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. Factors such as jealousy, competition for time, attention, love and approval, personality differences or dysfunctional family dynamics, can all play a part. In addition, a parent’s inaction, age differences, the children’s genver, and hierarchy in the family, also factor in.
Putting it simply, some siblings can’t and don’t get along. We don’t choose our parents, (Cher and I would’ve made a great mother-daughter team) nor do we choose 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 breath is reason enough to throw a tantrum and throw a Dr. Sholl’s sandal at their 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. Young children need their alone time. Stress can shorten children’s fuses, and inhibit their ability to tolerate frustration, which may lead to more contention with their sibling.
It’s common for siblings to fight, and while it’s no picnic for the parents, in most cases, it’s nature at work. Siblings will 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 as a whole, need to see things as they are, not as how they wish they were. My parent’s still wish my brother and I got along like Donny and Marie, but that was never going to happen.
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.
Therapists, analysts, Psychiatrists and parents, (from Anchorage to Papua New Guinea) struggle with this what to do. While there are no clear cut answers, the following might be helpful.
Let Them Work it Out.
Try not to get involved and see if the siblings can work out the scuffle for themselves. This can be difficult and a parent must also know when a fight has escalated and needs to intervene, especially if one of the siblings is in harm’s way.
Don’t be Swayed by Arguments.
“It’s not fair.” It’s not about being fair, it’s about what’s best for that sibling.
Separate The Kids
If they can’t release their grip on the other one’s hair, separate them. This will give everyone a chance to cool down and then when it’s calm, a discussion can be started.
Don’t Pick Sides
Try not to favor. I’m not sure how a parent can be impartial but it’s probably best to at least 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 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 special alone time.
Try not to compare sibling to each other. Saying things like, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” is not productive and it may lead to jealousy and further conflict.
Family meetings weren’t big when I was growing up, but it can be an opportunity to show children how to express themselves without yelling, name-calling, or violence. Grievances can be aired in a safe, and controlled environment.
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.
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.