The psychology behind sibling rivalries

Aug 24 , 2021

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Ankur Tandon

The psychology behind sibling rivalries

One minute, your 3-year old and 5-year old are enjoying their toys, and the next minute you see, they’re fighting over the same. By the time you notice and reach out to help, they’re already crying and refusing to play together. 

Relatable?

Well, someone truly pointed out siblings as the children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together. Haha ;)

What might look small and unimportant to you, could be the major reason for all the shouting, scolding and friction among your kids. And hence it becomes very much crucial to help them get along right from their early years. This article talks in detail about the topic, the whats and whys, initial phases, and the strategies to resolve.

First things first…

What is sibling rivalry and why does this happen?

Sibling rivalry is a type of competition or friction among siblings, often influenced by factors such as evolving needs, birth order, individual personality, people, experience outside the family, etc. In fact, they spend more time together in childhood than with their parents. Competition between siblings is particularly severe when the children are very close in age and of the same sex, and / or when one or both children have intellectual talent. When a child is in some way superior to his sibling, the other is more likely to face issues of low self-esteem, depression and jealousy. 

Older children have a lot to do when a new baby is born. They can play emotionally through their actions.  Preschoolers, on the other hand, may be resentful of a new baby in the house because the younger one takes so much of the parent's time. It is possible that some toddlers might be a little rough with their new brother or sister, if allowed the opportunity. Sometimes babies also use cribs and borrow clothes from the older child, which the elder sibling doesn’t like and trigger emotions which may become extreme.

A child's physical behavior may often result in the other's harm when sibling rivalry becomes violent on rare occasions. In most cases, the sibling with greater authority or status is the one that engages in physically harmful behavior; for example, being older or bigger. Siblings vie for parental love and attention, each trying to get the bigger share. The rivalry can continue throughout childhood and can affect a child's social, emotional, and psychological development. Parents need to minimize sibling rivalry and create an environment that promotes healthy emotional growth right from their very young age

Lunar Phases Of A Developing Sibling Rivalry

Siblings often fight over petty things, as acknowledged time and again in Hindu mythologies. Children develop feelings at a very early age and it is essential that they learn to adjust to the environment they’re living-in , otherwise parents might face certain problems. Here are some of the most common situations and the recommended to-dos:

1) Stress and Frustration

    Parents are bound to feel stress when their children are constantly fighting with their siblings. Taking care of the needs of more than one kid can be very challenging for them. According to the Encyclopedia for Children's Health, parents are often worried about favoritism among children and being fair to all of them. Additionally, most parents have to go to work, which limits the amount of time they have to discipline their children.

Solution: Praise cooperative behavior and let them know that being aggressive has consequences. This will make managing their behavior easier for you.

Read more on why do children get angry and 12 ways to deal with it

2) Developing social skills

Children who have nasty relationships with their siblings may have difficulty making new friends. Sibling rivalry has been characterized as an unnatural way of expressing oneself, indicating a lack of social skills. [a2] 

Solution: Praise gentle behaviour between your kids , or any other behaviour you want to encourage. Show your child how you would like them to behave. Be a role model.

3) Intimidation

Sibling conflicts are often dismissed by parents as a stage of child development. When they look mild, casual and intimate, parents can overlook acts of sibling violence. For example, when one child hits the other with a football, you might think they are playing, but they are actually fighting. If unattended, such situations can, in an instant turn, inadequate.

Solution: Encourage your child to live harmoniously with other people by monitoring how they relate to each other

4) Individuality

Competition between siblings affects how children see themselves. Older ones might feel marginalized because their younger sibling has a much higher level of concern from their parents. He/she begins to feel side-lined and thinks his/her presence is no longer worth it. These emotions can quickly turn into jealousy, which is not good for self-confidence and emotional development.

Solution: Be proactive in giving your kids one-on-one attention. Everything requires time and special, personal attention to feel completely loved.

Strategies to resolve sibling rivalry

The fact that sibling rivalry is expected does not mean that it cannot be mitigated. The most effective way to break the cycle of continuous rivalry is to reset the system. As family therapists know, the easiest way to enact changes in a family system is to encourage one member to change his behavior. When the old pattern is interrupted by a change in the familiar functioning, the entire system will shift in response.

Here are some things you could do in such unprecedented situations:

1) Find out what triggers them

   Make sure you stay within the earshot when you watch your kids play video games. If they fight every time they play, for instance, watch their behavior before a conflict breaks out. Listen for the specific words or tones used in combative ways and intervene before things escalate.

2) Educate them about conflict resolution

When tempers have calmed down, sit your kids down and discuss the problem without blaming or accusing them. Give each child a chance to speak, uninterrupted, and have them come up with solutions to the problem themselves. By elementary school age, kids are able to evaluate which solutions will most likely work and satisfy both parties in the long run. Whenever solutions no longer work, they should revisit the problem.

3) Gratify them in public and criticize them in private

Praise really loudly all over the place if your kids are kind to one another. You're awesome for letting your sister go first, for example, If you have to criticize them, try to do it outside of the other child's hearing range; otherwise, she may use it as ammunition.

4) Seek out moments in which everyone can come together

It's possible that your kids have similar temperaments and personalities, or they may not. Both may love dance, or one may love dance and the other just wants to play chess. One might be rigid, while the other is free-spirited. Identify common activities that allow everyone to feel connected and flexible.


Remember that sibling rivalry is unavoidable somewhat and that eliminating the possibility of competition or such situations between siblings from the root, is impossible. As a parent, you can always guide them and make them learn from the activities they indulge in that will always help them succeed in their school life and in the future. 

Learn more about our age-specific early learning program here


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