FIRST APPEARED IN MAY, 2013 ON VOICEBOKS
According to an article in Psychology Today, “We have no rituals that make, break, or celebrate the sibling bond. And family experts have underemphasized the sibling relationship, instead concentrating on parents and children and husbands and wives. Small wonder that sibling rivalry is accepted as the normal state of affairs.”
Ah, that age old problem, sibling rivalry. Damn you Cain and Abel!
The causes of sibling rivalry varies from family to family, and child to child. Jealousy, competition for attention and approval from parents, and basic personality differences can all play a part. Siblings that are close in age, their sex, and their hierarchy in the family, can also be a factor.
Simply put, some siblings can’t, and don’t, get along. Just like we don’t choose our parents, so it goes for our siblings.
A child’s needs, anxieties, and unique identities can cause him or her to push their siblings’ buttons. A child’s temperament, mood, and disposition, can irritate his or her sibling to the point where listening to them breathe is reason enough to fall off the rails and throw a Dr. Sholl’s sandal at their brothers’ head.
What part does the parent play in how well the children relate to one another? Are they role models? How are their conflict resolution skills? Are they respectful? Aggressive? Do they fight fair or do they shout, slam doors, and argue loudly? Guess what? The children are watching and listening.
The fact that siblings spend an inordinate amount of time together growing up, plays another part in rivalrous behavior. Even young children need their alone time. Stress can shorten children’s fuses, which may lead to more contention with their sibling.
It’s common for siblings to fight, and while it’s no day at the beach for the parents, in most cases, it’s nature at work. Siblings often go back and forth between loving and despising one another. And while society, and most parents, would like to believe that their kids’ relationship with one another will eventually develop into a close one, it is not always the case.
Parents, and society, need to see things as they are, not as how they wish they were. My parent’s wished that my brother and I got along like Donny and Marie. So did I. But that wasn’t meant to be. I was forced to become a solo act.
Approximately one-third of adult siblings, who grew up fighting and bickering, will describe their childhood as humiliating, hurtful and distant, when referring to their sibling. In some cases, the unique identities, and individual differences between siblings, are too great, and close relationships are impossible. These siblings don’t get along, have little in common, spend limited time together, and are often locked into old patterns,
What to do, what to do. Therapists, Analysts, Psychiatrists and parents, from Anchorage to Papua New Guinea, struggle with this question. While there is no clear cut, universal answer, the following might be helpful.
Let them work it out
Try not to get involved and see if the siblings can work it out for themselves. However, a parent must also know when a fight has escalated and needs to step in, especially if one of the siblings is in harms way.
Don’t be swayed by arguments
“It’s not fair.” Try not to be swayed by this argument. It’s not about being fair, it’s about about what’s best for the child.
Separate the kids
Separate the kids, if they can release their grip on the other one’s hair. This will give everyone a chance to cool down and then when it’s calm, a discussion can start.
Don’t pick sides
Try not to favor. I’m not sure how a parent can be impartial but it’s probably best to make an effort.
In order for this next suggestion to work, the siblings must respect the parents. If they respect their parents, but not one another, you can try laying down the law, and the rules for acceptable behavior. Children need to know that there are consequences to their actions.
Because siblings are often vying for the attention of a parent, it’s important to give each child some one on one time.
It’s not fair to a sibling to compare him or her to their brother or sister. Saying things like, “Why can’t you be smart like your sister?” is not productive and may lead to jealousy and conflict between those two siblings.
Family meetings weren’t big when I was growing up, back in the day, but it can be an opportunity to show the children how to talk about their feelings, without yelling, name-calling, or violence. Grievances can be aired in a safe, and controlled environment.
The last resort: Seek professional help
If sibling rivalry gets to the point where it disrupts the daily functioning of the family, or affects any of the children emotionally or psychologically, perhaps you want to seek professional help.