Sibling Rivalry is Not a Mental Disorder
Siblings struggle with the reality of each other. Most, at one point or another, wish they were again or that they could have once been the one and only child.
Family: Kids: Siblings
Regarded by some parents and even by some professionals as an illness requiring intervention and cure, sibling rivalry is, in fact, a particularly normal and not uncommonly predictable phenomenon.
Over nearly forty years of direct clinical practice with children and families, I have seen many situations where siblings do not get along (some or all of the time) and the parents, concerned that this situation is indicative of a mental health problem of some kind, present with those concerns in the offices of me and my colleagues. Certainly, if the competition between brothers and/or sisters results in violence or other extreme, violent or unacceptable behaviors, there is, indeed, a problem that needs to be managed by the adults.
However, the phenomenon of jealousy, competitiveness, seeming intolerance for each other, and episodes of inexplicable irritability with each other are indicative of a very normal situation we call Sibling Rivalry. In and of itself, it is NOT an illness nor does it necessarily require professional intervention. While there are siblings who get along well all of the time, the incidence is more limited than many parents might expect in a way that parallels the more obviously erroneous expectation that two adults who are together should be expected to get along and be in perfect harmony with each other all of the time.
Though well documented in the literature on child development and family life, sometimes more creative writing forms can do a nice, succinct job of capturing the reality of siblings and their relationships.
Although first born children are not always to discuss their feelings about the birth of a new sibling openly, some feelings of displacement are both natural and, in fact, generally accurate perceptions. There is only so much energy and attention to go around and no matter how good the parents are at parenting, it is simply not humanly possible to give siblings the same amount of attention parents were able to give when there was only one child. To think otherwise defies logic and everything we know about human energy and capacities.
The fact, though, that sibling rivalry is to be expected to one degree or another does not excuse behaviors that are dangerous or unacceptably disruptive. That is to say, while the normalness of the phenomenon may help to explain it, it does not excuse all possible manifestations of it. It is one thing to challenge siblings who are close in age and cognitive capacity to deal with each other and settle their own differences, and quite another to allow an older, bigger child to physically abuse the younger and more vulnerable sibling.
Kids need parenting people. They are born into this world neither socialized, civilized or unselfish. Quite to the contrary. They come out unsocialized, uncivilized and selfish. It is the job of parents to shape them into the kind of people they think it would be best for them to become and that often involves
Siblings are not always able to successfully solve or resolve conflicts between themselves and that might be OK sometimes. When it isn’t, an adult needs to be ready to step in and intervene; not because the conflict indicates an illness, but because sometimes kids just need help. After all, they are kids.