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How Common Is Sibling Rivalry?

This blog post seeks to answer the question, “How common is sibling rivalry?” It explores the signs, causes, and facts of sibling rivalry. The article also helps you gain insights into adult sibling rivalry and its signs. Finally, it enumerates ways to manage sibling rivalry. 

How Common Is Sibling Rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is quite common and expected. It is seen in almost all families with at least two children. The occurrence of families with children who are always nice to each other is relatively infrequent. The harder the parents try to intervene and “control” sibling rivalry, the worse things can get. 

With that said, just because it is common does not mean it is healthy. Numerically speaking, sibling rivalry is normal. Because of these figures, parents tend to think it is inevitable. In almost every household, siblings fight, but sibling arguments are different from sibling rivalry.

Before understanding why sibling rivalry is unhealthy, let us know more about the phenomenon. 

Signs of Sibling Rivalry

The following is a list of warning signs that enables parents to recognize sibling rivalry and when their competitiveness is too severe.

  • Causes of Fights
  • Love
  • Converse
  • Escalation    

Causes of Fights

Do you have to intervene every time your children fight, or do they resolve it independently? Do your children spend more time being companions or fighting over something? If there is no specific cause over which they argue, but their fights keep getting worse, it may indicate something problematic. You may need to give them time away from each other or keep them distracted.

Love

Do they only fight or show love for each other as well? If they do the latter, it is indicative of a normal and healthy sibling relationship. 

Converse

It is easy and rather tempting to lash out at your children and discipline them without hearing any explanations or “He/she started it.” However, having a conversation with your children may provide essential information and context to identify and address any serious issues. You need to talk to them more so when there is a grave problem at play. 

Remember not to have a conversation immediately after the fight, as their judgment and ability to reason will be clouded because of the overwhelming emotions. Allow them to cool off for a while. When you talk to them, listen to them keenly and consider what they have to say to understand what you can do next. 

Escalation

One sibling might hit the other one day, and the other might retaliate with even more violence the next day. Children do not understand what is proportionate when it comes to reacting to someone, and hence, tend to overreact. In case of such consistent escalation in reaction, parents must intervene. 

Causes of Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry typically develops over a period and is commonly attributable to family atmosphere and dynamics. Often, parents feel sibling rivalry is unavoidable due to its ubiquity, but it is not the case. The following is a list of sibling rivalry causes, which allows parents to be more informed and decide how to tackle them.

  • Inequality
  • Attention
  • Developmental Differences
  • Parents’ Stress
  • Parents’ Attitude
  • Difference in Preferences
  • Perceived Lack of Alternatives
  • Dependence

Inequality

Children sometimes sense partialism while receiving love, praise, care, and even discipline from their parents. If they feel such disproportionality exists, they may become jealous of their siblings and act out in unhealthy ways, such as sibling rivalry. Parents may intentionally express favoritism but may do so unconsciously as one child may be more dependent on them than the other, or the child may remind them of someone they like. 

To avoid sibling rivalry, parents must reflect on how they feel about and behave with each child. Such regulation of feelings and behaviors will allow them to treat their children equally. 

Attention

In cases where there is a new child in the family, the existing children at home might start receiving less attention. They may feel threatened by the new member, start resenting the child, fear losing their parents’ love and affection, and get easily upset. All of these factors may contribute to the development of sibling rivalry. 

Instead of reprimanding children for feeling insecure, parents must acknowledge and validate their children’s emotions regarding a new sibling. 

Developmental Differences

Children develop at different rates both in relation to their peers as well as siblings. However, children are usually unaware of this differential development. They quickly get dejected when they cannot do something that their siblings do. 

Parents must spend time alone with their children and engage in age-appropriate activities to help their children feel better about themselves and develop the patience to grow up. 

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Parents’ Stress

When parents are excessively stressed, they find it challenging to intervene and deal with sibling conflicts effectively. Instead, they resort to ignoring the rivalry or lash out at their children. Doing so is detrimental in the long run. It reinforces and solidifies sibling rivalry, which is counterproductive as it makes it even more difficult for parents to make their children get along.

Parents’ Attitude

Children view their parents as role models and imitate their behaviors in various ways and from a young age. They learn by observing their parents or primary caregivers. Therefore, aggressive, forceful, or hostile parents foster children who copy these behaviors, and the expedient way of enacting them is through sibling rivalry. 

Perceived Lack of Alternatives

Often, children do not know how to spend their time because parents might not engage them in activities frequently. Because of this, they are not equipped to think of playing with their sibling or pursuing something together when boredom hits. Instead, they simply start fighting. 

Therefore, when parents encourage their children to foster healthy habits, partake in fun activities with them, and suggest them to do innovative things instead of fighting, they might not participate in sibling rivalry. 

Difference in Preferences

As children grow, they form separate desires, beliefs, and preferences. If sibling rivalry is present in a family, children might ridicule each other for such differences. However, it can be prevented when parents reassure their children and make them feel respected, heard, and valued. The first step to do so is becoming aware of sibling relationships. 

Dependence

Children are dependent creatures as their needs are met by someone apart from themselves. They cannot satiate their necessities, such as hunger, thirst, and sleep, on their own. If the parents cannot help their children fulfill their needs, their children cope with it in maladaptive ways, including sibling rivalry. In such a case of unmet needs, parents have a lot more to be concerned about than just sibling rivalry. 

Sibling Rivalry Facts

Here are a few sibling rivalry facts.

