How to deal with sibling rivalry

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Sibling rivalry is the jealousy, competition and fighting between brother(s) and sister(s). There is always going to be a little bit of jealousy between siblings, which is a normal part of the human nature, but when it turns into envy it brings out the worst in people. Sibling rivalry is like a festering wound and it endangers relationships to the point where we can’t bear the idea of our siblings being successful, or even happy, and instead take pleasure in their failures.

It usually continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to parents. As kids reach different stages of development, their evolving needs can significantly affect how they relate to one another, though many are lucky to become best of friends with their siblings.

A household that is full of conflict is stressful for everyone. No matter how much we love our brother or sister, when sibling envy exists, it has a corrosive effect on our ability to express affection. Overt rivalry in childhood is upfront, dynamic and character-building, a necessary rite of passage that enables each child find their niche within the family, rivalry in adulthood is a stagnant, secretive emotion that finds its insidious expression in anger.

It is a difficult and sometimes painful issue for many families, but here is the bottom line, rivalry and jealousy are a normal part of life though if not properly managed the feelings of injustice, unfairness and victimhood that accompany sibling jealousy become even more crippling to contend with later on.

For parents

Avoid comparisons among your adult children. This can make them feel like you favour another sibling or don’t think that one measures up to another. While this might sound like something that you would hope your kids outgrow, the truth is that children always want to please their parents, no matter their ages. Don’t compare your kids’ jobs, children, spouses, financial situations or homes.

Talk to your kids. Perhaps they don’t realize how their interactions affect the rest of the family. Sit down as a family and discuss the situation. Help your children come up with solutions for their rivalry that can help avoid fights and conflict. Maybe they’ll agree to disagree, decide to make certain topics of conversation off limits and agree to walk away when things get heated.

Stay out of the sibling rivalry. Clearly tell your children that you won’t take sides and don’t want to be part of their fights and disagreements. This doesn’t mean you can’t offer advice and a listening ear when they need you, but if they know that is as far as it goes, eventually they won’t even come to you with their disputes.

Encourage your children to see each other’s points of view. You raised them, but that doesn’t mean they think, react or feel things the same way. They each bring their own baggage and personality to the sibling relationships and helping each see their siblings’ sides can help them understand each other.

For siblings

Remove the baggage. The first step to a conflict-free relationship with your sibling(s) is to rid yourself of any tension and judgment your parents may have unknowingly created between you. To make your relationship work, you have to edit your parents out of it.

We often carry a lot of what we have learned through our families with us, such as identifying ourselves (or our siblings) as the good or bad child, the favourite child or the successful child, and this can spill over into adulthood. Starting on a clean slate will allow you see your siblings in a whole new and, ideally, more positive light.

Avoid trying to change your siblings. Despite a similar upbringing, you each have your own personalities, likes and dislikes. Instead, accept your differences and embrace that they make your relationships unique.

Don’t compete with each other. This doesn’t mean that you won’t get jealous of your siblings’ successes, particularly if those successes are something that you’d like to have as well. The trick is to keep that to yourself and congratulate your siblings on their new jobs, marriages, babies or big raises instead of trying to show off your new car or bigger house.

Talk to your siblings. Arrange times when you can sit down together without outside distraction and hash out the problems in your relationships, then, work together to come up with solutions.

Deal with feelings of jealousy. Jealousy might not be healthy, but it is normal among siblings. Rather than simply remaining jealous, which will continue to come between you and your brother(s) and sister(s) try owning up to those feelings. Instead of stewing, acknowledge to yourself that you are jealous and if you are having trouble being happy for your siblings, share what you are feeling with them in a genuine and honest way.

Don’t give up. If you have tried to reach out to a sibling to no avail, don’t give up. It is natural to feel like your brother or sister is a lost cause and not worth trying anymore, but keep making attempts to reconnect. If you really feel like your sibling won’t change, then you should change your expectations, change how you see the situation. It is also important to understand what is not working and to stop being part of the problem, which often stems from avoidance and lack of communication.

Knowing that our siblings are here to stay means we often take them for granted. We fight, argue, hold grudges and we let time lapse between visits. Our brothers and sisters have been around the longest in our lives and they deserve to be treated with love and respect. Take the time to examine your relationship with your siblings and if there are lapses, start rebuilding the bond.

 

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