Siblings Do Not Need Always Need to Be Rivals

It has been over a year since we have immersed ourselves in this current pandemic and although that is likely a top priority for many parents, children, and families alike, ongoing challenges in other ways continue to exist and persist. Perhaps one of the most common challenges that has been exacerbated due to the pandemic as we are all spending that much more time at home. Many people have shared with me how much they have reached their breaking point and it has become very evident in how their children are interacting with each other as the rivalry between siblings expands. Sibling rivalry is a very common topic and has been for years as it varies significantly between households. However, one thing that is always important for your children to remember, is that it is not a right to have a sibling, it is very often a true privilege. Of course, times have changed significantly and the average family not only has fewer children than they did decades ago, what the family dynamics look like has also changed significantly with more half siblings and step siblings becoming a common pattern. Regardless of the number of siblings your children have and that you as parents may have, rivalries can be present throughout life and not just during childhood. The key is to establish healthy sibling relationships to minimize the potential unhealthy rivalries that can emerge as a way of creating healthier home environment.

If your children are younger and starting early grade school or have yet to begin formal education, having them learn the value of sharing is imperative. An older sibling at such a young age can show their jealousy and anger toward a younger sibling early and often because their territory was taken the baby arrives, or when more attention is paid to the younger sibling. However, modelling healthy giving behaviours for any of the older siblings will be essential to ensure they are welcoming of the younger sibling(s) instead of resenting them for showing up. Moreover, placing firm boundaries with what you will let the older sibling get away with will be crucial. Just because a sibling is older, bigger, louder, or taller does not give them the automatic right to have everything they want. Set those boundaries immediately as the children need to know the importance of equal attention, fair play, and that they cannot have everything they want when they want it. Many preschool children are slowly shifting from parallel play to interactive play and as they do, it can be hard for them to realize they need to share. Inform them early and often and be sure to reward collaborative play as often as you can.

As your children age and they move through their schooling years, they begin to develop their own interests, preferences, needs, and wants that may be significantly different from their siblings. Rather than hoping that each of your children like the same things because it makes things easier, celebrate their individuality and ensure that their siblings do the same. Highlighting each of their strengths can decrease the desire to rival one another and instead empower them with confidence in their own areas of interest. As your children become teenagers and eventually young adults, helping them see that they do not need to feel stuck with their siblings, but more so can feel safe with their siblings is what becomes more important. As your children age, you will want them to take on more responsibility and that includes taking care of each other. The safer they can feel with one another, the less likely they are to engage in the typical rivalry type behaviour. A good resource for your children is Siblings: you're stuck with each other, so stick together (Crist & Verdick).

Naturally, some rivalry is healthy and encouraged if it is going to lead each of the siblings to be better at their desired skill. I recall from my own childhood how a size and age difference with an older sibling forced me to be more resilient if I wanted to engage in activities with him and as a result of that it helped created a more competitive edge when engaged in competition in any extracurricular activities. Moreover, siblings can set the tone for helping their brothers and sisters truly reach their potential. Your siblings are your immediate peers within your home and if you see some of the things they are doing or some of the accomplishments they are achieving, it makes it very real for you to seek similar heights that may be in different areas of expertise. Regardless of age, ensure that you are encouraging your children to celebrate their siblings' success.

If you can help your children focus less on the rivalry between siblings at a young age while they are growing up, they are more likely to foster a similar dynamic in their adult relationships as siblings. What happens in childhood can help shape siblings as adults and can act in a parallel fashion with how you navigate your relationships with your siblings as adults. As you and your siblings age into the latter parts of adult life, similar interactions and attitudes about supporting your each other rather than focusing on a competition will continue to remain important. That does not necessarily mean everyone needs to get along or will get along for that matter, but respecting your siblings rather than competing with them and igniting unnecessary unresolved tension likely will not help you or your family. Not only can fostering healthier interactions with siblings be helpful for you (regardless of whether you are living in the same city or not), but more so it mirrors a blueprint for your children.


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