By Madeline Hammett
There’s no doubt that adolescence comes with immense amounts of pressure to succeed. Whether that means on the field, in the classroom, or in other aspects of their lives, teenagers everywhere feel the same universal struggles. This pressure oftentimes escalates when other siblings are added to the mix, leading to conflict. This conflict has been dubbed ‘sibling rivalry.’
As children grow and mature, they continue to change and define who they are as individuals.
Part of the reason why sibling rivalry occurs is because children, especially the youngest children, struggle in creating an identity that differs from their sibling.
“Each child is competing to define who they are as an individual,” says University of Michigan’s Children’s Hospital. “As they discover who they are, they try to find their own talents, activities and interests. They want to show that they are separate from their siblings.” Thus, siblings fight to establish themselves as individuals.
“[Rivalry] helps children figure out what is unique and special about themselves, otherwise known as differentiation,” finds Sarah Walters an associate professor of demography at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Children want to be seen as the most special by their parents, so they’re always going to push for preferential treatment.”
Children and their Evolving Needs
Much of the tension felt from sibling rivalry is cultivated when the children are younger. With evolving and changing needs, age gaps between children call for different amounts of attention from parents.
When a child notices the difference in attention they get in comparison to their sibling, they sometimes resent their sibling for it.
“School-age kids often have a strong concept of fairness and equality, so they might not understand why siblings of other ages are treated differently or feel like one child gets preferential treatment,” says an article posted by Kids Health. “Teenagers, on the other hand, are developing a sense of individuality and independence, and might resent helping with household responsibilities, taking care of younger siblings, or even having to spend time together. All of these differences can influence the way kids fight with one another.”
Teenage Sibling Rivalry
I have two older sisters, and as the youngest of three, I oftentimes find myself comparing my successes to my sisters’. Whether it be my GPA or my extracurricular activities, I constantly find myself questioning how I measure up to my siblings and if my achievements meet my parents’ expectations. I have found while being in high school that I am not the only one struggling with this issue.
Lily T., a rising junior, finds herself comparing her athletic achievements to those of her older sisters. High school has proven to only make these stressors worsen.
“My older sister was an incredible lacrosse player before she stopped playing her senior year,” says Lily T. “Everyone at our school knew it too. I know that since we are sisters people tend to expect the same kind of things from me even though we are very different people.”
Unfortunately for siblings, this kind of pressure can lead to conflict between even the closest families.
“I knew that these kinds of pressures shouldn’t have gotten in the way of my relationship with my sister,” says Lily T. “Yet, I would find it difficult sometimes not to blame her for the pressures that I put on myself.”
How Parents Can Help with Sibling Rivalry
The biggest way that parents can prevent their child from feeling inadequate in comparison to their sibling is to emphasize that the children are different, thus encouraging them to be individuals. For younger children, this may mean simply establishing which toys belong to each child so as not to let the children infringe on their siblings’ property.
“Make sure kids have their own space and time to do their own thing,” says an article posted by Kids Health. “Let the kids play with toys by themselves, play with friends without a sibling tagging along, or enjoy activities without having to share 50-50.”
My parents have found that the best parenting strategy that works for our family is not to compare anyone’s accomplishments or even interests to each other. My parents have taught us from a young age that it is important to do what we are interested in and not to be influenced by the accomplishments of the other sisters.
In taking this approach, my parents had three daughters with three very different sets of interests. Of course, my parents taught us the importance of working hard at success in our endeavors, but with our interests being so different, success can be measured differently for each one of us. If I were to give parents of multiple children one piece of advice, it would be to encourage individualism and not to compare the children’s accomplishments.
Editor’s Note: Maddy Hammett is an incoming senior at the Episcopal School of Dallas, where she is a staff writer for the school newspaper, The Eagle Edition. In her free time, she loves to read, write, and listen to music.