Sibling Rivalry: Cause, Effect & Management Strategies

What Causes Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a major cause for conflicts, fights, and power struggles between siblings and parents alike. In this article you will find the real cause to sibling rivalry, outlines in a way you’ve never heard before. And a few tips to help you manage 🙂

Imagine having an amazing relationship with your partner. No one knows you like he or she does, you’re connected and attached at the deepest levels. You spend all your time together, everything that you do is directed for your partner’s joy, and everything your partner does aims to meet your needs.

When you’re hungry – you eat. When you want to cuddle, you get a cuddle. Whichever activity you’re interested in, is the activity you will soon engage in. You’re in love; with your partner and with your life. The sense of autonomy and attachment are as strong as these can possibly be. No matter what happens in your daily life, you know that there is something, someone, that is yours only. A person whose heart you will NEVER have to share. You’re safe. The world is a familiar ground, and you know that you will NEVER be left alone.   

Sibling Rivalry Cause, Affect, and Management Strategies that actually work. #children'sbehavior #parenting #attachmentparenting #nvc #parentinghelp #positiveparenting #positivediscipline #parentingtips #siblingrivalry

One day, while having dinner, your partner turns to you, somewhat apologetically. “Do you know how much I love you”?, “yes”, you say. “Do you know that you are the most important person in the whole wide world”?, and even though you’ve heard these questions before, something in the tone makes you wonder. “Yes”, you say.  And then it comes. “I’m so happy to hear that”! Your partner will say. “I love you so much, that I decided it is time for another partner for me. I want to expand the family and the more loving souls we have, the better! Right”? Boom.

Let’s assume that you make it through the initial shock, and peacefully deal with the waiting months until the new partner arrives. After all, your partner is so excited about it, so how bad can it be?

But then, they arrive. Your life changes in a single day. Hugs are no longer as available. You now have to be quite to not wake up the new partner. You have to wait because the new partner’s needs are suddenly more important than yours. Everything you’ve learned, everything you gained and was so proud of, now turns against you. You’re more experienced, you already know how things here work. So you can wait.      

A few months pass, and if you’ve somewhat adapted to the new situation, soon more challenges will arise. In addition to sharing your partner’s love and time, you might need to share a room with that new partner. Give up some of your older clothes and possessions.

Wow. Can you feel it? How lonely does it feel? How betrayed, and how robbed?

The Real Cause to Sibling Rivalry

Adults don’t really think about children as people. We think of them as children, yet we expect them to behave as adults in the most challenging situations. The birth of a new sibling is only one of these situations where the little ones are expected to adapt, yet we never consider the full magnitude of the feelings that arise with the birth of a new sibling.

A birth of a new sibling is literally a brand new world for the “older” child. Everything she had known and loved changes within a single day. It’s a threat upon her very soul, upon her deepest needs. And it doesn’t matter how positive she seems to be about this development, a certain sense of a “new partner” will always be there. As of now on she will have to compete for what was previously handed to her on a silver spoon – your love, your connection, your attachment.    

Suddenly, there’s a brand new factor, an external factor, that shapes and affects her journey to finding who she is, as an individual.

How Sibling Rivalry Affects Family Relationships?

Before dealing with the effects of sibling rivalry, let’s discuss the effects of simply having a sibling. Imagine it from your own life’s experience: as soon as a dramatic change presents itself and subverses everything you feel and know, you must redefine yourself in light of that change. When that change, in addition to the previously stated, aims to come between you and the subjects on your attachment, those people who you are most connected to, you will fight. Fight for your rights, fight for what is yours, fight for what you want.

This is when people, and children are no different, enter a survival mode in which the smallest things are the most crucial. Every word would be a fight, every action will be a power struggle.

Is Sibling Rivalry Normal?

Yes. Most definitely. The truth is, that it can’t be otherwise. All human beings constantly strive to better their situation, whether at work, at home, in social setting, or anywhere else. As soon as a there’s a change to a “positive” situation, an internal urge to change, to reverse, will always arise.        

Do Parents Cause Sibling Rivalry?

The answer to this is no, yet so many parents, completely unknowingly, worsen this rivalry, instead of decreasing it.   

