Dealing with Sibling Rivalry
Sibling rivalry can take many forms—from good-natured demands to know a parent’s favorite to aggressive fighting, punching, and biting. It’s one of the most common problems families face and one of the biggest sources of parenting stress.
Siblings may have very different personalities, and they are thrown together and forced to work out their disagreements for years. This presents a great opportunity for them to learn communication and conflict resolution skills. It can also be deeply frustrating to both parents and their children.
Sometimes, sibling rivalry constitutes a unique form of bullying that can affect a child for many years. Knowing how to deal with sibling rivalry can make parenting less stressful and help parents provide a safe and supportive environment for all their children.
WHAT CAUSES SIBLING RIVALRY?
Living with another person can be difficult. There are often possessions to fight over, and children may argue over limited resources. Just as some bickering among roommates who did not choose one another is inevitable, so too is some level of disagreement between siblings.
Although most parents of multiple children report some degree of sibling rivalry, the roots of said rivalry can differ between families. Most analysts suggest a competition for parental love and approval often play a central role. Some factors that may increase sibling conflict include:
- Perceived or actual parental favoritism.
- Differences in temperament and personality.
- The need to guard resources, such as when a child worries their younger sibling will steal them favorite blanket.
- Jealousy over parental love, such as when an older child envies a new baby for the attention the infant gets.
- Parental modeling of conflict resolution, such as if parents model an aggressive or hostile conflict management style.
- Lack of conflict resolution skills, since young children rarely have the complex skills necessary to manage the challenges of living with another person.
- Behavior that normalizes or reinforces aggression, such as when parents ignore physical conflict or laugh when one child teases another.
- Viewing the sibling as a competitor rather than a collaborator.
- Being a twin or multiple, since this increases competition and raises the probability that parents or other adults will compare the children.
Some research suggests that younger children may engage in sibling rivalry more often than adolescents. Children between the ages of 3 and 7 have high rates of conflict, disagreeing an average of 3.5 times an hour.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSIDER FAMILY THERAPY?
Family therapy can help families manage many forms of sibling rivalry. It’s never too early or too late to give therapy a try. Therapists can help even with minor sibling rivalry.
Some signs that a family should consider therapy include:
- Sibling rivalry is a chronic source of stress to the parents or children.
- The parents have tried multiple strategies to improve the siblings’ relationship, but none have worked.
- There is bullying or physical abuse.
- One or more children have special needs that complicate sibling rivalry.
- There has been a recent change or loss in the family, such as a divorce or death.
- The parents have trouble relating to one or more children, triggering allegations of favoritism. The right therapist can help each family member talk about their feelings. They can then support the family to develop a sibling rivalry management plan that everyone can live with. Good Therapy can help you find a family therapist here.