HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
February 12, 2007, Herald Journal

Sibling rivalry, part 1


“It’s my turn!”

“Mom, he won’t stop bugging me.”

“Me first! Me first!”

If you have more than one child, statements like these are probably familiar.

Sibling rivalry. It’s common for brothers and sisters to fight, and it’s also common for them to get along one moment and then detest each other the next.

My 85-year-old mother, who lives with us, reminds me of this when I’m dealing with a conflict between my children. She will give me the reminder that my twin and I had our squabbles when we were growing up.

How quickly we can forget that we were all children at one time, with the same “growing up” issues.

I have five siblings, and most of them are quite a bit older than me. In fact, except for two of my siblings, one of those being a twin brother, they were out of the house and on their own, married, with children of their own, when I was growing up.

My one brother was in high school when I was born, so he, too, left the household to go on his own when my twin and I started school.

So it was basically my twin and I in the household (well, with lots of relatives and friends over frequently).

My twin brother and I spent much time together. We wavered between arguing and being best of friends.

My mom kindly reminds me of this. As our development changed, the number of arguments and what we argued about changed also. There were times we played together, and other times we played our own things.

And, of course, now we are best of friends and speak almost daily. In fact, we were in most high school classes together, and eventually ended up rooming together at the same college.

In elementary school, they always split us up, which was healthy for us, except for the summer my brother was in a bicycle-car accident and broke his femur, among other injuries. They then put us in the class, so I, the ambulatory twin, could help my beloved twin out.

It seemed this was commonplace for us; my brother was always breaking bones of one skeletal part or another.

I don’t remember resentment for this, but I do remember feeling some disappointment when it was my bike that was wrecked in the accident. I was scared for my brother, but underneath all of those feelings, I was a little angry because it was my prized banana seat bike that was no longer in riding condition. We were seven at the time, so as much as I felt fear and sadness for my brother, other feelings emerged also.

I am sure when my brother and I did argue, it was due somewhat to competition for everything from toys to attention. We shared the same parents and other loved ones; what can one expect?

Conflict was probably also due to our own temperaments, personalities, changing needs, and stages of development.

Of course, as Dr. Phil always says, children don’t choose the family they are born into or what siblings they have. Siblings may be of a different sex, and are probably of different age and disposition. And they have to share many things, including their parents.

The website www.kidshealth.org noted that there are other factors that might influence how often and why kids fight. These include:

• Evolving needs. It’s natural for kids’ changing needs and anxieties to affect how they relate to one another.

• Special needs/sick kids. Sometimes, a child’s special needs due to illness or learning and emotional issues may require more parent time. Kids may pick up on this “inequality,” as they see it, and act out to gain attention.

• As parents, we may think that we must be impartial and treat each child equally all of the time. We often hear the statement from our children, “It’s not fair,” when speaking of something another sibling gets to do, etc.

Most of the time, fairness has nothing to do with it. Maybe the sibling is older and can handle the given responsibility or privilege, or maybe the sibling is sick and needs that extra attention and special treat, or it’s a sibling’s birthday, etc.

It simply isn’t possible to treat our children equally all of the time. Fairness doesn’t necessarily equate to getting equal amounts all of the time, but we also need to be careful of showing favoritism.

• We, too, must also be careful of taking sides when managing sibling rivalry. The web site www.childdevelopmentinfo.com says that taking sides, such as attempting to punish the child who is at fault, usually results in the punishment being given to the one seen pounding or picking on the other child. (How long has the child put up with teasing etc., before he/she decides to resort to hitting?)

• The kids’ health web site also suggested to not put too much focus on trying to figure out which child is to blame. It takes two to fight, and anyone who is involved is partly responsible.

• It is also crucial to show love and appreciation for each child and who he/she is by giving each child individual attention and spending alone time with each child.

• The way parents resolve issues and disagreements sets a strong example for children. If parents work through agreements in a way that’s respectful, and not aggressive, the chances increase that children may use the same strategies when they run into problems or conflicts with one another.

And, of course, if children see a lot of yelling, slamming doors, name calling, etc. when there is a disagreement, they can pick up on these bad habits also.

Next week, the article will focus on ways to help diminish and/or handle sibling rivalry.