The whole idea behind sibling rivalry is easy to figure out. Kid #1 was having the time of his life- soaking up all the attention, never having to share a single toy and getting to live like the king or queen of the castle and then suddenly this squirming, noisy and smelly little person comes into the picture that they are supposed to love’ – who effectively steals every ounce of ‘special’ that the first kid had going on. Now kid #1 is left throwing a diaper in the trash and the little thing is the one sitting on your lap. Duh, who wouldn’t be angry? The scenario simply repeats itself the more offspring we have until eventually the whole home turns into a silently growing example of a dog eat dog world.
To top that off, parents begin to feel guilty and spread thin, feeling they have to ‘make up’ lost time to poor kid#1 so they revert to buying them things to compensate for their lack of attention. We even tend to talk to our children about how bad we feel about being so busy with the baby, or sister’s ball practice – which only opens us up to more and more quilted grins and manipulation from crafty children. Seemingly, sibling rivalry is created by the parents – but realistically rivalry among humans and animals alike is not only natural but probably healthy too.
I have never met an only child that I have ever liked. Not their fault really, it just seems that without siblings and sibling rivalry people do not begin to learn the basics of negotiation, sharing, compromise, patience or ever really notice that they aren’t the only person in the world that matters. The rivalry between siblings allows a perfect avenue for us to begin to unveil our true self and to handle real life situations with people that love us (hopefully) unconditionally. Sibling rivalry also prepares us for some basic truths and ideals in life like ‘not all things are created equal’, and ‘life will not always be fair.’ We can work out aggressions with siblings in manners that would not work anywhere else in life, can have a sounding board for when we are angry, can perpetually be tempted to try harder and aspire for me (especially younger siblings) and can retain a firm grasp of the reality that life is only fully complete when other people are involved.
When we think of rivalry we may initially coin it to be synonymous with competition; when truly they are different. Competition is about being better and winning, whereas a rivalry is an ongoing issue of ebb and flow winnings that result in a coveted price. The prize in this matter is attention and status as ‘mommy’s favorite.’ Charles Horton Cooley said that ‘one of the most effective ways at utilizing human energy is through an organized rivalry, which by specialization and social control is, at the same time, an organized co-operation.’ Hmm, see our kids are really cooperating with one another unbeknownst to them. In simpler terms the sibling rivalry is owned by the kids, is controlled by the kids and is an effective mediation of their boundless energy to assert their position in the pecking order so to speak of the family structure.
In addition to that, kids may act out with their siblings what they really want to say to their parents. Most kids think their parents aren’t fair or favor one child over the other and their disdain for the perceived inequality will no doubt be taken out on the sibling. Sibling rivalry is more than just fighting, which can cause headaches for any parent. Sibling rivalry is often about boundaries, limitations and unspoken feelings or lack of safety in the knowing that they are unconditionally loved. As kids needs change, they will develop new and either more intense of subsided feelings of sibling rivalry. As a parent, it really is necessary to just sit back and allow them to unfold their relationship with one another. This will build their skills, enhance their character and give them major insight into conflict resolution. Obviously if the kids are physically harming each other or have become increasingly heated a parent should step in and settle them down. Otherwise though sibling rivalry is a great outlet for them to learn how to handle the problems they face and what to do in real life situations when other people are involved. They will systematically figure out what works and what doesn’t over time. Be proud in knowing that if they can handle things at home where they are often the most heated – they will be prepared for the occasional run in with a classmate or bully!
Many parents for one reason or another fail to find out what is most important to each child in the home and set ground rules that pertain to it For instance if kid#1 wants privacy in their room and kid#3 can’t respect that than we are setting the siblings up for rivalry. Likewise if Kid#2 has a favorite stuffed animals and his siblings are constantly teasing them with it it may be wise to initiate very specific rules regarding it. Being flexible and finding the things that really drive your kids the craziest enables us to ascertain that each child has certain inalienable right around the home that the siblings must adhere to or risk being grounded or punished. This lets our children know that we respect their feelings and are working to make things amicable for them.
Siblings are supposed to argue, fight and bicker. Although it is painstaking for a parent to witness and irritating to the point of mental and physical distraction it is a due process in raising children. Not all siblings fight or engage in a true sibling rivalry or perhaps one that is extremely overt; however to a degree there will always be strife between brothers and sisters. The good news is that just as there is strife ~ there are many moments where they play and find in their siblings a best friend for life. Perhaps sibling rivalry also prepares kids for opening their hearts to love much and many throughout their lifetime and shows them the many ways that they can become great friends to others.