Understand sibling rivalry through the eyes of Mother Nature.
Your kids are constantly bickering and fighting, teasing and crying. “Be nice to your brother!” you yell. “Apologize to your sister!” It’s like a broken record at your house and you’re sick of it.
Rivalry between siblings is as old as the biblical story of Cain and Able. Because rivalry is one of our hard-wired human instincts, there’s no way to eliminate it. The question, then, is how can a parent mitigate the inevitable problem with rivalry between children and keep greater peace in the home? The solution may not be obvious to a mom’s human mind, but it’s one that makes complete sense if she looks more deeply at the situation and its causes from an animal perspective and her mentor, Mother Nature.
In my dog behavior consultations, fighting between family dogs is a common issue. Owners are distraught because they have tried so hard to treat each dog equally; given each one a bone, letting each one share the couch with Mommy, and swiftly reprimanding the one that snarks at the other. Imagine the owner’s shock when I tell them they are the reason their dogs are fighting! Treating their dogs as equals was likely the cause of the conflict instead of the hoped-for solution.
There can be similarities here with your kids. Siblings are never “equal.” One may be a straight-A student while another won’t study and struggles with grades but always has time to play his guitar. If we hold both to the same standard of accomplishment and those individual differences in ability and talents are not celebrated, we may inadvertently keep our kids in what I call the Purgatory of Equal-ness. Let me explain.
As we learned in Animal Secret #1, humans are animals, too, and as such our animal side does not accept or understand the concept of “equal.” Like our four-legged cousins, our Inner Animal instinctively feels the need for a division of duties, created and maintained by some sort of hierarchy and differentiation between members of the group. Hierarchy prevents chaos and assures efficient use of energy and limited resources. It’s basic survival.
Warring children, like other animals, may simply be striving to find their place in their family pack and establish their own identity and self-worth.
For most social mammals, being treated as true “equals” predictably triggers competition to be different, because “different” is what’s required for the hierarchy that sustains them. It makes sense, then, that for children within a family group, this will to establish a unique position within the family could, in turn, easily lead to rivalry and conflict at this deeper level. The solution for sibling rivalry and fighting at home that seems so complex could well lie in the simple knowledge of this most basic animal instinct.
Warring children, like other animals, may simply be striving to find their place in their family pack and establish their own identity and self-worth. When it comes to brothers and sisters, the DNA may be similar, but they are not the same. This is a good thing, however, when it comes to reducing sibling rivalry! Different children in the same family will have unique and different abilities. How can we make each child feel different but still important in their own right? How can we create less tension and less competition over the coveted resource of parental approval and still satisfy each child’s personal need to feel special and important? Can we diminish their natural urge to compete and challenge?
If the ultimate resource over which children compete is parental approval and pride, parents might diversify their sources of pride. Being proud of scholastic achievement is easy. So is being proud of athletic ability. But what about artistic talent? Creativity? Those tattoos on your daughter that give you such grief could actually be beautiful expressions of art if you change your perspective. They might even be worth a compliment.
Think about this. If you only have one standard of excellence in your household, only one child can occupy the top rung of that excellence and approval ladder. The other sibling(s) could inevitably stay rivals indefinitely, with no solution in sight. Instead, by having different categories of excellence, you could let each child strive for his or her own personal platform of achievement and greatness.
Brag about your artist. Talk about your poet or musician. Encourage your creative writer to pen their first book. This approach could reduce sibling rivalry in your family and go a long way toward building pride and self-confidence in each of your kids along the way.
Mother Nature would approve.