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August 16 2022 7:56 AM ˚
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Sibling rivalry

Sibling’s needs and personalities will develop significantly based on how they relate to one another and likewise with their conflicts. (Photos: Envato Elements)
Sibling’s needs and personalities will develop significantly based on how they relate to one another and likewise with their conflicts. (Photos: Envato Elements)
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“Why can’t they just get along?” is the question that many parents ask when their children get into yet another screaming match. However, despite the difficulty of dealing with these fights, the fact remains that sibling rivalry is inevitable, predictable, normal, and to some extent, even healthy. اضافة اعلان

When thinking about it, the behavioral manifestation of sibling rivalry reflects the older child’s primitive reaction to the perceived threat of the birth of a new sibling and the change it will cause in the family structure, specifically their own position.

Despite the omnipresence and influence siblings have in each other’s lives, sibling relationships have been relatively neglected by researchers and family scholars, especially in comparison to other familial relationships.

One study that collected psychological and sociological abstracts for sibling relationships only yielded 741 citations compared to the 33,990 citations for parenting, 8,685 citations for marriage or marital relations, and 5,059 citations for peer relationships or friendships. This calls for further research into sibling relationships both locally and globally.

Factors that affect sibling rivalry

Many factors can contribute to sibling rivalry, and age is an important factor; for example, preschoolers who have not yet fully developed social and verbal skills that allow them to be assertive without needing to be aggressive only know how to protect their toys and belongings through fighting, yelling, or throwing tantrums.


While sibling rivalry is inevitable, parents can manage it and respond to it in a manner that aims to improve the relationships between siblings.

But for elementary-aged children, their main concern is perceived fairness and unfairness, meaning they will take out their frustration on their siblings when they perceive them to be receiving preferential treatment.

For teenagers, independence is of utmost importance, so they may resent being given the responsibility of taking care of their younger siblings. And the closer the siblings are in age, the more heightened their rivalry will be.

Another important factor that is often ignored is the parents’ conflict-resolution skills. Research suggests that a lack of harmony between parents can lead to increased jealousy and rivalry among siblings.

More controlling or disinterested parenting styles can stimulate further rivalry between siblings than parents who mediate and teach their children how to settle their differences properly.

Parents who favor a child over another, set up their children in competition with one another, or worse of all, compare their children to one another, can heighten sibling rivalry. “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister” can be one of the most devastating statements a child can hear and usually never achieves its intended impact. But it will affect a child’s self-esteem and make them see their sibling as negative competition.

Finally, a detrimental factor that affects sibling rivalry, as well as sibling dynamic, is culture. In many male-dominated cultures, including Jordan, boys and men are usually given preferential treatment. This may cause the other gender to feel alienated and excluded.

Considering culture plays a huge role in how families operate and how parents place rules — which are usually different for their sons than their daughters —resentment between siblings and even towards parents can grow due to obvious favoritism. 

Behavioral manifestation of sibling rivalry

Behavioral manifestations of sibling rivalry can take different forms, including aggressive behavior, over compliance, regressive or dependent behavior, and naughtiness.

While a toddler usually exhibits aggressive behavior toward the mother, the aggression may also be directed towards younger siblings and goes through different peaks, such as when the new baby first arrives, when the new baby is between four to five months old and is more socially engaged, and again at almost a year when they become mobile.

However, parents can work to reduce their toddler’s open hostility or jealousy towards the baby by introducing more subtle behaviors to voice their feelings, including pulling the pacifier out of the baby’s mouth or taking their toy away as a means to deescalate and avoid violence between the siblings.

Sibling rivalry can also manifest when a child seeks attention by breaking family rules, specifically when the mother is busy with the other sibling. This strategy serves as a way for the child to maintain their power in their household and alter the behavior of those around them. Parents must keep track of such behaviors because although they may appear random, they are actually triggered by very particular situations. 



More worrying manifestations can look like when the toddler becomes overly compliant with their younger sibling, fearing that they will be replaced if they misbehave. Therefore, they are on their best behavior to ensure their place in the family, and they will hold in any aggressions or angry feelings they may have. However, such repression of feelings will come at a cost for the toddler when they grow up as it can lead to an irritable, aggressive pattern or even a depressed mood.

Lastly, sibling rivalry can manifest in regressive and dependent behaviors to gain attention. Children become extra clingy and more demanding to receive the same attention as their younger siblings.

Regressive behaviors could be thumb sucking, bedwetting, refusing to eat, inconsistent sleep, and baby talk. However, these could also be expected responses to any stress and/or need for adjustment.

Dealing with sibling rivalry

While sibling rivalry is inevitable, parents can manage it and respond to it in a manner that aims to improve the relationships between siblings. Parents can take proactive strategies such as focusing on and highlighting each child’s strengths in everyday life, providing equal affection, and making sure they spend individual quality time with each child.

While it is important to plan fun bonding activities for the whole family, it is vital that parents spend quality time with each child separately, especially when the parents feel they have been giving more attention to one child over the other for whatever reason.

Take each child out individually, focus on them alone, and talk to them about their feelings and thoughts without mentioning their sibling. Remember to never label any of your children as “the difficult one”, “the smart one”, or the “prettier one”.
One longitudinal study showed that the development of sibling relationships of children with autism and Down syndrome evolve into the neurotypical sibling taking on a more parent-like role, which provides relief to the parents who have concerns about who will care for their disabled child when they no longer can.
As for mediating strategies for those times when the screaming matches begin, it is important never to take sides and instead encourage them to brainstorm resolutions together and provide them with problem-solving tools to approach future conflicts in a more unified, calm, and appropriate way.

Stay calm and in control and create a schedule for shared toys or games and make sure they follow it and do not bend for your child — even if they throw a tantrum — when it is not their turn. Remember that treating your children fairly does not mean you treat them equally.

Keeping track of triggers and times when conflicts happen helps parents make necessary changes to the routine or be better prepared to clock the conflict and end it before it even happens.

In addition, teach your child positive ways to gain your attention and encourage them to verbalize their need for you to spend more time with them. It is also important to keep punishments private to avoid shaming a child in front of their sibling and avoid creating any animosity between them.

In those times where you do need to spend more time with a certain sibling, especially in cases where that other sibling has special needs or a chronic illness, it is vital for you to be honest and communicate with your child about why you are spending more time with their sibling and allow them to be more involved and even give them certain responsibilities.

One longitudinal study showed that the development of sibling relationships of children with autism and Down syndrome evolve into the neurotypical sibling taking on a more parent-like role, which provides relief to the parents who have concerns about who will care for their disabled child when they no longer can.

Even in situations where the relationship between siblings is less than cordial, it can positively impact a child’s early development. Children’s interactions with their siblings lead to an accelerated social understanding of the world and later relationships with peers and friends.

When a parent overviews such conflicts and learns to adapt and fairly mediate between their children along with having rich conversations about thoughts and feelings, they can ensure that their children develop a healthy sibling relationship and be each other’s confidant for the years to come.


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