What is Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling rivalry can occur in children, teenagers, and adults. Sibling rivalry can create a lot of conflict in your home or personal life. It can foster negative feelings that can damage relationships between siblings, so it is a good idea to do what you can to avoid sibling rivalry. It can also lead to bullying or victimisation
If you are a parent, make sure you treat both of your kids as individuals. If you introduce a new baby, there are things you can do to make sure the adjustment period goes smoothly. If you are an adult and feel in competition with a sibling, there are ways to work on smoothing things over. Learn to let go of jealousy and appreciate your sibling’s unique talents.
How to Prevent Sibling Rivalry in Children
Treat your children as individuals. At a certain point, children want to feel separate from their siblings. They will develop their own interests, skills, and talents to develop their sense of self. Encourage this by treating each of your children as an individual. This will help your child form a healthy identity separate from his or her sibling.
- Do not respond differently to children’s interests or successes. At times, this can be tough. You may share an interest with one child that you do not share with the other. However, give each child’s interests equal attention.
- Avoid any behavior that could make it look as if you’re playing favorites. Maybe your son Mason plays football, while your daughter Jacqueline plays hockey. You don’t understand the rules of hockey as well as football, and this could make you look more interested in Mason’s activities. Try to make an effort to learn about hockey so you can nurture Jacqueline’s individuality.
Avoid comparisons. Never compare one child to another. This is likely to foster a sense of rivalry. Even in moments of frustration, do not compare your kids.
- Your children may have different abilities. One child may excel at math, while another excels at science. Avoid comparing your child’s abilities. Praise each child equally for his or her unique skills.
- Always keep the focus on your child when praising him or her for skills. Never bring up the other child.
- To help your children see how you want them to behave, try pointing to adults as models of good behavior instead of older siblings. For example, you might say to your child, “See how dad always says please and thank you when he needs something? That’s important to do. Always say please and thank you to be polite.”
Help your resolve conflicts children. You do not want to intervene in a way that makes it look like you’re taking sides. Never say one child was right and the other was wrong. Instead, try to help your children resolve conflicts.
- Instead, encourage your children to compromise. Try to find win-win negotiations. For example, say things like, “Mason, don’t you think Charlie deserves a turn? If you let him play with your Legos, maybe he’ll share his stuffed animals with you.”
- If your children start picking on one another, remind them to express their feelings respectfully. Help your children identify what they’re feeling before they act.
- Never engage with arguments like, “He started it.” Respond with something like, “Regardless of who started it, you two need to work this out.”
Intervene when necessary. You cannot let every argument or dispute get worked out between your children, however. At times, you will need to intervene. When appropriate, break up disputes.
- Dangerous fights require intervention. If your children are hurting one another, separate them immediately. If one child is engaging in abusive and bullying behaviors, this needs to be addressed.
- You should also talk to each child privately. Neither child should be scolded or reprimanded in front of the other, as this can fuel rivalry. Pull the child who was the aggressor aside and tell him why his behavior was unacceptable. You should also talk to the other child, in private, and explain he was treated inappropriately. Encourage him to talk to you if it happens again in the future.
- If one child is always the aggressor in the situation, talk to a therapist. You may need to get the aggressive child into counseling to prevent abuse and bullying.
Listen to each child. One-on-one attention is very important to each child. It’s normal for siblings to feel frustrated with one another, and you need to let your children vent such frustrations. Listen objectively, however, with the goal of offering solutions rather than stirring up conflict.
- Let your child tell you about any insecurities or frustrations he or she has with his or her sibling. Your child should be able to vent negative feelings to you.
- Acknowledge you understand your child’s feelings without explicitly agreeing. Encourage your child to talk out his or her issues with the other sibling. If you want, you could host regular family meetings where you discuss any problems disrupting your family’s harmony.
Encourage cooperation. Building a culture of helping between family members can help to promote cooperation over competition. You can encourage cooperation among your children by acknowledging cooperative behavior, thanking them, or by praising them when they are helping each other.
- For example, you might say something like, “Jon! You are being so helpful with your sister! You must love her so much! I’m proud of you.” Or, you might say, “Oh my goodness! You two are such little helpers, everyone gets a hug!”
- You can also try playing cooperative games with your children to help them get along. These are games where you do not compete against each other. Instead, you work together to win the game as a team. For example, you can teach your kids to play musical chairs with hula hoops, but as you remove hoops, encourage your kids to share the remaining hoops rather than excluding one of them from the game.
