Sibling rivalry: Singapore experts share tips on how to minimise damage
Parents – or anyone with a brother or sister – will know how frustrating it is when children squabble, and even more so when the children in question are siblings trying to one-up each other.
Competition can sometimes be a good thing, especially in spurring one to do better, but can also easily lead to more serious consequences such as sibling abuse or bullying.
Experts that Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore spoke to said the most common symptoms of rivalry between siblings include talking badly about each other, but more severe symptoms may also manifest.
Evonne Lek, a family therapist at family therapy clinic Reconnect, said, “When compared with a sibling, a child might start to harbour unhappiness towards his sibling… Parents should look out for constant fighting that cannot be resolved. A child might also constantly say negative things about their sibling.”
Besides speaking ill of their siblings, educational and developmental psychologist Freda Sutanto of Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre also notes that children might do things like tattle on their siblings, manipulate the other party to do their bidding, or emotionally and physically bully their brother or sister.
“It’s not that common for sibling rivalry to escalate into sibling abuse, but escalation is definitely possible,” Sutanto said. “It could be things like bullying in the home, where one child has repeated, intentional attempts to hurt the other in order to cause distress.”
Dr Lim Boon Leng from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness said, “It is not uncommon for siblings to compete, have rivalry or even to fight. However, parents should take note if the fights have become too frequent or too physical. They should also look out for one sibling bullying or even abusing the other.”
Despite their best intentions, parents might not realise that they are contributing to rivalry between their children.
“In our competitive culture, parents might say a child’s academic grade is better than the other sibling,” Lek said. “Parents often try very hard to be fair with their treatment of their children, but it is inevitable that temperament of different children may affect how they are treated.”
Sutanto added, “Parents all love their kids, but it is not unusual for some kids to complement the parent’s personality more than the other kids. Parents might then give this particular child more attention even though they love all their kids, which could lead to resentment from siblings.”
One way for parents to manage rivalry between their kids is “not only to be fair but perceived to be so”, according to Dr Lim. Punishments and rewards need to be explained clearly to prevent perception of favouritism, and parents should also make sure to reassure children by embracing their differences rather than comparing them. “Parents can leave the children to resolve mild conflicts or fights and instead of taking sides, hold both party responsible.”
Said Lek, “Parents may be drawn into determining who is right/wrong in the conflict, but this will only lead to more bad feelings.”
Uncommon for sibling rivalry to last to adulthood
While there have been many cases sibling rivalry in history – notable examples include Serena and Venus Williams, and Adolf and Rudolph Dassler whose rivalry resulted in them founding Adidas and Puma, respectively – Sutanto noted that it is rare for the rivalry to carry on into adulthood.
“Sibling rivalry tend to manifest into something else as the siblings grow older, to become less obvious and more controllable,” Sutanto said. “On the surface, an individual might have quite good relationships with their siblings but could be internally feeling inferior and comparing himself to them.”
She continued, “As siblings head into adulthood and move away from their siblings, it does tend to get better. Sibling rivalry essentially comes from living in the same household and facing the same demands and pressure. Once that gets taken out, it usually eases.”
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