Sibling Rivalry - Part 1

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This is the first in a series of articles on sibling rivalry. While rivalry between sibs occurs in all families, I will give special consideration to issues of rivalry within adoptive families. Let's beginning with the results of an interesting survey completed by families at parent.com and a working definition of sibling rivalry.

If your home sounds more like a battlefront than a park, you might be interested in the statistics cited by author Mary Ebejer, in her article, "Is Sibling Rivalry Just Another Name for LOVE." This author cites a recent poll taken at parent.com and includes the following statistics:

One-third of parents reported that the relationship between their children "shifts between truce and war."

Seven percent described their children as "the worst enemies"

Twenty-five percent admitted that relationships "occasionally get mean-spirited."

Only one-third reported that their children were best friends.

Readers who are currently parenting more than one child will probably not be surprised by these numbers. Indeed, the literature is filled with research and anecdotal accounts of the dramatic changes that occur when a new baby joins the family. Each child brings his/her own unique set of likes and dislikes and rivalries are bound to develop based on the children's individual temperaments and interests. Still, I think it would be fair to say that when adding a child/ren to the already existing family, adoptive families face challenges that those formed by birth do not. But you already knew that, right?

Sibling rivalry is certainly nothing new. In fact, sibling rivalry is one of humanity's oldest problems. One of the first stories in the Bible (the oldest book in Western civilization) deals with the rivalry between two brothers, Cain and Abel. The older brother, Cain, was irritated at constantly having to help take care of his younger brother, Abel, and kept asking his parents: "Am I my brother's keeper?" The story of these two brothers has a tragic ending; Cain becomes so angry that he kills Abel (and this, according to the Bible, was the first murder in history.) And while I am not worried that one of your children will kill his sib, the impact of sibling rivalry, for both the victim, the victimizer, and those who play both roles, can influence personality development and reverberate throughout our lives.

By "sibling rivalry" I mean the antagonism or hostility between brothers and/or sisters that plays itself out in the common fights that are unfortunately all too familiar. The fighting may be verbal or physical or a combination of both. Children fight over things big and small. What we need to figure out is what is behind or driving the ongoing and/or intense fight for the biggest cookie or sitting in the front seat, or getting to choose the book to read before bed...the list goes on and on.

It isn't difficult to find the root cause of sibling rivalry. Nature offers us many similar examples. The problem is basically one of competition for limited or scarce resources. In nature, the competition is usually for food; whenever there are two individuals or species that consume the same type of food in the same area (or habitat) they will fight with each other until one of them manages to kill or drive the other out, leaving the winner with the exclusive use of the food resources available in that area.

In nature there are some extreme cases of sibling rivalry. Baby sharks develop within the mother shark's womb and the biggest baby shark devours his brothers and sisters, ensuring for himself all of the available food resources.

In another example, eagles make their nests at great heights, in mountains or trees. The first baby eaglet that is born kills all of his sibling eaglets by pushing them out from the nest as they come out of their eggs. That way all the food that the mother eagle brings will be only for him.

A similar competition exists between siblings in human families. However, here the scarce resources are of a different nature. Our children compete for the TIME, ATTENTION, LOVE and APPROVAL that the parents have to give.

This is the first in a series of articles on sibling rivalry. While rivalry between sibs occurs in all families, I will give special consideration to issues of rivalry within adoptive families. Let's beginning with the results of an interesting survey completed by families at parent.com and a working definition of sibling rivalry.

If your home sounds more like a battlefront than a park, you might be interested in the statistics cited by author Mary Ebejer, in her article, "Is Sibling Rivalry Just Another Name for LOVE." This author cites a recent poll taken at parent.com and includes the following statistics:

One-third of parents reported that the relationship between their children "shifts between truce and war."

Seven percent described their children as "the worst enemies"

Twenty-five percent admitted that relationships "occasionally get mean-spirited."

Only one-third reported that their children were best friends.

Readers who are currently parenting more than one child will probably not be surprised by these numbers. Indeed, the literature is filled with research and anecdotal accounts of the dramatic changes that occur when a new baby joins the family. Each child brings his/her own unique set of likes and dislikes and rivalries are bound to develop based on the children's individual temperaments and interests. Still, I think it would be fair to say that when adding a child/ren to the already existing family, adoptive families face challenges that those formed by birth do not. But you already knew that, right?

Sibling rivalry is certainly nothing new. In fact, sibling rivalry is one of humanity's oldest problems. One of the first stories in the Bible (the oldest book in Western civilization) deals with the rivalry between two brothers, Cain and Abel. The older brother, Cain, was irritated at constantly having to help take care of his younger brother, Abel, and kept asking his parents: "Am I my brother's keeper?" The story of these two brothers has a tragic ending; Cain becomes so angry that he kills Abel (and this, according to the Bible, was the first murder in history.) And while I am not worried that one of your children will kill his sib, the impact of sibling rivalry, for both the victim, the victimizer, and those who play both roles, can influence personality development and reverberate throughout our lives.

By "sibling rivalry" I mean the antagonism or hostility between brothers and/or sisters that plays itself out in the common fights that are unfortunately all too familiar. The fighting may be verbal or physical or a combination of both. Children fight over things big and small. What we need to figure out is what is behind or driving the ongoing and/or intense fight for the biggest cookie or sitting in the front seat, or getting to choose the book to read before bed...the list goes on and on.

It isn't difficult to find the root cause of sibling rivalry. Nature offers us many similar examples. The problem is basically one of competition for limited or scarce resources. In nature, the competition is usually for food; whenever there are two individuals or species that consume the same type of food in the same area (or habitat) they will fight with each other until one of them manages to kill or drive the other out, leaving the winner with the exclusive use of the food resources available in that area.

In nature there are some extreme cases of sibling rivalry. Baby sharks develop within the mother shark's womb and the biggest baby shark devours his brothers and sisters, ensuring for himself all of the available food resources.

In another example, eagles make their nests at great heights, in mountains or trees. The first baby eaglet that is born kills all of his sibling eaglets by pushing them out from the nest as they come out of their eggs. That way all the food that the mother eagle brings will be only for him.

A similar competition exists between siblings in human families. However, here the scarce resources are of a different nature. Our children compete for the TIME, ATTENTION, LOVE and APPROVAL that the parents have to give.

Next month's article will focus on helping you get in touch with the feelings children experience in their rivalries with sibs. I will also offer an experiential activity to help you get in touch with how your child might be feelings.
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