Sibling rivalry is something that can happen in a moment or it can be something that lasts for a lifetime. Some rivalries are healthy and involve competition that makes both siblings better. Others instances, however, cross into a form of bullying that can eventually lead to violence. It is quite common and is consider a normal part of growing up.
Children who are of the same gender and are close together in age are the most likely to have a sibling rivalry going on at any given moment.
So what affects the rates of sibling rivalry? The biggest detractor to rivalries is how parents treat their children. If kids feel like their parents are treating them equally and that their place in the family is valued and respected, then they are less likely to target a sibling. Being a twin, however, increases the risk of a rivalry occurring across all demographics and categories.
When Does Sibling Rivalry Turn Into Bullying?
- About 1 in 3 kids who have a sibling has been targeted for some form of physical or verbal abuse and this creates a higher risk for mental health symptoms.
- The general public has a higher tolerance for bullying behaviors that occur between siblings than any other relationship group.
- Competitiveness is not bullying unless there are more than one sibling ganging up to put down another sibling.
- Put downs are the most common form of bullying that is disguised as a sibling rivalry.
- Parental manipulation is a form of humiliation that will make a child feel undervalued and cause them to feel like they aren’t loved equally.
- Parents who listen with empathy and work with their kids to solve problems are less likely to have bullying behaviors displayed by their children in the family environment.
As research has shown time and time again, bullying in any form causes a negative effect on the victim. Siblings may choose to internalize these feelings, but they eventually implode and come out, sometimes in dangerous ways. Kids who have bullying disguised as sibling rivalry happening to them tend to feel more anxious, do worse in school, and aren’t able to socially adapt to new situations as easily as kids who aren’t bullied. That’s why it is so important for parents today to recognize when siblings are being competitive and when siblings are bullying each other.
What Causes Sibling Rivalry?
- Children who have different personalities are the most likely to clash, especially when there is one child who is bold and another child is quiet.
- Parental attention is another common reason for sibling rivalry and this occurs when the parents seem to favor one child over the other, even if this is in perception only.
- Blended families struggle with sibling rivalry more often than biological families because of the loyalty factors that are involved.
- Children who have the same interests may also compete with each other to be better and this can sometimes lead to resentment.
- When comparisons are present, sibling rivalries are quick to develop because many children want to make it on their own merits instead of being compared to their sibling.
- Families that are physically or verbally abusive are more likely to have siblings that form long-term rivalries.
- When fighting is considered to be normal, then siblings are less likely to avoid a confrontation that can result in harm.
The problem that families face today is that there isn’t a difference taught between fairness and equality. A younger sibling isn’t going to feel that it is fair that they have to go to be earlier than their older sibling and this can create a rivalry. Equality would mean that each child is treated as the individual they are and so everyone receives certain privileges based on what their needs are. Until this distinction is made, then personal struggles are likely to develop simply because one sibling wants to get what “they deserve” instead of seeing what unique benefits they already have.
How Can Sibling Rivalry Be Effectively Managed?
- Research shows that children who are spaced about three years apart are able to manage the changes in attention that are required for a new sibling.
- Make sure not to show outward signs of favoritism to one child over another even though some kids will always be easier to parent than others.
- It is important to give every child some individual time so they know they are special to their parents.
- Open lines of communication with kids are important, especially if a new baby is going to be coming into the family.
- Older children who have an investment in the care of a younger child, even if it is something as simple as getting a toy, will feel protective of their sibling more often than they will feel like they are at odds with them.
- Children within the same family shouldn’t be 100% responsible for the other kids because babysitting is a common way to develop sibling rivalry.
- Expecting children to do the same thing in the same way as each other will eliminate individual creativity, cause splitting, and eventually create a rivalry.
Some recommendations include not playing a game with siblings where one person can win while everyone else loses. That might not necessarily work with your family structure, so it is important for everyone to understand that “being fair” means that everyone has the same chances to win at the start of the game. Just because someone wins doesn’t necessarily mean they are better. It just means for that game, they were able to be victorious. Above all else, children are looking to their parents for the cues they need to be successful. If you encourage a sibling rivalry, then expect to have one that you’ll need to manage.