Sibling rivalry seems to be a natural part of growing up. Most people remember fighting with their sisters or brothers at some point in their life, and most people overcome it as they age – keeping maybe a bit of the rivalry but otherwise becoming close relatives and friends over time.
Generally, sibling rivalry isn’t that damaging. It may even be healthy, as some men and women use that competitive spirit to stay motivated into adulthood. But in some cases that rivalry can become more damaging, and cause a level of stress and anxiety that can hurt your child’s development.
How to Tell the Difference Between Healthy Rivalry and Damaging Rivalry
People change so much from childhood to adulthood that there are few ways to definitively tell if the sibling rivalry you see will affect them as an adult. However, there are a few warning signs that should at least draw your attention, and from there you can decide whether you think your children need intervention. These include:
• No Breaks
Healthy rivalry is generally something that’s triggered. It may involve name calling and competition, but often there will be breaks in between the rivalry, giving the two a rest from the constant bickering. If it never appears to stop, and it spills over into everything they do and say (constantly trying to prove which of them is better at everything in life), it may be damaging.
• Uncontrollable Tattling
Those with an unhealthy rivalry may find that they cannot control the need to try to get there other sibling in trouble. This may be a sign that it has moved from competition (“I’m better than you at this”) to simply wanting the other person to be seen as less than them (“My brother/sister does everything wrong, and here’s another example”). If they cannot seem to try to take advantage of any opportunity to put down their sibling, that may also be a sign it’s going too far.
• Signs of Bullying
On a related note, there’s a difference between rivalry and bullying. If one sibling, especially, is doing everything they can to make the other sibling think less of themselves, that may have crossed the line to bullying. Pay attention not only to the way your child acts, but also the way your other child (or children) react. If they seem to show signs of being bullied, such as a feeling of weakness or helplessness, or even dependency (sibling bullying can have many of the same effects as spousal abuse, where one sibling feels like they need the other sibling), then the effects of the rivalry can be more damaging.
• When Stress and Anxiety Are Present
Sibling rivalry is often healthy when both children are otherwise psychologically healthy. If any of those children appear to be developing issues with stress and anxiety, it may be time to curb the amount of sibling rivalry taking place. Rivalry can further create stress and anxiety, and may cause problems in the future as your child learns to deal with these issues.
• Unprompted Hate
Finally, if your children appear to show hate or contempt without any signs of anger or remorse, it may be a problem as well. An example would be your child having no issues and showing no negative emotions when they say they hate their sibling to a relative or stranger. Most healthy sibling rivalries still have some degree of love, and while kids may share innocuous things like “He is so annoying” during downtime or “I hate her” when emotions are high, if the latter phrase is being shared during otherwise happy moments, it may be a sign that the rivalry has gone too far.
Sibling Rivalry and Stress
Much of who we are today was forged during our youth. While even the warning signs above do not guarantee that the rivalry they have now is going to cause any long term consequences with stress and anxiety, nor is the list above anywhere close to comprehensive, if you see any of the above issues it may be time to take greater notice of how your children interact. In some cases, you may find that it’s a good idea to intervene, and find a way to create a bond between them again.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera is someone that dealt with a lot of stress and anxiety in his own life as a result of his upbringing, which is why he created calmclinic to help others deal with their stress issues.