Understanding sibling rivalry

Many children often have one or more siblings in their families which can result in sibling rivalry. This may seem positive or negative. Understanding what kids can learn from sibling rivalry is important to them, as well as to their parents, other family members or teachers.       

What is sibling rivalry?

The freedictionary.com defines sibling rivalry as “competition between siblings for the love, affection and attention of one or both parents or for other recognition or gain.”

From a psychological perspective, the freedictionary.com also suggests that sibling rivalry can lead to the “Cain complex” which is further defined as “a complex characterized by rivalry, competition and extreme envy or jealousy of a brother, leading to hatred.”

Ideally, what kids can learn from sibling rivalry is rooted and grounded in love, not hate. Much of what kids learn has to do with child-oriented teaching by their parents, grandparents and others.

The most important thing that kids can learn from sibling rivalry is the reality of their parents’ unconditional love for them. In other words, their parents’ love for them does not depend on the absence of other siblings. Parents can and do love their other children too, sometimes, many of them.

As kids become increasingly aware of their parent’s different expressions of love for other siblings, it does not mean that the kids need to be, or become, fearful of the loss of parental love. Parents can express their love for other siblings in many different ways, but it does not necessarily negate their parental love for them.

It is normal for kids to recognize the reality that other siblings receive what may appear to be extra parental love associated with distinct age differences, particularly when privileges and age appear inter-related.  What is important is that each kid learns that at that same time in his or her life, he or she may experience that privilege also.

Kids can learn how the parental decision-making process works, simply by observing the example their parents set before them. They may also mimic their parents in different ways, as they learn how to play together and practice making decisions themselves. 

They can learn to love each other unconditionally too, regardless of how many siblings there are in a family, or an extended family, if guided to do so by their parents, grandparents and others.

Kids can also learn about positive and negative reward systems, simply by actively engaging in interaction with their other siblings. Having continual positive interaction with their siblings with a reward for everyone, reinforces the likelihood of siblings continuing to have positive interactions with each other in the future.

No two kids are exactly alike and, therefore, what they learn from sibling rivalry may differ as well. It is important that the learning process continues in a family, and also incorporates the learning process of all siblings in such a way that there is a peaceful, happy, family environment where everyone knows and understands the meaning of parental love, but also the reality of sibling rivalry and what it means.     

Kids can and do learn how to live and interact with their siblings in group settings, or on a community level, but ideally, this learning and motivation begins at home. As they grow older, this should extend even further resulting in increased awareness, compassion and love for others.