  • Families in which children perceive being treated equally, respectfully, and like their words are valued have low sibling rivalry rates.
  • The occurrence of sibling rivalry is more common among sibships of the same gender. 
  • One study identified a difference between the way parents view the relationship between their children and the way children do. These researchers found that children view their sibling relationships more positively than their parents do.

What Is Adult Sibling Rivalry?

Sibling rivalry may intensify over time and carry into adulthood. Adult sibling rivalry is a common occurrence and involves adult siblings arguing and struggling to get along. Sometimes, it even leads to sibling estrangement

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Signs of Adult Sibling Rivalry

The following is a list of signs indicative of sibling rivalry in adults. These signs are subtler than seen in children and, therefore, challenging to identify.

  • Unable to let go of the sibling’s past mistakes;
  • Excessively competitive even as adults;
  • Continually telling people how difficult it was to grow up with their sibling;
  • Overthinking the causes of their rivalry;
  • Extreme feelings of jealousy;
  • Always trying to one-up each other;
  • Living in the past, unwilling to recognize each other as adults, and continue to view each other as children;
  • Addressing and treating them as their rival or enemy; and
  • Minimizing the sibling relationship while praising other relationships, including friendships and romantic relationships.

Management of Sibling Rivalry

Apart from the suggestions mentioned with the causes of sibling rivalry, the following is a list of recommendations for approprsibling rivalry managementvalry.

  • Avoid comparing your children with each other. For example, do not utter words along the lines of “why do you not study as well your sibling does?”
  • Understand the difference between being fair and equal. With age comes varying responsibilities, and if children understand this difference, they will cope better. You may genuinely try to treat them equally, but children still might feel that they are not receiving a fair quota of discipline, care, attention, and openness. It is good to expect such perceptions, and so, take time to explain your decisions to your children and convey to them that you are doing your best to be there for each of them.
  • Be aware of the time the conflicts arise or any other themes or patterns pertinent to them. Do fights tend to occur during playtime or during meals or any additional time?
  • Encourage companionship and cooperation and discourage competition. For instance, when tidying up, ask your children to compete with time rather than each other.
  • Ensure each child gets alone time. They need to experience independence in terms of friends, space, and even objects.
  • Enable your children to equip themselves with skills to handle conflicts with their peers.
  • Sometimes, sibling rivalry arises from an effort to get each other’s attention. Encourage more adaptive ways to do so. Teach them how to share their toys and possessions and approach other children when they want to play. 
  • Acknowledge and appreciate each of your children’s distinctive set of talents, skills, and accomplishments.
  • Allow each child to be themselves without trying to put them into boxes or label them.
  • Encourage family time and organize activities that everybody wants to partake in as this not only fosters a sense of community but also distracts them from entering into conflicts. 

Conclusion

This blog post explored the question, “How common is sibling rivalry?” It described the signs, causes, and facts of sibling rivalry. The article helped in the understanding of adult sibling rivalry and its signs. Finally, it enumerated ways to manage sibling rivalry. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How Common Is Sibling Rivalry?

How normal is sibling rivalry?

Siblings fighting with each other is quite normal. However, sibling rivalry can be problematic at high rates and is common among children without much age game and those of the same gender. It is lower among children who perceive respect and equal treatment from their parents. 

What are the repercussions of sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry can lead to depression, intense anger, anxiety, and even resentment in adulthood as this phenomenon involves mental and physical violence, which can traumatize the children. It is said that sibling rivalry is worse and more harmful than bullying. 

How many Americans have siblings?

Almost 80% of Americans have a minimum of one sibling. Today, there is a higher chance of people growing up with a sibling than a father. 

How frequently do siblings fight?

Siblings are known to fight three and a half times per hour, on average. This figure is equivalent to ten minutes of each hour. Children are more likely to utter negative words and express control over their siblings than friends.

What we recommend for Relationship & LGBTQ issues

Relationship counselling

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If you are dealing with LGBTQ issues then LGBTQ counselling may be a great option for you. Maybe you are confused as to your role and identity or simply need someone to speak to. LGBTQ counsellors are specially trained to assist you in this regard.

References

Kalman, I. (2013, August 05). The Myth of the “Normal” Sibling Rivalry. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/resilience-bullying/201308/the-myth-the-normal-sibling-rivalry#:~:text=Statistically%2C%20sibling%20rivalry%20is%20indeed,is%20also%20a%20stubborn%20problem.  

Laule, S. (2017, March). Sibling Rivalry. C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Retrieved from https://www.mottchildren.org/posts/your-child/sibling-rivalry.  

Oelze, P. (2019, January 01). Is Sibling Rivalry Normal and Healthy? BetterHelp. Retrieved from https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/family/is-sibling-rivalry-normal-and-healthy/.  

Parenting NI. (2019, January 11). Sibling Rivalry – How much is too much? Retrieved from https://www.parentingni.org/blog/sibling-rivalry-how-much-is-too-much/.  

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Sara Quitlag is an Applied Psychologist, with a deep interest in psychopathology and neuropsychology and how psychology impacts and permeates every aspect of our environment. She has worked in Clinical settings (as Special Ed. Counselor, CBT Therapist) and has contributed at local Universities as a Faculty member from time to time. She has a graduate degree in English Literature and feels very connected to how literature and psychology interact. She feels accountable and passionate about making a "QUALITY" contribution to the overall global reform and well-being. She actively seeks out opportunities where she can spread awareness and make a positive difference across the globe for the welfare of our global society.