“You always treat him better than me”, “Of course, since she’s your favourite”, “I haven’t done anything to him, he’s the one who annoys me all the time”… One of the things that turns the task of raising more than one child in a difficult task is the emergence of sibling rivalry.
Although it can be seen as an insignificant phenomenon, the truth is that it can have serious consequences. Especially if it involves violent behavior. Studies suggest that 4% of children and adolescents are severely victimized by their siblings. Fraternal violence is associated with serious problems such as depression, anxiety, the presence of aggression and delinquency.
It doesn’t have to be inevitable
Conflicts between siblings are more frequent in families where there are patterns of violence or hostile communication. Human beings are born with a predisposition to imitate. This tendency is greater when we are children. If children see adults who are hostile or aggressive, they are more likely to behave in the same way.
Age is also an important factor. Greater sibling rivalry appears when the age difference between them is less than 2 years. During the first two years of life, attachment formation takes place. The emotional bond that allows us to feel safe to explore the world and develop.
An opportunity if we know how to take advantage of it
The development of a secure attachment requires a caregiver who consistently attends to the needs of the child. The birth of a sibling during this stage can make it difficult for the parents to carry out this care and for the older sibling to see the little one as a competitor.
The lack of time dedicated to the children, parental stress and the perception of low self-efficacy of the parents have been associated with greater conflict between siblings. Having a sibling is a fantastic opportunity to train social skills, provide support, and learn to resolve conflicts. But developing these skills requires adults to serve as role models and provide strategies.
An affectionate and coherent education
Children need to know and feel that they are going to receive material and emotional care from their family. When a new member comes along, they need to notice that they are still just as important. But this can be difficult when a baby that requires a lot of care comes along.
Siblings with higher-quality relationships have parents who are loving and use consistent rules. More important than what we say is what we do. It is of little use that we tell our daughter not to yell at her little sister, if we do it with her father.
Helping them develop empathic skills will help them end up resolving conflicts between them. Although the process can begin earlier, it is from the age of 6–7 that children begin to be able to consistently put themselves in the other’s shoes.
Once the initial anger phase has passed because the little one accidentally damaged his favorite toy, we can talk to the older one and explain to him that the little one did not think that it was going to be damaged by putting it in the bathtub.
“Do you remember when you closed the door last week and your little brother was coming up behind him and got hit? You didn’t want to hurt him, sometimes we accidentally mess up.”
quality time separately
The time parents spend with their children is associated with less conflict between siblings.
Sometimes we can pay more attention to the one who complains the most or to the one who we consider presents the most difficulties. However, there may be implicit needs that are being overlooked. Favoring fluid communication with individual times with each brother will allow us to strengthen the bond and better detect the needs of each one.
Listening and validating the emotion does not mean validating a behavior. Of course, we will understand and validate that the older one is angry because the middle one browses her closet, but in no way will we accept violent behavior towards him. Making it clear to them that violence is unacceptable is vitally important.
Comparisons increase the feeling that there is “a favorite” and undermine self-esteem. We can favor the opposite by highlighting proud and assertive behaviors of one brother towards the other. “Your sister was telling her friends that you are the best brother because you healed her wound when she fell off her bike.” “Your brother loves you very much. When you started to walk, he gave you his little hand so you wouldn’t fall.
It is also in our power to promote activities that they can carry out together, although adapted to their age. Allowing the eldest to help care for the little one favors her union, but forcing him to do so can have the opposite effect.
The older sibling can be a safe base to explore and support the little ones in stressful situations. But he is not a father, and he should not be allowed to take on this role. He cannot issue rules, nor impose punishments. The roles must be clear and differentiated.
An investment for life
Taking note of some strategies and carefully so that each child feels that they have their space in the family, it is possible to promote a healthy relationship between siblings. In addition to setting an example with our way of resolving conflicts and our parental style.
Although we may think that fights between siblings are normal and even healthy, the truth is that getting children to establish a balanced bond and know how to understand and support each other helps not only to improve family life, but also to have a better relationship as adults and greater emotional well-being for life.