When you were a child or teenager, do you remember fighting with your siblings? If so (and I think we all do!), how did it affect you then? Does it still affect you? For many teen girls, it can make them moody, irritable, and affect the way they view themselves. It can also create an environment of hostility at home. While it is advised that parents do not get involved in their kids’ quarrels, parents should treat their children fairly. For example, “oldest” children often bear the brunt of responsibility in the family, even though this may be completely unintentional on the parents’ part. Oldest children often come to resent not only their parents but the siblings who don’t have as much responsibility.
Children who are bullied by siblings are more likely to develop mental health disorders when they’re older, including psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.Children spend significant time with their siblings in the comfort of their family home and if bullied and excluded, this can lead to social defeat, self-blame,and serious mental health disorder.
Sibling rivalry can be extra painful because many of us carry the belief that siblings are supposed to be close. This is a very difficult one to let go if you are not, in fact, close to your sibling. Hanging onto the expectation into adulthood, you are likely to continue to try to please your sibling. As is commonly the case, you end up being rejected over and over. It seems more familiar to be rejected than to let go of the idea that you should be friends. So, you keep trying and setting yourself up to feel disappointed, self-doubtful, hurt and angry.
Sibling rivalry is about one or more sibling that are angry, jealous and vengeful, and use underhanded tactics to torment each other and get each other punished by their parents. They may even hate each other and wish the other were never born. Sometimes their hatred and bitterness last a lifetime, as it is common to find adults who have completely cut off contact with their sibling, to the great pain of their parents.
No, there is nothing healthy about the “normal” sibling rivalry. It is a broken relationship that causes unnecessary pain not only to the kids involved but to the parents as well. The fact that most parents, even those who are mental health professionals, don’t know how to make it stop, does not make it healthy. There is nothing that grieves parents like seeing their own children…the people they love the most in the world in a constant state of war.
Here are some of the common causes of intense sibling rivalry in the family:
(1) LACK OF STRUCTURE
Everyone benefits from a certain amount of structure. The structure here means clear rules, routines, expectations, consequences.
When there is a lack of or not enough structure in the home, children don’t feel safe, they feel anxious. They don’t know what to expect, don’t have that steady routine to ground them. The anxiety can fuel irritability and sibling rivalry; in the absence of a clear structure, they may constantly be pushing and testing in order to find out where the boundaries are. Once the boundaries get set, they settle, a clear sign that this was the problem.
(2) TENSION FROM ABOVE
Here there are problems in parents that create tension and anxiety down below.
One of the core ideas of family therapy is that intense sibling rivalry usually reflects intense marital issues. What happens here is the children are either replicating what the parents are already doing namely, battling with each other or are picking up on the tension and acting out in a
(3) NO HIERARCHY AMONG CHILDREN
The parentsneed to be in charge of their children for they are the ones to set the structure and maintain it, and by doing so create a feeling of safety. However, there is also a need to create a hierarchy among the children.
For example, if they all go to bed at the same time or get no privileges for being older and more competent, sibling rivalry will increase. Why? Because each child needs to have his own place in the family system; he/she needs to know that as he/she gets older and more responsible there are changes and benefits that come with it. When this isn’t there, there is nothing to aspire to, no path to utilize the increased skills and maturity that the child has attained. The solution is not showing
(4) NEGATIVE ATTENTION / NO ATTENTION
Everyone needs positive attention. In its absence, children and adults will shoot for negative attention. The worse is no attention at all.
Here is where all the children are struggling for some parent attention; often the home environment is either abusive or neglectful. Unfortunately, many children have a high tolerance for negative attention. When attention is short, when there is little to go around, generally one or two children will begin to act out to get what attention they can, becoming the “bad kid” who is always in trouble. One way to pull in this bad-kid attention is to act out through sibling rivalry.
However, when there is little or no attention, such as in extremely broken families where there are serious mental health issues or addiction, children will take what they get, and often bond together creating a modified peer support group, with the oldest generally in charge, to weather life on their own as a group.
(5) LACK OF PROBLEM-SOLVING
If parents ignore their child’s complaints about his/her siblings the child is apt to either give up and get depressed or take matters into his/her own hands, intensifying sibling rivalry. Problems need to be put to rest to keep them from constantly becoming a source of conflict. However, often the larger concern is that if problems are not addressed, the child feels ignored, not important, and has no voice. The only way to understand the impact is talking to both the children. A lot of families get used to the different behaviour of their children and normalize it (‘He/She always overreacts’ or ‘He/she’s a bit sensitive’). The solution is that parents need to step up, hear children concerns, not dismiss them, and take positive action to solve the problems.
How does this translate into everyday life? If you are a parent, sibling rivalry is a built-in indicator of problems in the environment you help create. Use it as information to assess and fix one or several of the above problems. Don’t dismiss or minimize what is going on around you. It is important to rather have your children be the best of friends while having a classmate bully them in school than the other way around. Schoolmates come and go, but siblings are forever.
So please, let’s stop the hypocritical double standard. We have no business condemning bullying among kids in school as abnormal while simultaneously accepting sibling rivalry at home as normal.
TakeCare of Yourself and Each Other!