It is one of the oldest problems that every family faces, sometime or the other. The term was first coined by David Levy in 1941. It means the antagonism or hostility between brothers and/or sisters that can be attributed to many factors and reasons. In fact, he claimed that for an older sibling “the aggressive response to the new baby is so typical that it is safe to say it is a common feature of family life.” The root of the problem basically lies in the nature’s maxim that there are limited resources for every organism, and this scarcity leads to animosity. However, in a family situation, the resources are more often love, time, attention and approval rather than food or any other basic amenities that are required for survival.
Sibling rivalry is determined by many governing factors such as personality, age, gender, birth order, their experiences within and outside the family. Child psychologist Sylvia Rimm is of the opinion that it is particularly intense when the children are very close in age and belong to the same gender, or when one child is intellectually gifted. Sigmund Freud saw this issue as an extension of the Oedipus complex, in which brothers vie for their mother’s attention, and sisters consider each other to be rivals in gaining their father’s affection. Most psychologists are of the view that in every family, children strive to establish a distinctly individualistic identity of their own, and thus often feel challenged by the presence of their siblings. This gives rise to feelings of being deprived, subjected to bias or partiality or any form of unequal treatment.
Children have different needs, motives and anxieties at different ages and their method of approaching/coping/resolving them also differs. These differences influence the way they fight with their siblings. For example, a toddler might be reluctant to part with his/her favourite toy, while a school-going boy/girl will resent the fact if their parents are more attentive towards the homework of the other sibling. Similarly, a teenage boy/girl will grumble if their sibling intrudes into their “private space”, or they might fight over sharing household responsibilities. Their individual temperaments also differ largely, such as their mood, disposition and adaptability, which in turn determine how the siblings will get along. If one of the children is a victim of a grave physical/mental ailment and thus demands more of parental care, it can also cause the other sibling to feel bitter and neglected.
Researchers have deduced that the best preventive measure which can minimize sibling rivalry, if not completely eliminate it, is to prepare the older child for the arrival of the new baby by talking about it early on and trying to convince him/her as to how precious the child is going to be to him/her. Parents should definitely avoid exhibiting any form of prejudice/favouritism towards the siblings. They should plan fun activities together in order to let love and affection grow between the siblings. Preferential attitudes, comparisons and typecasting can only worsen the situation and must be avoided at any costs. At the same time, they also need to let them learn that at times, one might require parental concern more than the other. Parents should plan and carry out fun activities together and get the siblings involved with each other in a healthy way. Again, they also need to cater to their individual needs of the siblings and make time for them. Any type of blame-game or accusation must be avoided. The bottom-line is, parents must be good role models for their children by handling these delicate problems in a judicious manner.
Sibling rivalry is a part and parcel of growing up. It is often through such minor disputes in early years that children learn important skills that will serve them throughout their lives. They will learn to value each other’s perspective, to compromise, negotiate and control aggressive impulses.