Sibling Rivalry – Understanding Why Siblings Argue and Fight - Dr. Charles Fay
As many parents know, sibling rivalry can be the source of great frustrations. How often do parents hear, “Daaad! Brian won’t stop picking on me! Make him stop!”? “No I didn’t! Lisa started it! Why do I always get blamed for everything around here?”
Does this sound familiar? Do you ever feel as though your kids act more like hungry alley cats ﬁghting over the last mouse in town than the loving sibs you’d hoped they’d grow to be? You are not alone!
What’s a parent to do when the kids are at each other’s throats and the living room looks like ﬁnals at the international wrestling championship? The ﬁrst step toward success is understanding some of the reasons siblings bicker and ﬁght. Why is it that our children—our ﬂesh and blood—often go for ﬂesh and blood?
Let’s ﬁrst recognize that sibling conﬂicts are generally a pretty typical and a normal part of family life. In fact, one might argue that these conﬂicts are good training for life. That is, by negotiating childhood conﬂicts with their brothers or sisters, our kids learn valuable skills for getting along with others in the real world.
For this learning to happen, the following must take place in the home:
Another reason siblings ﬁght is to get attention and control. When parents yell or lecture to determine “who started it,” to get their kids to “knock it off,” or to get their children to “say sorry and shake hands,” the parents are doing more thinking and worrying than the kids!
Soon the children learn on an unconscious level that they can control the color of their parents’ faces, the volume of their voices, their reserves of emotional energy, and the potential longevity of their cardiovascular systems.
And have you ever noticed how your kids tend to start a ﬁght just as you start talking on the phone or start a quiet conversation with your spouse? What better way to control your parents?
Fortunately, parents can do three things to keep their children from learning these unhealthy patterns:
A third reason siblings may ﬁght is because one child in the family feels that the parents or other adults see him or her as being the “black sheep” of the family. He or she reasons on an unconscious level, “I’ll never be as good as my brother. Everybody thinks he’s so smart ... He’s such a goody-two-shoes ... I hate him!”
In most cases, the child doesn’t really hate his or her sibling. Instead, he or she hates the feeling of not measuring up in the eyes of the parents. The parents may not view the child in this manner. Nevertheless, the most important point is that the child “feels” it to be so.
Parents can do two things to help avoid this problem:
Help all of your children learn that everyone is different, and that everyone has something positive to contribute.
A fourth reason has to do with much more serious and dangerous types of problems. In rare instances, one or more children in the family—or the entire family—are experiencing such severe emotional distress that the rivalry has become dangerous.
What’s a parent to do if they see this happening? Here are some suggestions:
Once we’ve gotten a handle on what might be causing rivalry and conﬂicts between our children, it’s time to take action!
The final entry in this series includes a success story from a mom who implemented these few steps for a calmer happier home.
Find more solutions for sibling rivalry in Sibling Rivalry: Strategies for Teaching Your Kids How to Get Along.