Sibling rivalry seems to be as common as the existence of families itself. Competition, fighting, the constant needling of each other – this is what we expect from siblings. But what causes it? And is it truly a “normal” facet of the family unit?
The Child Development Institute explains it like this: “Siblings don’t choose the family they are born into, don’t choose each other. They may be of different sex, are probably of different age and temperament, and. worst of all, they have to share the one person or the two people they most want for themselves: their parents.”
Other factors are also influential, according to the Child Development Institute, such as:
- Position in the family (age in terms of level of responsibility);
- Sex and being able to identify with one parent more;
- Age (closer in age could provide more common interests); and
- Parental attitude, impartiality, and fairness.
Sibling rivalry is by most families seen as something normal; it is simply accepted.
However, School Psychologist, Izzy Kalman, says in his Psychology Today piece, “The Myth of the “Normal” Sibling Rivalry” that, “there is nothing healthy about the “normal” sibling rivalry. It is a dysfunctional relationship that causes unnecessary pain not only to the kids involved but to the parents as well. The fact that most parents, even those who are mental health professionals, don’t know how to make it stop, does not make it healthy. There is little that grieves parents like seeing their own children–the people they love the most in the world–in a constant state of war.”
Kalman compares sibling rivalry to bullying. “Personally, if I had a choice, I would rather have my children be best of friends while having a classmate bully them in school than the other way around. Schoolmates come and go, but siblings are forever. So please, let’s stop the hypocritical double standard. We have no business condemning bullying among kids in school as abnormal while simultaneously accepting sibling rivalry at home as normal.”
So what do parents do? The website Focus On The Family offers these tips:
- Teach mutual respect; don’t let your children insult each another. Teach them to be kind and appreciate each other.
- Do not play favorites. Recognize and praise each child’s individual skills, strengths and accomplishments without implying that one child is better than the other.
- Teach children how to deal with conflict in an appropriate way.
- Do not ignore good behavior; if the children are behaving well, reward them with praise.
- Show appreciation for your child as a person, rather than merely for performance.
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