Nancy's Columns

Sibling Rivalry

Under topic: book

Sibling rivalry is a fact of life.

Whether it results in lack of family harmony and unhappiness depends on how parents respond to it.

Handled properly, it has the potential for helping children grow and develop by providing opportunities for them to learn to negotiate, share, deal with competition and solve problems in the protective environment of the family.

Parents and children need to accept the fact that all children are different and thus should be treated differently. The fact that children have different personalities and talents does not mean that one is better than another.

Rather children should feel that their differences make them more interesting. If parents compare siblings only in a positive way, jealousy or envy need not result.

Parents sometimes encourage competition and comparisons among siblings in order to get them to work harder and be more successful.

Siblings may avoid active participation in an activity in which another sibling does well especially if they are close in age.

Most arguments among children occur in the parents' presence for the purpose of gaining the parents' attention.

If the first child is successful in academic skills, the second child tends to try something else, usually athletics.

In some families, an overachieving sibling will be followed by an underachieving one.

Parents may not have caused this competition, but they may unwittingly contribute to it.

Parents may also by their actions attach roles and labels to different members of the family which are usually very difficult to change and which shape the siblings' personalities.

The "responsible" child is given more responsibility.

The "good" child often is rewarded for tattling on the "bad" child.

The "baby" has everything done for him or her.

Other labels which parents might recognize are: tomboy, sissy, shy, stubborn, lazy, messy and so forth. Children tend to live up to these labels.

There are some general guidelines which usually help toward bringing about harmony between and among siblings.

The most important one is to ignore tattling and not become involved in their arguments.

Most arguments among children occur in the parents' presence for the purpose of gaining the parents' attention.

Parents treat children with more respect when they allow them to handle the problem themselves without parental refereeing.

Try not to become involved in playing detective because fault-finding only increases rivalry among children.

If children's arguments are disturbing to parents, they should be sent somewhere else to settle the argument.

Parents can also express confidence in the children's ability to solve the problem by themselves.

Children like to feel special.

One way to make your children feel special is to spend time with each one individually.

This helps everybody but especially the quiet member of the family. It gives him or her the opportunity to talk with you without interruption. You also get to know your children as individuals each with his own unique personality.

If possible, it also helps for siblings to have some place or space to keep personal belongings.

They should not have to give this up for a much younger sibling who crys for it. We sometimes do this to older children in order to keep peace in the family. What results is that the older children learn to resent the younger, more privileged ones.

If handled well, the support siblings show each other as they grow older can be very comforting to parents. You know they will never be alone because they have each other.

I encourage you to foster this relationship.

First published in 1991