Ana Nogales, Ph.D.

Family Secrets

Family Dynamics

The War Between Siblings at Home

How sibling rivalry gets started

Posted Aug 29, 2014

Sometimes parents do not know what to do in terms of precluding their children from fighting each other.  Despite attempting to intervene in the fairest possible way, there comes a time when nothing works and instead of fixing the problem, the quandary becomes more complicated. Is it that one cannot be a good father/mother? Is it that my children do not understand? Why is it that they fight so much when both come from the same parents and are given the same love?

The reality is that those cases where siblings do not fight or dislike each other are the exception. Jealousy and rivalry commence the day the eldest child receives his first brother/sister. The older sibling has the privilege of having the full attention of the parents until the new baby arrives. The response of the child who will have to share the most important thing in their life until now is expected, even though everyone says the new baby is going to love him/her. Moreover, children feel they are being lied to because the new baby does not show them love, much less at birth. Quite the contrary, they spend their time sleeping or crying when awake, and require the attention of mom or dad. In addition to all of this, mom and dad lack sleep because the baby precludes them from sleeping at night so they no longer have the time or the energy that they previously had to devote to the older child. As if this were not enough, the only thing they talk about is the new baby.

This scenario is not very encouraging for the older sibling, and also it is not a matter of time, because each passing day seems to confirm that this "intruder" is here to stay.

This is how sibling rivalry gets started with jealousy, competition, and fights or altercations. However, this exchange of feelings and behaviors is very valuable because it is the best opportunity for a child to learn to live. The future is being outlined to the extent that children learn to resolve differences, negotiate and accept, and tolerate and give.

It is clear that every age has its own characteristics and needs, and that when there is a big difference in age between siblings, parents may attempt to resolve conflicts in very different ways. For example, a young child may be very protective of their toys and not want to share; it is difficult for a child to know how to share until they reach the age of four. Children are self-centered, not malicious because that is the nature of their age. Therefore, they will never be content when their little brother or sister takes their car or doll to play. Once they reach school age, the age of justice, everything will be measured as a matter of who is right or what is fair. We can then expect reactions such as when the child feels it is unfair that his brother or sister can watch television and not have the same privileges. They may even be counting the time the brother spends talking so they can silence him/her because it is not right to talk so much and receive preferential treatment from their parents. The teenager with the capacity of a more abstract look on life will share their objections so as to be viewed by their individuality and independence; they do this to seek admiration for being different and unique, while their philosophy of life changes from one day to another because something has inspired a new direction. Therefore, it is very possible that he/she will be resentful when they are not heard, understood or praised, as they are discovering who they are and need admiration... rather than be asked to take out the trash.

Undoubtedly, there are very different temperaments, and general rules have their exceptions. However, considering the overall needs, can parents understand that it is not just a matter of whims or bad education, but part of the normal growth process? Being that as it may, parents can recognize that the best they can do for their children is to teach them to resolve differences and conflicts without solving them for them, unless there is some kind of danger and they must intervene. When parents impose their views and intercede for them, children learn they cannot do it alone, and learn to appeal to others to rescue them. On the other hand, when parents step away and let their children work even though it seems undesirable, then the child will have to develop their skills to see how they resolve matters themselves. Is that not what life presents us every day when we are adults?