That statement births an assumption that your family, especially your siblings should be your closest friends and allies but in some cases it is not so. Siblings have fought with one another from time immemorial with very devastating consequences; remember the stories of Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers. History and present day are replete with examples that show that blood notwithstanding, rivalry exists between/among siblings whether or not they share both or one parent, are identical or non identical twins, are of the same sex or gender and are close or far apart in age.
There are many reasons why rivalry exists between siblings but one thing we must understand is that, it is a natural phenomenon between children born in the same home and raised in the same environment. It also occurs understandably so, where the children are born of the same parents but raised in different environments. The intensity of the rivalry varies and can be caused by so many factors- the age differences between siblings, the gender of the siblings, the resources of the parents both in time and material wealth, the emotional environment in which the children are raised, the personalities of the individual children and that of their parents, the birth order of the children, the ages of the parents etc. The reasons are varied and one cannot predict what mix of factors will turn children against one another.
I know of families in which the children have divided themselves into camps mainly because of conflicts and infighting between the parents-there is the mother’s camp and the father’s camp and both camps are fiercely loyal to the parents leading the camps even to their death.
I know of a younger child who remains bitter with her parents and consequently her older siblings and who insists on certain entitlements which she feels justified in asking for, due to the fact that her older siblings schooled abroad and she in Nigeria. The family’s finances having dwindled drastically when it was her turn to go to the university. Ditto for an older child who schooled in Nigeria because that was what their parents could afford at the time and whose younger ones had their schooling abroad as the family’s finances improved.
Some siblings fight bitterly as children and have a close relationships as they grew up, others seem to have a friendly relationship with one another as children and fight as adults, for some the enmity exists right from childhood to adulthood whilst some never experience rivalry at all. Some fight with their siblings but stick up for and with them against an outsider whilst some collude with outsiders against their siblings.
Whatever the reasons, it is my firm belief that the seeds of discord are sown in childhood and mostly by parents though most times unconsciously. I say this because parents are the unifying factor between children and their relationship with their children individually and collectively provides the grounds for the contention among the children.
For many parents, it is very alarming when our children fight and say nasty things to one another or support outsiders against one another. The way we handle their altercations from toddlerhood/ childhood may determine how they get along as adults.
It goes without saying that rivalry shows it’s face with the birth of the second child I have heard of children who saw their younger sibling as an usurper of their parents’ affections and turned against the baby sometimes with physical violence whilst some were excited at the thought of having a baby in the family. Parents with children at this stage have a duty to help the older child see that the baby is part of the family and ensure their full involvement from pregnancy. It should be “our baby “and not Mummy or Daddy’s baby.” They must also strive to assure the older child that their place in their hearts does not change with the advent of the new baby. Parents must not be so busy with the baby that they neglect the older child’s need for love and attention especially if the gap between the children is wide.
As the children grow older, their needs and wants evolve. For example a teenager who normally liked to play with his or her sibling might resent always having to share things with them; being told to look after them instead of going out to play with friends or worse, having them tag along. An hitherto submissive younger child who is now coming into his own may resent the older child’s attempts to boss him, he would decry the fact that he is always given “pass me downs” from his older siblings.
Parents should understand that each child is unique and different. Most times rivalry results from the unfair comparison we make between our children . We say things like why can’t you be like your brother, your sister is smarter than you and will be more successful, you are like your fathers side of the family etc these words and actions work two ways- they create jealousy and envy amongst the children as they joust to win the prize of best child and they alienate the child from the parent. This is true especially where the children are close in age and of the same sex.
In order to end or discourage rivalry amongst our children we will do well to do the following
1. Be role models. If we shout and cuss at one another, our children will do the same with themselves. We should demand that each child be respected and given their place in the home.
2. Set rules for acceptable behavior- this includes no name calling eg stupid, foolish, mad etc, Solicit their input on the rules as well as the consequences when they break them.
3. Create a level playing ground for everyone. Children have a sense of what is just and fair. The rules should apply to everyone and if they can’t for some reason or the other ie age, health, we owe it to the children to explain why they can’t apply to everyone and ensure that the exempted child doesn’t take advantage of the others. Even so we should ensure that duties and responsibilities are shared amongst the children.
4. Stay out of their fights except it is life threatening and after they have calmed down, teach them to resolve their conflicts by themselves though it is important that we must first teach them conflict resolving tools to enable them do this effectively.
5. If you interfere because the case was brought to you or due to the severity of the fight, be an impartial umpire- don’t take sides or prejudge based on your knowledge of each kid sometimes things are not the way they appear and it takes two or more to tango. If you try to resolve the problem without much success give them all the same punishment. After some time they will learn to work with one another.
6. Let them know you love them all and have no favorites. They may suspect you have one but never come out to declare one person as the king of your heart.