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Can Sibling Rivalry Be Avoided? 10 Easy To Do Tips From A Family Expert
  • “Pareho lang naman ang mga magulang, pero sobrang magka-iba ang ugali nila!” It is not uncommon to hear such comments from adults who have been trying to understand the nature of striking differences among siblings in terms of attitudes and behaviors. These differences become even more obvious when siblings don’t get along with each other. 

    In recent news, social media users surmise that differences in siblings and competition may be the source of the reported strife between two famous brothers, Prince William and Prince Harry. Can psychology explain the family drama? And is there expert advice for families who may see buddings of a similar relationship at home?

    The Birth Order theory of Alfred Adler, an Austrian physician and psychotherapist in the 20th century, explains the difference of children’s personality according to their birth order. Today, many psychologists refer to this theory to explain the behavior of individuals.

    'Children who perceive that the other sibling is the favorite are at risk for depression and risky behavior.' -Susan McHale, professor

    Adler considered first-born children as “neurotic” because they do not need to share their parents with anyone. Being “dethroned” because of the coming of a second child could explain the early onset of sibling rivalry. Suddenly, there is a threat to the undivided love received from their primary caregivers. 

    RELATED: We Predict Your First Child Will Be Well-Behaved, Even Over-Responsible

    In the early stages of life, infants look to their parents as their source of security. To have them means an assurance that they will have sustenance and protection. As they become toddlers, they begin to explore the world around them with the confidence of knowing that they can always return to the safe arms of their parents when they suddenly feel afraid.


    When a new baby comes along, however, they soon realize that the hands that used to protect them are the same hands that push them away if they’re too rough on the baby. For an ego-centric child, this is hard to understand. 

    RELATED: Raising Your Second Child May Be More Challenging Than Your First

    What is sibling rivalry?

    Sibling rivalry is the competition that exists between siblings. These siblings compete for the love, affection, and attention of one or both parents. When one child is favored, causing the other one to feel emotionally upset, we usually hear elderly persons conclude, “ay nagselos sa kapatid!” 

    According to Adler, in trying to overcome feelings of inferiority, a child may attempt to do certain behaviors to assert dominance or superiority over another sibling. By doing so, children may develop interest in fields where they can excel better than their brother or sister.

    For instance, if the older child is skilled in basketball, the younger child may avoid looking inferior by engaging in a completely different sport, like soccer. If one child is always serious, the other child can be the jester. Such differentiated interests shape the personality of children across time. 

    What other parents are reading

    When it comes to gender, a study led by Hillary Murdoch of Albright College in Pennsylvania revealed that men had more rivalrous relationships with siblings as children than women. However, the rivalry seemed to fade by adulthood according to their study.

    Although studies of siblings in later life are scarce, Susan McHale, a professor at Penn State University warns that “children who perceive that the other sibling is the favorite are at risk for depression and risky behavior." 

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    How to avoid sibling rivalry

    Below are 10 ways to shift from sibling rivalry to sibling solidarity (S-O-L-I-D-A-R-I-T-Y):

    1. Set the rules so that expectations between siblings are clear. 
    2. Organize the bedroom so that each child has his or her own space 
    3. Listen to what your children fight about to know their needs.
    4. Instill helping behavior when there is a new baby in the house.
    5. Do activities that encourage collaboration rather than competition.
    6. Appreciate children publicly when they do something good. Call attention privately.
    7. Revisit and revise rules when these are no longer working.
    8. Inform the child if a sibling has special needs to better understand the situation.
    9. Teach kids to achieve a win-win solution when conflicts arise.
    10. Yearn for family quality time to fill everyone’s backpack with affection for each other.

    Read about the dangers of comparing siblings here.


    Dr. Gail Reyes Galang is chair of the Family Studies program at Miriam College, where she also teaches under the Department of Psychology. She is associate director of the Center for Peace Education. She is a member of the Smart Parenting Board of Experts. You can follow her on Instagram at @gailfrancesgalang .

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