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THE UNHAPPY HOUSE OF HORRORS: Managing Sibling Rivalry

If you think about it, sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Abel. Sibling rivalry is also what a lot of childhood fairytales are based. Think of Cinderella and her stepsisters. If the mere word, “sibling” comes up, it is almost certain that rivalry follows. Now that your happy home has become the unhappy house of horrors because your children are at odds constantly with one another, we need to first examine the causes for sibling rivalry.

To examine sibling rivalry is to look at it from the point of view of your child. If you consider it for a moment, your children do not choose the family they were born into, nor do they choose each other. They may be a different sex, different age and temperament, and most of all they have to share their parents whom they want most for themselves. In addition, you may have to consider the position in the family the children hold. The oldest child, for example, may feel burdened with the responsibilities of the younger children. The younger child may feel that he has to try to catch up with an older sibling. Another culprit to the rivalry may be the difference in the sex of the children. If the father shows gentleness to the daughter, the son may hate his sister for this reason. Or, the daughter may wish that she could along on a hunting trip with her father and brother. The difference in the age of the children may also contribute to the contention. At age five and eight, the children may play some games and activities together. However, when these children become ten and thirteen, they will most likely be worlds apart.*

Now, that we have looked at sibling rivalry from the point of view of the child and have a better understanding what the source of it is, how do we manage it? The most important factor is managing sibling rivalry is parental attitude. Your children are like sponges, and they will absorb the atmosphere of the environment of the family home. If you are setting the example as caring and loving parents, they will emulate this behavior. However, if you respond to your spouse by yelling or shouting as a means to resolve differences, they will emulate this behavior as well. Parents have been instructed to be an impartial judge, and this serves to be very difficult. It is inevitable that parents will feel differently about their children who have different needs, personalities, and place in the family. Keep in mind that fairness has nothing to do with the needs of your children. An example of that is how often we hear the argument from one child as to why they cannot stay up to a certain time when their older sibling can. It is not an issue of fairness. It is an issue of what is best for health and wellbeing of the individual child.

Often parents feel that they must treat their children equally. However, in reality that may only come back to haunt us later. If a mother feels that she must hug all of children and not just one, it then becomes dehumanizing. Hugs become meaningless in the family, which it clearly not the intent of what a mother would want. So now that we have decided that sibling rivalry is the norm, we need to determine what we can do to better manage it so that our house of horrors can perhaps return to a happy and safe place. To manage the rivalry, consider not making comparisons to their other siblings. Each child feels that they are unique, and he resents being compared to another sibling. Do not encourage your child to dismiss or suppress their resentment or angry feelings but have them express their feelings and wants calmly. Help them see the other’s point of view. Avoid situations of guilt. Help your child to understand that feelings and actions
are not synonymous. For example, it may be normal to feel as though one child wants to hit the baby. The parents have to stop the child from carrying out this action. The guilt of that follows doing something mean is a lot worse than the guilt of just feeling mean.* Parental intervention must be quick and decisive. Finally, let siblings resolve their own differences when possible. You will have to determine when you may have to intervene. Keeping in mind, there has been a lifetime of grudges held between siblings when they felt their minority rights were not protected. Above all else, keep your sense of humor.




2 Responses to “THE UNHAPPY HOUSE OF HORRORS: Managing Sibling Rivalry”

  1. You raise interesting issues here. There is feeling differently about your children, and treating them differently because they have varying needs, personalities, and character. And of course, they mature at different stages.

    We feel differently about all individuals at varying points in time. Our children as well. That’s human nature. It doesn’t mean we love them any less.

    And each child requires a parental relationship that is specific to him or her. That means slightly different handling, in the best interest of the child.

    As for that necessary sense of humor – absolutely!! (And when we can laugh at ourselves, or let them tease us at times, boy does that help.)


  2. Serena Jones-McGregor says:

    I agree. I try to remind all three of my children that I don’t favor any of them or love one more than the other. My love for each of them is different and unique because they are all different and unique. We have a “no touching” rule in our house that has thankfully always been followed so I tend to allow them the space to iron out their own disagreements.


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