and rewards should be consistent. While older siblings will likely have more freedoms, they will also have more responsibility. It is crucial that younger siblings understand why they do not have the same privileges as their older siblings so that they are not annoyed. It is also important that younger siblings be given rights at the same age, not time, as older siblings so that they are not resentful. Fair parenting practices can help prevent conflict and rivalry.
6. Give Children Their Space
Living in close proximity with someone else, even a sibling, can be tiresome. When siblings are forced to spend every day together, it can wear on their patience. Therefore, it is important to ensure that each child has the alone time they need to rest and recharge.
7. Provide Conflict Resolution
As stated in Number 8 (from the Causes of Sibling Rivalry section above), it can be difficult for parents to decide when to get involved in their children’s conflicts. Too soon, and you are robbing them of conflict resolution skills. Too late, and the conflict may negatively impact their relationship.
Parents should allow children to work through disagreements but get involved when the dispute escalates to physical or verbal abuse or when it’s clear that a resolution will not be reached without assistance. Conflict resolution can help ensure that siblings do not have enduring conflict.
8. Take Time for One-on-One Bonding
Researchers recommend that parents give each child at least 10-15 minutes of focused, intentional attention each day. This personalized attention ensures that children feel supported and heard by their parents. This gives parents time to check in with their children to identify and resolve conflicts early while minimizing conflicts caused by parental favoritism.
9. Plan Family Meetings
Weekly, biweekly, or monthly family meetings can be a great way to identify and regulate sibling conflict and rivalry. Parents should plan regular family meetings in which siblings can air grievances, share opinions, and get advice on resolutions.
To ensure family meetings are successful, parents should work with their children to establish family meeting rules ahead of time. For example, your family meeting may include the following:
- Every family member gets a chance to speak.
- No one interrupts anyone else, even if they disagree.
- Everyone listens intently without being distracted by screens or toys.
- No one is teased or belittled for their feelings or opinions.
How does sibling rivalry affect a family?
A bit of competition between siblings does not guarantee a negative impact on a family, but when the rivalry becomes aggressive and hurtful, it absolutely will weigh on those involved. Unhealthy rivalry is detrimental to the relationship between siblings and their relationships with their parents.
Is sibling rivalry normal?
Yes, sibling rivalry can be found in nearly every family. Therefore, it’s important to monitor rivalry between siblings and ensure that it does not become harmful to the siblings or the family.
What is a toxic sibling?
A toxic sibling is a sibling that deflects responsibility whenever possible. Whenever possible, a toxic sibling will blame others when things go wrong, and they lack the fundamental self-awareness needed to understand when they are at fault. This puts an immense strain on their relationship with their siblings and parents.
How do you identify a toxic sibling?
A toxic sibling has the following traits:
- They don’t apologize when they hurt someone.
- They use their siblings for personal gain.
- They blame their siblings for their mistakes.
- They criticize the decisions their sibling makes.
- They are exhausting to spend time with.
No two siblings will get along all the time. While some sibling rivalry is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be a permanent plight on the relationship. We hope that by providing you with the primary causes of sibling rivalry (and some of the solutions that can be employed), we can help you avoid future instances of a child saying, “I hate my brother.”