Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way.
~ Pamela Dugdale
It’s both a silly and sad idea that siblings are born to be rivals. The conventional wisdom seems to be that older kids resent the intrusion of the younger ones and that younger sibs resent the privileges of the older ones. Well, yes. There is an element of that. Most kids at some time or another accuse their parents of loving the other kid best, usually when they are usiing guilt to get something they want. But most of the time such feelings and behavior are short-lived. The sense of family loyalty and love overrides whatever differences spurred an argument.
It’s a mistake to assign the negative label of “rivalry” to what may be simply a matter of learning how to get along. Conflict is inevitable in human relationships. No matter how much we love and care for another person, there will be times when we don’t agree, when we both want the same cookie, when we can’t quite believe that the other person holds some idea or value or goal that makes no sense to us. Children in a family are no different from adults in that respect.
What is different is that children in a family usually can’t get away from each other to take a break when they are angry or hurt. Unable to get in the car for a drive to cool off or to call or visit a friend for sympathy or to just find another cookie, or toy, or TV show, young kids are trapped in the same house, dealing with the very person who got in their way or angered them. Lacking the skills to manage their own emotions or to negotiate differences, they do what all immature people do – they yelp. Give them a while and they usually settle down. If they want someone to play with, they figure it out. In the process, they learn something about how to cooperate, how to share, and how generally to get along. Knocking heads is not only a normal part of growing up, it’s an important forum for learning how to negotiate human relationships.
Sibling rivalry is different. When kids become rivals, jealousy and resentment underlie the whole relationship. Every disagreement fuels the larger issue. Kids who are rivals find it hard to like one another. It’s as if there isn’t room in the family for both of them.
What transforms normal tussles among kids into rivalry? Usually it comes down to one of these three factors:
There really isn’t enough love to go around.
Some kids are born to adults who really can’t manage the multiple demands of multiple kids. Other parents take a dislike to a child who isn’t what they expected, who looks like someone in the family they don’t like, or who was the result of an unintended pregnancy. Kids who know in their pores that they aren’t loved or are being actively or quietly rejected will vie for whatever attention they can get – often at the expense of the kid or kids they think do get whatever love and care the parent can offer.