Sibling rivalry: what is sibling rivalry and why does it exist

Sibling rivalry

Competition is a very strange thing - it is able to develop under very unlikely circumstances and in unlikely relationships. It occurs in families amongst siblings or brothers and sisters; it occurs between husbands and wives; and amongst lovers. While competition between colleagues is understandable, that which occurs within a family can be very difficult to understand at times. The kind of competition/rivalry that exists amongst siblings is called sibling rivalry.

Why would there be rivalry or competition between siblings?

It can sometimes be very strange that brothers and sisters fight each other, get jealous of each other and compete against each other. Sibling rivalry is much more common in childhood, when siblings are forced to share love, space, attention and a whole lot of resources in a home.

Older siblings may complain that the younger one receives more attention from their parents; or in some cases, the one is prettier and much more popular than the other(s). This may induce feelings of competition and envy, which, if not controlled, can develop into jealousy and sometimes life-long hatred. Some brothers would be so jealous of each other that the one would want everything the other has, including his girlfriend(s) and eventually his wife. In some cases, sibling rivalry has sadly led to murder.

Growing out of the competition

In rare cases, siblings would need parental intervention to finally get along. Parents may help by reassuring their kids that they love them equally and by clearly not having favourites.

Someone who still hates their brother or sister in adulthood because they are better in something, clearly didn't get the validation that he/she needed from his/her parents. It is a sad but true fact that there are parents that love one child more than the other and are not even shy to show it.

A little innocent childish competition may not be harmful, but it always needs monitoring to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. Let all your children know that they are special, and that they each have different attributes and talents that make them who they are. Teach them to celebrate their uniqueness and make the most of their different qualities.

Suggested readings on the subject of sibling rivalry

These three books offer useful advice on the subject and would help parents and siblings understand it better. "Mom, Jason's breathing on me" was written by a child psychologist (Anthony Wolf) with two children and offers practical tools to help parents deal with competition and fights.

Siblings without rivalry is a 1988 bestseller and coaches parents to raise siblings that do not compete in a bad way. The central message is not to make comparisons.

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