Sibling Rivalry: Surviving the Chaos


siblingGrowing up with a younger sister, I always knew that siblings had a very “special” relationship. I had friends with younger and older siblings who got along perfectly well. No arguing or fighting, and they actually WANTED to spend time together. I had no idea how that was even possible, considering my sister and I could barely stand one another. **Disclaimer: we are now the best of friends, but that didn’t come until much later.

I can remember my mom and dad getting so incredibly frustrated with the constant bickering, fighting, and yelling between my sister and me. Although it’s not totally clear, I do have visions of me just poking her to get a reaction. Sometimes it was all in good fun, and other times, I was purposely trying to get a rise out of her. And for those who know my sister, she has always been a little on the dramatic side so that made it even more fun for me. I also recall a video of the two of us where she was being so sweet and innocent, reading a book on camera, and I, being the obnoxious (probably jealous) older sister, walked behind her, gave her bunny ears, and tried to ruin the moment. I have no clue why I did that but watching it made me cringe. 

Jump ahead, thirty-something years later, and I now have my own version of my sister and I, except a little closer together in age and opposite genders. They are 4.5 and 3.5, and the last six months have proven to be the hardest, particularly due to this sibling rivalry. My primary job nowadays is referee (someone go ahead and get me a striped shirt and whistle, please!) because I feel like all I do is monitor, break up and diffuse both physical and verbal attacks on one another. When you take one child individually, they are an angel and so mild-mannered. But literally, the moment they are in the same vicinity again, all hell breaks loose, and the bantering begins again. I know this is normal for siblings, but seriously are there siblings out there who never went through this? 

Looking at it from the other side, having a sibling can teach a child about cooperation, compromise, how to read social cues, how to defend oneself, teamwork, and various other crucial skills that are helpful and necessary to becoming a well-rounded young adult. I often have to remind myself that during those times of heightened conflict, yelling matches, and even wrestling and physical fighting, my kids are learning skills that others may not have the opportunity to experience until much later in life. Lately, I have been trying to intervene less so they can learn how to problem solve and figure things out on their own. Of course, there are times when an adult needs to step in and de-escalate the situation, but I try to let it go as often as possible. 

The science behind it is a mixed review of biological and inherent traits, partnered with birth order theories. Then, sprinkle in a shared environment and constant competition for attention, and we’ve created a prime-time situation for sibling rivalry to thrive. So what do we do? How do we parents survive this wild roller coaster when siblings are constantly at each other’s throats? This article gives some helpful suggestions as to what parents can do to foster a positive sibling relationship. One of the most important things we, as parents, can do is to give our kids one-on-one time regularly and consistently (whenever possible–trust me, I know life is crazy) so each child can be the focal point of our attention. My husband keeps reminding me that what we are doing right now won’t pay off for years to come, but when you are in the moment trying to break up a fight or keep your kids from annihilating each other, it’s difficult to see that. Bottom line: siblings are going to fight, and parents we just need to survive it.