What is Sibling Rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is the antagonism that exists between brothers and sisters. This can range from simple disagreements and squabbling to severe arguing and physical violence.

Sibling rivalry is a common occurrence in many families. It is probably very rare to find a family where brothers and sisters do not argue and squabble some of the time. A certain amount of fighting between siblings is to be expected and is generally easy to tolerate. No one finds living with other people easy all the time. As adults we can have differences of opinion and arguments with our partners and other family members. It is hardly surprising that children do the same.

A small amount of rivalry between siblings is normal and, even, healthy. It is important for children to feel they can express their frustrations about another’s behaviour. As long as they express their feelings in a reasonable way, without resorting to physical violence, then sibling rivalry is not really a problem.

It does become a problem when children are constantly bickering, finding fault with each other, hitting, pushing, teasing and generally making each others’ lives unpleasant. For the rest of the family it is very stressful and aggravating to live with children who argue all the time. Knowing what the causes are can help you to find constructive ways to deal with your children arguing.

The causes of sibling rivalry vary a lot from family to family. If you do a search on the internet you will find a wide variety of opinions as to what are the causes.

In my opinion, some of the most likely causes are:

1. We all like to have things our own way. In children this desire is stronger and more raw than in adults, who have generally (but not always!) learned to contain it and to give way to others when they can see there is some benefit in it.

2. Siblings have not chosen each other. They are thrown together by the circumstance of being born, fostered or adopted into the same family. So, although we would dearly love our children to be friends with each other, they may not actually have a lot in common or even like each other that much. This means differences and arguments are more likely between siblings than they are between children and their friends.

3. Children have a lot of energy and imagination. If they do not have enough outlets for their energy or enough opportunities to express their imagination in constructive ways, they can get frustrated and edgy. It is not really surprising if they dump their irritation on the nearest person which, more often than not, will be a brother or sister.

4. Then there is the old chestnut – jealousy. Many experts claim this to be the main cause of sibling rivalry. Within a family there are one or two parents trying to provide for the physical and emotional needs of their children. When there is just one child, this is easy. The child basks in the attention of his parents and they dote on him or her. When another child comes into the family, the first child is bound to have some difficult feelings to deal with. A new baby requires a lot of time and attention and the first child can feel that his/her central place in the family has suddenly gone. Finding ways of helping your children to get along with each other and to deal with their disagreements and arguments in a reasonable way will make family life much more pleasant for everyone.

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