Category : FAMILY

We all know – or have had experience of – sibling rivalry. But can it be taken too far?

A sibling, characterised by sharing at least one parent with another person, can be a brother if male and a sister if female. An only child, on the other hand, lacks siblings. While certain circumstances may lead to siblings being raised separately, the norm in most societies is for siblings to grow up together, forming one of the long-lasting relationships in an individual’s life.

Living together for most or all of the time, siblings are presented with numerous opportunities to engage in shared activities such as hanging out, playing games and sports, participating in mealtimes, and celebrating achievements and holidays. Some children spend more time with their siblings than with friends, parents, or even alone. This extensive time together creates a shared history and familiarity that may not be present in other relationships, fostering a strong bond.

Moreover, siblings often are vital sources of support, love, and companionship throughout a person’s lifespan. Growing up together ensures frequent contact, allowing siblings to learn intimately about each other’s quirks, concerns, and joys. Some of life’s happiest moments and laughter are often shared with siblings. However, these relationships can also be a source of tremendous frustration and anger, emotions not typically encountered in other connections. The deep familiarity shared among siblings can lead to tension and the expression of aggressive behaviours, scenarios less likely in friendships or parent-child relationships.

Unlike friendships, sibling relationships during childhood and adolescence involve fewer choices about continuation or termination. In a friendship, if two individuals are not getting along, one may decide to move on from the relationship. This dynamic is less applicable to siblings, sometimes leaving children stuck with their brother or sister. However, this seemingly obligatory connection can offer the freedom to explore diverse ways of interacting with another person, serving as a testing ground with less concern about jeopardising the relationship.

Continuing from the exploration of sibling relationships, it’s essential to acknowledge that despite being a common form of family violence, sibling bullying often goes unnoticed and is perceived as harmless by both families and society. In contrast to peer bullying or other forms of family violence like inter-partner violence, child abuse, and elder abuse, sibling bullying has not received as much attention in research.

Recent studies have delved into the impact of negative family dynamics, including sibling rivalry, interparental hostility, and parental hostility, on young adults’ well-being. The research revealed that heightened levels of sibling rivalry and interparental hostility were linked to an increased likelihood of experiencing sibling bullying. This, in turn, was associated with adverse effects on young adults’ sense of competence, self-esteem, life satisfaction, and increased internalised problems.

Interestingly, parents’ hostile behaviour toward their children did not directly correlate with sibling bullying but were negatively associated with the well-being of individuals entering early adulthood (Plamondon et al., 2021). Another study found that children frequently bullied by their siblings were approximately twice as likely to experience depression, self-harm, and anxiety compared to those not subjected to sibling bullying (Bowes, L et al., 2014).

Despite the seemingly innocuous nature of fights and insults between siblings, it’s crucial to recognise that such behaviours can indeed be perceived as bullying by the children involved. Consequently, adopting strategies to handle sibling rivalry with care becomes imperative. To prevent any detrimental effects, both parents and society must play a role in implementing these strategies. Recognising the uniqueness of each child is paramount, avoiding comparisons that may elevate one child at the expense of the other. Constructive praise and acknowledgement of achievements should be balanced to ensure no child feels inferior. Phrases that demean one child in comparison to another should be avoided.

Moreover, emphasising love and value for all children, regardless of individual achievements, is crucial for fostering a healthy family dynamic. Celebrating happy events, such as awards, should be inclusive, ensuring each child feels recognised and appreciated and preventing feelings of exclusion or inadequacy. We can create a supportive and positive environment within sibling relationships by implementing these strategies.

Building on the complexities of sibling relationships and their potential impact on well-being, it is crucial to recognise and respect each child’s individuality and interests. Pressuring a child to follow in their sibling’s footsteps risks stifling their unique talents and identity. Encouraging and supporting diverse interests, as long as they are harmless, fosters an environment where children feel equally loved and valued by their parents.

As siblings grow older, hormonal and physical changes may lead to preferences for solitude, potentially causing isolation and interference in sibling relationships. Mothers play a vital role in understanding and managing these changes, ensuring they do not create rifts but instead cultivate mutual respect and personal space. Instances where one child requires more attention for medical or academic reasons demand careful handling by parents. Balancing attention while involving all children in family activities and responsibilities fosters a sense of value and prevents biases based on age.

However, maintaining respect for elder siblings is crucial amid efforts to achieve equality among siblings. The risk of fostering hostility and eroding respect for the value system must be vigilantly addressed. Acknowledging the hierarchical roles within sibling relationships, where the older one is often expected to be more responsible, helps strike a balance. While the elder sibling may have more experience, treating their mistakes with care and understanding is essential, avoiding unnecessary criticism.

Failure to implement these strategies from childhood increases the likelihood of sibling rivalry persisting into adulthood. Childhood incidents become deeply ingrained in the subconscious, complicating recovery and perpetuating negative feelings even after many years. This strains family unity and can become a significant reason for severed ties and strained kinship. Thus, proactive and thoughtful measures from an early age are essential for fostering positive, lasting sibling relationships that contribute to overall family well-being.

In conclusion, the intricate tapestry of sibling relationships demands careful attention and nurturing to avoid the detrimental consequences of rivalry. Understanding and embracing the uniqueness of each child, fostering individual interests, and steering clear of comparisons are foundational to promoting a harmonious environment. Acknowledging the evolving dynamics as siblings age, especially during adolescence, encourages mutual respect and develops personal space. The lesson drawn from this exploration is clear: by championing individuality, embracing evolving dynamics, and promoting an ethos of mutual respect, families can weave a strong fabric of unity, reducing the risk of sibling rivalry. Fostering a supportive and inclusive environment lays the foundation for lifelong bonds, reinforcing the idea that in the family journey, understanding and respect triumph over discord and rivalry.

References :

McHale, S. M, Updegraff, K. A., & Whiteman, S. D. (2013). Sibling relationships. In G. W. Peterson & K. R. Bush (Eds.) Handbook of Marriage and the Family (pp. 329-351). Springer.

Tucker, C. J., Whitworth, T. R., & Finkelhor, D. (2023). Recommendations for parents on managing sibling conflict and aggression (SAARA Bulletin #2). Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire. Retrieved from

Plamondon, A., Bouchard, G., & Lachance-Grzela, M. (2021). Family Dynamics and Young Adults’ Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Sibling Bullying. Journal of interpersonal violence, 36(9-10), NP5362–NP5384.

Bowes, L., Wolke, D., Joinson, C., Lereya, S. T., & Lewis, G. (2014). Sibling bullying and risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm: a prospective cohort study. Pediatrics, 134(4), e1032–e1039.

Sibling rivalry is normal — but is it helpful or harmful? (2022). Harvard Health Publishing


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