Here are some tactics you should avoid to decrease sibling rivalry:

  1. Don’t compare. Why can’t you be more like your brother? Did you see how well your sister did? Wouldn’t you like to go there? Your brother wants to! All these little statements undermine each child’s sense of individuality, turning internal motivations for self exploration external, and by thus – rival. The sense of individuality, self expression, and autonomy are the main reason for most wars throughout history – let’s not bring it home 🙂
  2. Don’t play the judge: whenever fights occur and you are summoned to decide who is right and who is wrong, don’t. It’s not your job. Neither is it your job to make sure they don’t fight, because they will. Your job is to give them all the tools they need to fight without breaking their connection, without threatening either ones’ attachment to you, or to the sibling.
  3. Don’t choose one over the other: this is a major one, because you’re probably telling yourself that each time you do something for one, you’re choosing one sibling over the other. However, that’s not really the case; this is our judgmental society’s voice speaking through you, the voice that is always looking to guilt, to fear, and to shame. The truth is that you are doing what you NEED to be the best parent you can be. This is not a choice. This is nature.

Sibling Rivalry is an incredible opportunity for growth and empowerment. But it is, usually, up to you.

How To Handle Sibling Rivalry?

The following tips are relevant for children of all ages that incorporate Nonviolent Communication, positive psychology and mindfulness:

Disregard the Spoken Content, React to the Needs Instead

Why does he get more?

Why do you allow her to [something]?

Why can’t I [do something that she can]?

If you’re still reading, I’m sure you’re familiar with these statements. I also tend to believe that when you hear these statements you automatically want to prove the child “wrong” – I gave both of you the same about, she’s allowed that because, you’re not allowed that because… etc.

By addressing the words that were actually spoken, you perpetuate that inner struggle, you admit to its existence and thus not really working to decrease sibling rivalry.

Instead of the spoken word – react to the needs and feelings:

“Why does he get more” can be met with “are you still hungry”?, “do you want anything else to eat”? By saying this, what you are really saying is “I’m here for you, and I will tend to your needs, just like I always have and always will”. This reply removes the sibling, the rivalry from the situation as it deals with nothing but the needs of the child.

“Why is she allowed to x or y”? Can be met with “you are allowed something else – do you want to go do that now”?

No matter what our little ones are saying, their words can almost always be translated to “I need to know that you love me”, “I need to know that I matter”, “I need to know that our connection is intact”. Reacting to these needs, instead of entertaining the actual words, will decrease 70% of these unpleasant interactions that seem to rule sibling-rivalry-struck homes.

The same goes for “you don’t love me” statements. Believe it or not, people (and children are no different) don’t usually talk about other people – they talk about themselves. We’re born and raised into this society where someone is always to blame for how I feel, and this allows for “you don’t love me”.

Let’s translate it into “I don’t feel loved at the moment”, “I feel alone”, “I’m afraid of this new situation”. Following, instead of entertaining the idea of not loving even being possible (by saying “of course I love you!”) say “wow, I’m so sorry this is the way you feel – what did I do to make you feel this way? How can I help you feel better”?

Let Them Solve Their Problems

Solving your children’s conflicts is not your job – your job is to give them the atmosphere they need to know that conflicts are a part of life, and the tools they need to find their ways out of these conflicts.

Instead of answering their questions, encourage them to find their own answers. Practice troubleshooting and problem solving. Empower them to share how they feel with regards to something that happened, allow for empathy and compassion. Allow them to question themselves and their reactions, encourage open conversations.

When parents say “in this house we don’t fight”! They take away their children’s most powerful source of knowledge and experience – the ability to learn how to properly fight in the safest of all environments. If they learn this at home, they will enter the grown-up-world strong and secure, able, and empowered.

Sibling Rivalry is an Opportunity – if You See it As Such

Your eyes are not misleading you – I did really just said that.

If you address the needs rather than the words, if you turn conflicts into exploration of self and place of individuality, if you will do this from a place of compassion and empathy, you will remove all the obstacles that might hinder your children’s connection.

And this is your ONLY job.

Join my parenting support group on Facebook if you’d like, we can continue this discussion there 🙂  

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