Ugh! Sibling rivalry sounds like such a bad term. What good can come from sibling rivalry? Well, actually, lots. While there are some famous accounts of bad sibling rivalry, think Cain and Abel from the Bible, siblings are the second most influential and important people in our lives.
At 12 months, Joey was enjoying being breast-fed by mama. While feeding, however, he noticed older brother Andy scampering across the room toward them. Andy came over and tickled his younger brother, who interrupted his lunch to squeal in delight. Later, while scooting on his hands and knees in pursuit of Andy, Joey stopped next to the couch, pulled himself up, and tentatively let go of the couch. With wobbly legs, he fought to balance himself and took several steps toward his brother before lowering himself back to the ground. Both his brother and mother clapped and gave him words of encouragement. Joey beamed after taking his first tentative steps, with much more to come.
Every parent revels with delight as their child takes their first steps. Those steps, however, might have been delayed for a while had Joey not felt a certain jealousy and sibling rivalry toward older brother Andy. Andy was his role model and both Andy and mama were his cheerleaders. The combination of role model and encouragement led to Joey’s momentous first steps. Of course, children without older siblings learn to walk as well, but usually a little bit later without the peer role model.
Sibling relationships have a “me-you-us” quality to them. As parents, we want to encourage our children’s individuality, parenting them accordingly. Developmental differences come into play as well. Usually, when parents have children who are less than 2 years apart, they are parented jointly and grow up as playmates. When the children are over 3 years apart, they often have different developmental needs. To avoid negative sibling rivalry, it’s important to encourage the older child to be helpful with the younger one. Children born in the no-man’s land of 2-3 years apart can have more contentious sibling rivalry. Because of sibling rivalry, younger children tend to reach milestones sooner than their older sibs did. Active listening, encouragement, and presenting options can promote positive sibling rivalry.