Sibling rivalry is a type of competition or animosity among siblings, whether blood related or not.
Siblings generally spend more time together during childhood than they do with parents. The sibling bond is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as parental treatment, birth order, personality, and people and experiences outside the family. Sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age and of the same gender, or where one child is intellectually gifted.
Throughout the lifespan
According to observational studies by Judy Dunn, children are sensitive from the age of one year to differences in parental treatment. From 18 months on siblings can understand family rules and know how to comfort and be kind to each other. By 3 years old, children have a sophisticated grasp of social rules, can evaluate themselves in relation to their siblings, and know how to adapt to circumstances within the family.
Sibling rivalry often continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to parents. Adolescents fight for the same reasons younger children fight, but they are better equipped physically and intellectually to hurt and be hurt by each other. Physical and emotional changes cause pressures in the teenage years, as do changing relationships with parents and friends. Fighting with siblings as a way to get parental attention may increase in adolescence. One study found that the age group 10 to 15 reported the highest level of competition between siblings
Sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood and sibling relationships can change dramatically over the years. Events such as a parent’s illness may bring siblings closer together, whereas marriage may drive them apart, particularly if the in-law relationship is strained. Approximately one-third of adults describe their relationship with siblings as rivalrous or distant. However, rivalry often lessens over time. At least 80 percent of siblings over age 60 enjoy close ties.
According to Kyla Boyse from the University of Michigan, each child in a family competes to define who they are as individuals and want to show that they are separate from their siblings. Children may feel they are getting unequal amounts of their parents’ attention, discipline, and responsiveness. Children fight more in families where there is no understanding that fighting is not an acceptable way to resolve conflicts, and no alternative ways of handling such conflicts. Stress in the parents’ and children’s lives can create more conflict and increase sibling rivalry.
Other psychological approaches
Alfred Adler saw siblings as "striving for significance" within the family and felt that birth order was an important aspect of personality development. In fact, psychologists and researchers today endorse the influence of birth order, as well as age and gender constellations, on sibling relationships. However, parents are seen as capable of having an important influence on whether they are competitive or not.
David Levy introduced the term "sibling rivalry" in 1941, claiming that for an older sibling "the aggressive response to the new baby is so typical that it is safe to say it is a common feature of family life." Researchers today generally endorse this view, noting that parents can ameliorate this response by being vigilant to favoritism and by taking appropriate preventative steps. In fact, say researchers, the ideal time to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of supportive relationships between siblings is during the months prior to the new baby's arrival.
Parents can reduce the opportunity for rivalry by refusing to compare or typecast their children, planning fun family activities together, and making sure each child has enough time and space of their own. They can also give each child individual attention, encourage teamwork, refuse to hold up one child as a role model for the others, and avoid favoritism. Teaching the children positive ways to ask for attention from parents when they need it can also make it less likely that they will resort to aggressive attention-getting strategies. Eileen Eileen Kennedy-Moore notes that this remedy also requires that parents "catch children being good" by responding to children's kind, helpful, and creative bids for attention.
However, according to Sylvia Rimm, although sibling rivalry can be reduced it is unlikely to be entirely eliminated. In moderate doses, rivalry may be a healthy indication that each child is assertive enough to express his or her differences with other siblings.
Weihe suggests that four criteria should be used to determine if questionable behavior is rivalry or sibling abuse. First, one must determine if the questionable behavior is age appropriate: e.g., children use different conflict-resolution tactics during various developmental stages. Second, one must determine if the behavior is an isolated incident or part of an enduring pattern: abuse is, by definition, a long-term pattern rather than occasional disagreements. Third, one must determine if there is an "aspect of victimization" to the behavior: rivalry tends to be incident-specific, reciprocal and obvious to others, while abuse is characterized by secrecy and an imbalance of power. Fourth, one must determine the goal of the questionable behavior: the goal of abuse tends to be embarrassment or domination of the victim.
Sibling rivalry is common among various animal species, in the form of competition for food and parental attention. An extreme type of sibling rivalry occurs when young animals kill their siblings. For example, a black eagle mother lays two eggs, and the first-hatched chick pecks the younger one to death within the first few days. In the blue-footed booby, there is always the emergence of a brood hierarchy. The dominant chick will attack the subordinate one in times of food scarcity, often pecking it repeatedly or driving it from the nest. Among spotted hyenas, sibling competition begins as soon as the second pup is born, and 25% of pups are killed by their siblings. (see: Siblicide)
Famous sibling rivalry instances
The Book of Genesis in the Bible contains several examples of sibling rivalry: the story of Cain and Abel tells of one brother's jealousy after God appears to favour his sibling, and the jealousy ultimately leads to murder. Jacob tricks his brother Esau out of his inheritance; sisters Leah and Rachel compete for the love of Jacob; Joseph's brothers are so jealous that they effectively sell him into slavery.
