Dealing with Sibling Rivalry
Created | Updated Sep 9, 2010
Since the beginning of time, siblings have argued, bickered, and squabbled over matters great and small. From petty jealousies through to territorial disputes and on to accusations of favouritism, the list of conflicts is interminable. For children this is a matter of pride and honour; for parents it is a political minefield that needs careful navigation. This entry has harvested the infinite wisdom of the h2g2 Community to help ease the tension created by sibling rivalry.
Age gaps can play a huge role in sibling rivalry. If you have children close together, it means that you get the nappies, tantrums and sleepless nights out of the way in one go. However, you may be encouraging jealousy and covetousness among your similarly aged children - how many of us can honesty say that one child is not favoured over another?
Many parents opt to have a wider age gap between their children - thus giving them a breather from the nappies, tantrums and sleepless nights. There's also the added bonus that you'll have a built-in babysitter a decade down the line. However, large age gaps can promote feelings of resentment and accusations of jealousy from the elder sibling.
My brother and I have always been close; there's only 16 months between us in age. Likewise my two sons have a similar age gap and get on very well indeed.
There are three of us in my family with an enormous age difference: my sister is ten, my brother six, while I am almost 19, but we still get on perfectly well. None of us feels left out, because we are all so different - things that were right for me might not be in the best interests of my sister. I like being the eldest in some respects - I love taking them out with me, and most of my money goes on them... I remember my first 'Father Christmas' run, when I had to do the secret present shopping, and I felt so grown up... anyway... Contrary to popular belief though, being the eldest can mean that you miss out on things that your younger siblings enjoy - for example with music and schools, parents are finding their feet with their first child, and they smooth out the wrinkles, so to speak, when dealing with these things the second time around.
My sons, who are 20 months apart, fight like cat and dog. In fact they are like Cat-Dog . The youngest winds the eldest up a treat and the eldest beats upon his brother. I only see them at weekends now but I try to treat them fairly and evenly.
My sisters were around 28 months apart and got on well, then five years later I came along and was beat upon by my middle sister extensively. She was always in trouble at home and I was the 'golden boy'. It would have helped if our parents had been more fair.
Children, however, are very dissimilar and you can never tell how the li'l darlings will work together. It seems that you should just have the kids and deal with the rivalry later.
Another issue which crops up when discussing sibling rivalry is numbers. Should you opt for a Waltons1 size family of numerous children and hope that all goes well, or do you plump for one child and thus avoid all possible conflict? The Researcher experience in this section highlights the pitfalls when three children grow up in the same family unit.
I'm in a family with three children. We are all quite close in age. My sister and I are 15 months apart, and my brother is just ten months younger then my sister. My sister and I are adopted, while my brother is the natural child of my (adoptive) parents. However, the adoption issue should not change what I am saying because my sister and I were adopted at birth and regard our adoptive family as our only family.
The three-children issue does come into play, however. One of us was usually left out at some point or other. When we were younger, two of us would always gang up on the third. Sometimes my brother and I against my sister, or my sister and I against my brother, or my brother and sister against me, etc. We were the only kids in our neighbourhood until I was about ten (sister about nine, brother about eight). So in our youngest years we could only play with one another. Or more commonly fight. We fought quite a bit, but our disagreement would never last. We'd be at each other throats one minute, but sitting quietly the next. We never held grudges.
Now we've grown up a bit more (I'm 18) we don't really 'fight' , but we're not the best of friends and don't presume we ever will be. But we can still function as a family and love one another.
Sports, games and TV can either bring a family together or tear it asunder. If parents are planning to bring their children together through recreation, they have to strike a very delicate balance, as the following Researcher experiences testify (the first of which proves the point that it must be traditional for Monopoly to end just short of violence).
I always used to get upset when she beat me at Monopoly, and I threw a major tantrum because I was such a sore loser! However, our mum would tell me off for making such a noise and it was okay at the end.
I can relate to this; many a time my brother and I have sat down for a quiet game of Monopoly and ended up nearly braining each other over Park Lane and Mayfair.
However, it needn't always end in tears...
I've found that by encouraging each other to share our hobbies, that we get along splendidly. For example, I introduced my sister to some computer games of mine (which she now adores) and she introduced me to some TV shows (which I adore) and we both like to watch them and play them together, which is nice.
The solution that works for many is to make siblings do something as a team - like preparing food or building something. Once that's achieved, the rivalry becomes pointless...
If like me and my brother you are both promising sportsmen in the same sport at a young age, don't worry about it too much. As you grow older one or both of you will realise that you are living under the shadow of the other and will look for an alternative.
For me it became long distance running whereas he was a sprinter and rugby player. Now I have my bowls and he unfortunately has had to retire from rugby due to a continuing injury, but we both have quite high spots in our chosen sports and neither has been a shadow but more an encouragement to achieve the best in the other.
The most important thing in any relationship is communication. Just slamming doors and screaming at each other rarely helps. Communication is executed in a family in two ways - it can be instigated by parents, or siblings can sort things out among themselves. This Researcher's mother seems to have struck a perfect balance and maintained harmony in her family with judicious use of communication.
My mother used to sit us down opposite of each other and told us that we should tell each other what we thought about whatever incident that had just happened. If we didn't solve the problem that way, we worked out ultimatums. I can only remember one time my mum had to punish us, the few times me and my sister had used violence. She put us in the same room, went to watch telly, and told us not to go out before we were friends again. This really helped, I guess because me and my sister are so-called 'avoiders' - we avoid our enemies, so when we can't avoid, we have to work things out. Me and my sister were sobbing and hugging after five minutes! And last, to close the deal, we had to hug each other.
Just because you're family, doesn't mean you have to like each other and for many parents, lasting peace and friendship among their children can only be achieved when one of the little cheurubs leaves home...
My brother and I couldn't be in the same room without a war breaking out when we were kids. I think at times we honestly hated each other. Our poor Mom. She was an only child, and she figured we should love each other and get along. Dad set her straight - he had two sisters and two brothers - and him in the middle. Mom once told me she'd give anything for a brother - I told her she could have mine. Ever see a mother explode? Not a pretty picture!
Now we're grown, have children of our own, and my brother has grand kids. We're really close, and delight in long emails and even longer phone conversations. He's my best friend - but it was a long, bloody fight to get here!
To conclude this collaborative entry there is below a wonderful Researcher experience which serves as an inspiration to siblings throughout the world. It illustrates how children can overcome many of the issues highlighted in this entry in a calm and rational manner.
My parents divorced when I was six, and I was their only child. Both of my parents have subsequently re-married, and my mother has had two more children. I have always referred to these children as my brother and sister, not my half brother and sister, because frankly, what difference does it make? We get on a hell of a lot better than a lot of people I know who share both parents. There's a big age gap between us all - I'm nearly thirteen years older than my brother (which leads to a lot of embarrassing situations in which people think he's my son), but my younger siblings often treat me - probably justifiably - like an eight-year-old. When they were younger, it was just taken as read by my siblings that 'Chee-Chee has two daddies', which indeed is true - my mother's present partner has treated me as his own, for which I am incredibly grateful, while my siblings refer to my natural father as 'Chek-Chek' - the Chinese for 'uncle'.
I even changed my surname when my sister started to wonder why I had a different name to her. My brother and sister are the people who I feel are most important to me, and it does upset me when people say 'but they're not really your brother and sister', because they are.