Sibling rivalry is one of the most common dynamics in family life. Dating all the way back to “The Beginning”, the earliest example recorded was that of the brothers Cain and Abel. In the biblical Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel are the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, each of his own produce, but God favored Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s.
Cain, jealous of his brother, then murdered Abel, whereupon God punished Cain to a life of wandering. Cain then dwelt in the land of Nod, where he built a city and fathered the line of descendants beginning with Enoch. The narrative never explicitly states Cain’s motive for murdering his brother, nor God’s reason for rejecting Cain’s sacrifice, nor details on the identity of Cain’s wife. Some traditional interpretations consider Cain to be the originator of evil, violence, or greed. According to the Book of Genesis, Cain was the first human born and Abel was the first to die. This might be considered an extreme example of sibling rivalry, but teaches us an important lesson: that we as parents and caregivers must learn to deal with the feelings and actions of siblings in a loving, productive manner. Otherwise, things can get out of hand really quick.
Sibling rivalry is defined as the competition between siblings, blood related or not, for the
attention, approval, and affection of their parents. This “competition” may also include
caregivers, other adult family members, teachers, and community leaders. Jealousy and
fighting among siblings is very common, and often starts after the arrival of the second child
in a family. This can continue through childhood, into adulthood, to the dismay and
frustration of many parents. Fortunately, though, this phase may not last forever. Many
siblings grow close in their relationships as adults. There are many ways to help children
express themselves positively, and to develop important skills like cooperation, and empathy.
There is no singular cause for sibling rivalry. It is a complex mix of personalities, wants, and
needs from several children, being handled by one or two adults at any given time. If you
have ever seen television programs that have dealt with sibling rivalry issues, like “The Brady
Bunch”, “Growing Pains”, or “Full House”, you may be nodding your head in agreement. “Ah, yes!” Those television shows may have been a little over the top at times, as they are for
entertainment. However, we all can certainly relate to the challenges in the relationships
that the family characters displayed with each other. There are several aspects of a family’s dynamics that may add to sibling rivalry. Also, there are many ways how to help promote harmony among siblings.
First, remember that each child is an individual being, and are looking to show the world who they are. They want to develop their own special talents, hobbies, and dreams.
This is especially true of multiples like twins, triplets, etc. Don’t favor one child over the other. Don’t compare apples to oranges, and don’t try to fit each child into a neat little box.
Embrace their individuality, what makes them uniquely “them”. Celebrate their
achievements and joys equally.
Children may feel that they are not receiving enough attention, either positive or negative,
from a parent or caregiver. They may have trouble getting a parent to respond to them as
they are accustomed to, especially after the addition of another child to the family.
Depending on where the child is in their developmental growth, can affect how they handle
being a big brother or sister, and learning to share time and attention with the parent and
Much like adults, if kids are bored, “hangry”, or need a nap, crankiness ensues and fights may begin. Try to head this off at the pass. Keep activities, easy snacks, and comfy lounge areas available. Trust me, it will save many headaches. The same goes for showing children how to be self-starters with activities. Enjoy more family time together, sharing meals, and fun learning experiences.
Children often fight more when aggression and fighting is perceived as normal and a good way to fix situations. Remember, children learn from many sources, but parents and
caregivers are the first examples. They watch and often copy the behaviors of adults. If there
is a lot of fighting, negative emotion and altercations, it’s really not a healthy situation for all
concerned. Counseling may be recommended for family members in order to find ways to
resolve conflicts positively.
Stress, in both the parents’ and children’s lives, can lead to less time spent together, and
more frustration overall. Make sure each child has their own time and space. They need
alone time, as well as time to spend with each parent one-on-one each day. Kids value the
time they get to spend with mom or dad, just to tell them about their day, and what’s going
on in their world. Listen closely and carefully to each child. They also need time to spend
with their friends.
Schedule regular family meetings. All members of a family should work together make
decisions that will affect the daily life of the family. Working together builds unity among the family, and bolsters trust and self-esteem. It is the perfect opportunity to share the successes and joys of each child. It is also a great time to develop positive social skills and attitudes.