A number of Shakespeare's plays display the incidences of sibling rivalry. King Lear provokes rivalry among his three daughters by asking them to describe their love for him; in the same play, Edmund contrives to force his half-brother Edgar into exile. In The Taming of the Shrew, sisters Kate and Bianca are shown fighting bitterly. In Richard III, the title character is at least partially motivated by rivalry with his brother, King Edward. In As You Like It, there is obvious sibling rivalry and antagonism between Orlando and Oliver, and also between Duke Frederick and Duke Senior.
In film and television
Sibling rivalry is a common theme in media that features child characters, reflecting the importance of this issue in early life. These issues can include jealousy on the birth of a new baby, different sibling roles, frequent arguments, competitiveness for mother's affection, and tensions between step-siblings.
Adult siblings can also be portrayed with a rivalrous relationship, often a continuation of childhood conflicts. Situation comedies exploit this to comic effect. Sibling relationships may be shown as alternately loving and argumentative. Brothers or sisters in a similar line of work may display professional rivalry . In serious drama, conflict between siblings can be fatal.
Real-life siblings in the media
Occasionally real life instances of sibling rivalry are publicized in the mass media. Siblings who play the same sport will often be compared with each other; for example, American football players Peyton and Eli Manning, or tennis players Venus and Serena Williams. Musicians Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis are portrayed as having a turbulent relationship, similar to that of Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks.
Actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine had an uneasy relationship from childhood and in 1975 the sisters stopped speaking to each other completely. The incredibly popular singing Andrews Sisters maintained professional harmony in show business for more than 30 years, but clashed famously in their personal lives (after LaVerne's death in 1967, Patty and Maxene stopped speaking in 1975 and never looked back). The rivalry between singers Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle is often talked about in the Indian media, in spite of their insistence that these are just tales. Twin sisters and advice columnists Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren had a relationship that was alternately very close and publicly antagonistic. Journalists Christopher and Peter Hitchens had many public disagreements and at least one protracted falling-out due to their differing political and religious views. Singing siblings Michael and Janet Jackson, are often compared as well as the rest of the Jackson family. Australian pop star sisters Dannii and Kylie Minogue are often compared in the British and Australian press and public. In India, business magnate brothers Anil Ambani and Mukesh Ambani had a bitter rivalry after the death of their father Dhirubhai Ambani since 2002.
- Adult Sibling Rivalry Jane Mersky Leder, Psychology Today, Publication Date: Jan/Feb 93, Last Reviewed: 30 Aug 2004
- The Effects of Sibling Competition Syliva B. Rimm, Educational Assessment Service, 2002.
- Sibling Rivalry University of Michigan Health System, June 2009
- Living With Your Teenager: Dealing With Sibling Rivalry Donna Rae Jacobson, North Dakota State University, July 1995
- Sibling Rivalry in Degree and Dimensions Across the Lifespan Annie McNerney and Joy Usner, 30 April 2001.
- The Hostile Act David M. Levy (1941) First published in Psychological Review, 48, 356-361.
- Interview with Laurie Kramer G. Stepp (2011).
- Adolescence and parental favoritism Carl Pickhardt (2011).
- Helping Your Older Child Adjust to a New Baby Sibling University of Michigan Health System (2011).
- Parenting Issues: Playing Favorites Stepp, G. (2011)
- Center for Effective Parenting Arkansas State Parent Information & Resource Center
- Kennedy-Moore, E. & Katayama, M. (2005). What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents' Attention Without Hitting Your Sister. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.
- Wiehe, V. R. (1997) Sibling abuse: Hidden physical, emotional, and sexual trauma, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
- Drummond, Hugh; Cecilia Garcia Chavelas (1989). "Food Shortage Influences Sibling Aggression in the Blue-footed Booby". Animal Behavior 37: 806–819.
- Birth Order, Sibling Competition, and Human Behavior Frank J Sulloway
- Mothers and Others Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Natural History Magazine, May 2001.
- Higham, Charles. Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Haviland and Joan Fontaine. Coward McCann, May 1984, 257 pages.
- Sforza, John. "Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story". University Press of Kentucky, 2000, 289 pages.
- Jitesh Pillaai (July 31, 2005). "Notes to Myself (An interview with Asha Bhosle)". Times Life, The Times of India, Mumbai (The Times Group). p. 43. Retrieved 2007-09-08.
- Ann Landers (1918-2002) by Robin Judd, Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed online June 21, 2007.
- James Macintyre, The Hitchens brothers: Anatomy of a row, The Independent, 2007-06-11, accessed 2007-06-11
- YourChild: Sibling Rivalry University of Michigan Health System
- YourChild: New Baby Sibling: Helping Your Older Child (or Children) Adjust University of Michigan Health System
- How to stop sibling rivalry by Virginia K. Molgaard
- Sibling rivalry: You vs. Them
- Living with your teenager: Dealing with Sibling rivalry
- Sibling Rivalry Raising Children Network
- Siblings in Conflict Film and Text (in German)