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Sibling rivalry

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Sibling rivalry


?Children are the essence of the family life but can become the driving destructive force that splits or divides them up? (Dr Barbara Wallace, 1995).

Recently it has been realised that siblings have an enormous impact on one another not just through early childhood but long into the lifespan. Previously it was thought that parents were the main influence in early childhood changing to peers for early adulthood and old age, only now has the full impact of siblings influences been realised.


The sibling relationship is usually one of the longest relationships an individual will experience through a whole lifetime, this is apparent even through half or step siblings (Cicirelli, 1995). A sibling relationship is ascribed, Siblings cant choose each other and because of this fights, disagreements and arguments can normally be overcome where friendships may not be overcome, which relates back to the folk saying ?you cant choose your family?. Sibling relationships overcome most blocks that destroy other relationships when presented with the same blocks. Blocks such as age, size, intelligence social skills, achievements and so on would generally halt most relationships before they even get a chance to start, but siblings with most or all of these differences still manage to relate on an equal level. Siblings also have a common history of shared and non-shared experiences again strengthening the bond between them.

Bill Cosby once said, "You aren't really a parent until you've had your second child." Parents of one child won't really understand this. Parents of two or more children will relate to this statement immediately. He was referring to the seemingly constant bickering and fighting between brothers and sisters.

Myths & Theorists

Adler (1959) believes that birth order is the most important factor in sibling relationships. His theory was accompanied by empirical literature on birth order and sibling structure effects on siblings? intellectual and personality. Studies such as these are still going on today. Minuchin (1974) believed that rivalry between siblings was genetic. It has been argued that sibling rivalry can be a valuable childhood experience, siblings can learn to take other perspective's, ague their positions, negotiate to settle differences and many other skills needed in future life experiences.

There has always been debate about the age gape between siblings and their influence on the relationship between them. Early theorist believed that two years was too much of a gap between siblings, as sibling rivalry was inevitable. They believed that with such a big gap the rivalry can start three ways, the first child could receive things as he progresses through his development and the other younger sibling would feel left out. They both could get everything at the same time, making the older sibling frustrated as he never got that when he was that age, and finally the first sibling could feel more left out as the younger sibling gets more attention.

Lateral thinking.

Imagine if you were placed in this situation, one day your husband announces to you, ?honey,. I?ve got wonderful news for you. Next week I?m planning to bring home someone else to live with us. It'll be a woman; she'll be a bit younger than you, perhaps a little bit more attractive. In any event, she'll seem that way because I plan to spend more time with her than with you; nevertheless, we?re all going to continue to be a very happy family. You'll get used to her presence and I very much want you not only to love her but to show her and I how much you love her?. This most people would find intolerable, so why do we expect our two-year old too accept it.

The only toddler who wouldn't be extremely jealous and unhappy about the presence of a nine-or ten-month-old sibling would be one who had very little to lose, the only kind of two-year-old with very little to lose would be one who had not formed a basic attachment to his own mother. In a sense, then, the resentment of a two-year-old toward a younger sibling is reasonably good proof that that older child has formed normal, beneficial ties to his Parents.

Theorists today.

Dr Kidd On (1990) believes that any age gap has its disadvantages and advantages, but believes some have more advantages than others do. Dr Kidd believes that a two year gap although with flaws if its prepared and planned is the ideal age gap, the theory is that that first child will be less demanding of the parents time, leaving more time for the other child. The obvious problems with this gap is the first child may not like being separated from their mother for the long hospital visits and tend to be very territorial, but both of these can be overcome quite easily with good planning. (P.6 Sibling rivalry, spacing the family)

This theory has overlooked the big brother syndrome, the older brother is always bigger, faster, smarter etc. which is reliant totally on nature and the stages of development. This no matter how well explained to some children is injustice in the first degree. The older brother gets all the older boy toys, gets to play first, walk first, run first and so on.

Dr Barbara Wallace believes that the age gap between siblings and the relationship between the siblings aren't of real significance, the significant aspect governing their relationship simply is their personality and the incorporation in the child's upbringing by the older sibling. Although the age gap is a big problem to children at early stages, evidence shows there is minimal difference in IQ, or other achievements between siblings. In cultures were older children are expected to help in the upbringing, teaching and cleaning of the younger sibling generally relationships are closer all the way through the lifespan. Barbara Wallace believes is the governing factor to whether siblings will fight or get along.

Contemporary Theories

Judith Dunn states that sibling rivalry doesn't exist, the same squabbles, fights and arguments would happen if two children were randomly chosen from the neighbourhood street were put together without choosing each other and were to interact together under the same conditions as siblings are. Siblings she explains are thought of too much as brothers and sisters, rather than people, people with totally independent thoughts and feelings, people with different personalities and characters. Arguments and fights start generally because of differences, differences in opinion, differences in ability etc. Judith goes on to say this is what causes the majority of fights within the family unit and society, ...

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