SF Counseling Center

Sibling Rivalry: A Normal Crisis

“I lost my job the other day.  Well, it’s not that I lost my job, but when I got there, there was some other guy doing it.”    Comedian Bob “Bobcat” Goldthwait.

This quote captures the common and normal experience of sibling rivalry; a difficulty of the older sibling.  It was his/her place, to be the prince/princess, the center of attention.  Suddenly, there is someone else in his/her position.  And, by the way, this person seems to be getting an undue amount of attention, especially for someone/something that only eats, cries and poops!

Sibling Rivalry is a Normal Developmental Crisis

The birth of a sibling is the first developmental “crisis” many people face. For the younger sibling(s), “living up to” the older sibling has its difficulties.  In both cases, there is some combination of love, resentment, competition and camaraderie (along with potentially innumerable other feelings) that characterize this situation.  Undoubtedly, many of these feelings shift from time to time, and change over time.  However, in some cases, how this ‘crisis’ is dealt with can have a lasting impact for both (all) the siblings.   As parents, how we help the child negotiate sibling rivalry can have a lasting impact on his or her life, sibling and peer relations, and sense of self.

How Parents Can Help

Not to over-simplify, but let’s start with “what do kids need?”  Obviously, they need food, clothing and shelter.  But what else?  Well, all kids need to know that they are safe.  One of the main ways kids know they will be safe, is that they know their parents’ are very invested in them (see where I’m going?).

Attachment research shows us that children are much less anxious when they know the parent has a strong bond/investment in them.  Making sure the child knows they are special, finding ways to have ‘special time’ with each child alone, and with the children together.  The latter can be an opportunity to show the children that you value both of them, and show them how to share (your attention).  Helping the child to know they are special to you, and that you are very invested in them will help to reduce their anxiety, improve their sibling (and peer) relationships and help them maintain good self-esteem.