Dealing with Sibling Rivalry as an Adult
Consider the roots of your rivalry. If you feel competitive with a sibling, there may be a reason for this. Think about when and why the rivalry began. Understanding its roots may help you see how it’s irrational.
- Did something happen early in childhood that made the two of you competitive? Did your parents seem to favor one sibling over the other? Did you two compete in the same field professionally?
- Think about who your sibling his outside his or her relationship with you. Try to view your sibling more as a person than a potential threat. This can help you empathize with your sibling more, lessening any feelings of competitiveness. You may realize that, for years, you were not seeing your sibling as a person, but a rival. Try to think about when this mentality began.
Take the initiative to smooth things over. Sibling rivalry can cause familial tension. If there has been damage done between you and a sibling, someone needs to take the initiative to smooth things over.
- Try to repair the relationship. Something as simple as a phone call can help open up communication again. Let your sibling know you’ve been thinking of him or her and would like to get together.
- Being the bigger person is sometimes difficult. You may feel like you deserve an apology, or that your sibling should have to make the first move. Try to let go of these feelings. Your sibling may not even know you’re feeling the way you are, so don’t be too bitter to reach out.
Learn to respect and admire your sibling’s talents. Jealousy can come from a sense of inadequacy. Instead of coveting your siblings talents, try to foster feelings of respect and admiration.
- Recognize when you’re feeling jealous. If your sibling, say, accomplishes something, it’s okay to pause and acknowledge you’re feeling some jealousy. You can accept your feelings without acting on them in a negative way.
- Congratulate your sibling for his or her accomplishment. Then, examine why it made you feel jealous. For example, maybe your sibling landed his or her dream job. You’ve been working a so-so job for awhile, and haven’t been applying elsewhere. Maybe this is more about you underperforming than your sibling.
Consider your sibling’s perspective.
Sibling rivalry is often more mutual than it feels. While you may feel everything came easy for your sibling, or that he or she had an unfair advantage, stop and consider your sibling’s perspective.
- Ask your sibling how he or she felt about your childhood. Try to see some of the issues through his or her eyes.
- Maybe you were always envious your sibling got more attention as a kid. However, your sibling may have felt a lot of unfair pressure to perform growing up. He or she may have envied your freedom.
Talk to your child about the new baby.
Your child may be jealous of a new infant. You can help the transition go smoothly by talking to your child about the new baby in the months before your due date.
- Have your child help prepare for the baby. Have him or her help set up the nursery, pick out names, and get toys for the baby. This will make your child see him or herself as a nurturer. He or she may be less threatened by the baby’s arrival.
- Make sure you explain the baby will not be a playmate right away. Make sure your child knows the baby will eat, sleep, and cry for most of the day at first, but eventually your child will become friends with the baby.
Make a smooth introduction. You want to make sure the first meeting goes over well. Right from the get-go, you want your child to feel safe and happy with the new baby.
- Have your partner of a loved one bring the child into the delivery room. Have someone else hold the baby as you cuddle your child. This will prevent feelings of jealousy.
- You can give your current child a gift from the baby. For example, give your child a shirt that says “big brother” or “big sister.”
Help with the transition. A smooth transition can help prevent tension and rivalry. When the baby comes home, make sure to introduce the baby into your home as smoothly as possible.
- Children younger than 2 may not really understand what it means to have a new baby. Allow them to see the baby, and show them pictures and storybooks about babies.
- Older children, between the ages of 2 and 4, may be jealous of the baby. If this is an issue, help the child get involved with the baby. Foster feelings of support by having your older children come shopping with you for baby toys and supplies.
- School-age children may also be jealous, but can better understand a baby’s needs. Explain to them why a newborn needs so much care, and let them know the benefits of being a big brother or sister.
- All children, regardless of age, should still get individual attention after a baby is born. This will lessen feelings of rivalry.
Deal with an older sibling acting out. Children may act out to get attention after a baby is born. If your child is acting out, ask him or her if something is wrong. Encourage open communication so your child can talk to you if he or she feels upset.
- Ask your child how he or she feels having a new sibling. Listen to the responses, and reassure your child that he or she is still cared for.
- You can also praise your child for behaving well. You want your child to see he or she gets attention for behaving rather than acting out.
Encourage an older child to be kind to a new baby. You want your child to feel loving and protective of the new baby. Tell your child about appropriate behavior around the baby and allow him or her help with the baby’s care.
- Allow your child to watch or help when you feed or change the baby.
- Praise your child for showing the baby affection, such as singing to the baby.
- Acknowledgement Paul Chernyak, LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor