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Quibbling Siblings: How to Defuse The Rivalry (Part I)

Let’s play a little word association game. Read a word below and  mad-kids say the first word that pops into your mind:

                  dog...                           cat?

                  wedding...                 cake? dress?

                  colour...                     red?

                  horse...                      buggy?

                  sibling...                    rivalry!

Sibling rivalry has existed as long as we’ve had siblings! In Biblical times we had Cain and Abel, and Joseph with his brother problems. In children’s stories we have Cinderella and the evil stepsisters. It seems that rivalry naturally follows the word sibling despite the fact that there are many solid sibling relationships within families.

Conflict between siblings isn’t unique to humans either. It happens in just about every animal species that raises several young at the same time although human children don’t usually have to compete with each other for the basics of life - food, shelter, water. It seems they are compelled to compete over other things.

Sibling bickering can suck more joy out of parenting than probably any other aspect of child raising and this post is about dealing with 'Quibbling Siblings.'

The beginnings of sibling rivalry can occur as soon as the new baby is introduced to the older child. Up until this moment, the older child was on the receiving end of all the good stuff from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Then, all of a sudden, WHAM! He/she has to share the limelight and many are not pleased with this. The older one may say he loves his new brother or sister but it won’t be very long before he may say “it’s time to send them back”. At best, he becomes ambivalent and at worst, he really begins to resent the intrusion into his perfect little world

The experts say it is wise for parents to:

Recognize and acknowledge these not-so-nice feelings in the older child

- both love and resentment can exist within the same big brother or sister

- sometimes one of those feelings rules and sometimes the other

- we should send a message that those feelings are OK - but bad

behaviour directed at the younger one isn’t OK

- those bad feelings sometimes are legitimate, normal and expected

Spend separate special and significant one-on-one time with the older sibling as

frequently as possible. It will not be as much as before but most kids can accept this.


However, little babies become bigger babies. They go from being cute, sleeping, smiling, noise makers who simply intrude on 'Big Sibs' time to being able to crawl and walk and get into the bigger one’s stuff. When they begin to break things, bug him/her and just generally be a pain the the behind to the older one, it can get chaotic.

The 'perfect world' that used to exist is slipping away for Big Sib! They're thinking:

- “I can’t control mom and dad the way I used to!”

- “I can’t control this Little Sib the way I want to!”

- “I can’t control my world the way I think I would like to!”

- “This little intrusion is causing my world to go in a direction I do not want it go!”


Developmental Stages


Stanley Greeenspan,  a famous child psychiatrist in the US , is quoted as saying, “Human development is fundamentally social and it proceeds through relationships”. The primary relationships leading to this development occur in the context of family.

In order for a people to develop in a healthy way, the  capacity to form relationships must change from predominately a “baby self” to a “mature self”. A young child displays a very dominant “baby self” and very little “mature self”. As one gets older the balance hopefully begins to swing to the other side and this in essence is what growing up is all about.

Our “baby selves” are:

- self-centered

- minimal self control

- tolerate very little stress

- express our discomfort in very selfish ways

“Baby selves” are what little children are made of - we expect it, it is good, they are cuddly, affectionate and warm and we parents like very much children’s “baby self”. Living within a family is a safe place to express our “baby selves”.

However, as a child grows, if he is going to make it in this world he needs to move from the baby self to the mature self.

Our "mature selves" consist of:

- higher level of functioning

- more patience, self control

- an ablility to delay gratification

- ability to handle stress better

- ability to deal with disappointment better

Being in the world outside the family encourages mature self behaviour.

Moving from “baby self” to “mature self” is a developmental process that takes years to pass through and in fact not all people pass to a fully formed “mature self”, but that should be a goal for every parent to help his child move towards “mature self”.

In families with more than one child it is normal  for a child’s “baby self” to clash with the siblings. As they get older and move towards adulthood most will behave in a more mature manner and get along well with their adult siblings (although not all families reach this point).

If Stanley Greenspan’s assessment is right, then one of the primary functions of family is to provide relationships with which to experiment and learn and grow. In order for children to learn how to solve problems, they must practice solving problems and brothers and sisters play a major part in this process. So from the developmental perspective, sibling quibbling, rivalry and squabbles are a good thing.

From a tired, frustrated, and exhausted parent’s perspective however, it seldom seems good - but believe that very good things can come from sibling troubles. This, of course, does not mean we should actively encourage sibling problems and, in fact, it is through our wise handling of these problems that our children develop healthy behaviours.


Stay tuned for Part II of Quibbling Siblings, and learn the wise ways to approach and abolish sibling rivalry!

Posted by Rick Harper in Parent, General ← Previous Post Next Post →

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