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Siblings without rivalry!

Posted on 01 May 2015

Sibling rivalry has always had bad press - think of Cain slaughtering Abel and Joseph being thrown down the well and sold by his brothers because they were jealous of his beautiful multi coloured coat!

Sibling rivalry can apply to any child living in the same family, from step brothers and sisters to blood related brothers and sisters - and it refers to the jealousy, competition, teasing and fighting that goes on between them - and all the experts seem to agree that it stems from your child’s deep desire and need for your exclusive love - and their need for your attention and their sense of identity, self worth and specialness within your family.

So let’s look at why siblings fight.  Siblings fight for a number of reasons:

  1. They fight because they want your parental attention, and you naturally only have so much time, attention and patience to give.
  2. They fight because they are jealous: "He got a new bike. I didn't.  They must love him more than they love me."
  3. They fight over ordinary teasing which is a way of testing the effects of behaviour and words on another person: "He called me..." "But she called me...first."
  4. They fight because they are growing up in a competitive society that teaches them that to win is to be better: "I saw it first." "I beat you to the water."  

They are vying for your attention and if they don’t feel valued or feel they are getting equal amounts of your love and approval they will fight for it and as they don’t always know positive ways to get you to notice or respond to them - and any attention is better than none.

Teenagers fight for the same reasons that younger children fight.

But teenagers are bigger, louder and better equipped physically and intellectually to hurt and be hurt by words and actions.

From a parent's point of view, they "ought" to be old enough to stop that kind of behaviour but what a lot of parents I work with tend to forget is that teenagers are under a lot of pressure from many different directions.  Physical, hormonal and emotional changes and changes in thinking cause pressures, as do changing relationships with parents and friends.

Teens may be concerned about real or imagined problems between you.  They feel pressure about their future as adults and about learning to be an adult.  And sometimes they feel a bit scared of it all and look for ways to get your attention or get noticed.

In many ways, teens are in greater need than ever for your parental love, attention and concern and for a belief that they are as good as their siblings.  They ultimately need your understanding.

Your teenager may not recognise these needs or may be too embarrassed to express them verbally, so fighting with siblings is a great or easy way to get your attention just like younger children do also.

Having a brother or a sister could represent less time with you  in the eyes of your child- less attention, less time for talking together, sharing fun together, less time to be heard when they have a worry, less toys, less food, less help with homework, less space - someone who might be better at things than you are - who could shine in things you can’t do, who could excel in areas you can’t, who could be the apple of your parent’s eye because they can do all these amazing things that your parents value and think is great.

The “we” rather than “me” mentality is so important in a family.  It builds trust, support, loyalty, love and a true foundation for security and self esteem.

I think it’s helpful to have the attitude of being “high on harmony and low on rivalry” and I believe if you have this as your goal - things begin to fall into place.