Sibling Rivalry & Identity Formation | Ask The Expert | My Fit Brain


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Sibling Rivalry and Identity Formation | Parent Coach

Siblings are getting separated rather violently in terms of property, even killing each other, children separating and asking their parents to live separately. Parents are ending up in old-age homes. Siblings are cutting off contact with each other’s families, and competing rather publicly. There are more and more movies about sibling rivalry. Apart from this, there is less tolerance amongst people towards each other, more bitterness and violence, a rise in depression and loneliness, juvenile crimes are on the rise. Training workshops for Social, communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills are now more and more in demand, and the need for psychologists and psychiatrists is consistently on the rise.

Siblings giggle with each other one moment and then detest and fight with another like enemies in the next, but parents hardly take it seriously because they always get back again. When we as children would fight with children in school and park where we played, the parents would make the children shake hands and get back to playing. But at the turn of the millennium, these relationships and social behaviours have completely changed!

It’s the parents who primarily provide the environment for the overall growth of their children, and thus naturally get to play a very important role in the sibling rivalry and the sense of identity each of them develops as individuals.

Reasons for Siblings Rivalry

Reasons for siblings rivalry are designed by the expert parent coaches of My Fit Brain. The reasons for worsening cases of rivalry among Indian siblings go as follows.


The first time parents have no experience of raising a child and thus through investing their time, energy, emotions, and out of the way efforts to take care of the child, they feel especially entitled to determining the course of life of that child, being extra protective and projecting on them all the hopes and desires they have had from their respective childhoods, giving way to ideas they had about raising their own children. So for example, if one’s own parents were too strict about going out, studying, etc. They would want to cut some slack on their children, even if some may still end up acting like their own parents.


Going further, though the commonly held idea, in India, behind bearing more children, at least or at most two now, is for the company among the children, it rather becomes a contest for parental attention and appreciation. By the time of the second or third child, which is the maximum number of babies that parents plan now, the parents become relaxed about the discipline they need to have on their children, expecting that they have worked on and trained the first child well enough that the younger ones will follow the example.

The parents, in the age of being active on Whatsapp and other social media apps, seek opportunities to escape the exhaustion of raising children, to catch up on their own lives and socialize. Teachers and school counsellors have noted that they tend to put the pressure on school teachers to take care of the children so that the younger ones grow like they raised the elder ones. Parents naturally tend to favour and create one ideal child that others have to live up to. The pressure on firstborn is the most in terms of understanding parents’ needs and aspirations/expectations to be the ideal child, implying that parents pay more attention to them. It’s very common that teachers too always are heard comparing the performance of younger children to the eldest one. At the same time, parents have been observed willingly to be much more experimental with younger ones, letting them go into arts and other hobbies. This further perpetuates the jealousy amongst the siblings.


Especially in India, since the stress on academics is so magnificent now, parents seem to be favouring one who is scoring well, getting good feedback from teachers and other guardians and relatives in terms of manners, and becomes the example given to the other children. This gives rise to jealousy and pride respectively as the children see the wishes of the flavoured one being fulfilled by parents. This way the parents end up sabotaging the friendship and ability to relate to the other sibling, despite being brought up in the same environment and evaluated against the same standards for conduct.

Also due to the rise of the stress of urban living, work, and competition amongst adults, the decrease intolerance is being observed and emulated by the children, as this is how children learn behaviours and reactions. Thus not only are siblings becoming more violent towards each other, but there is less tolerance towards kids in school and play environments too, and on top of that the parents now are observed becoming more supportive and defensive about their children and picking fights with teachers and parents, observed by children as well. Even if one family believes in making peace and teaching better reaction patterns to their child, or scolding their own child in front of others, the other child’s parents may not do the same, result being that one child alone feels harassed, and thus feeling all the angrier and cultivating passive-aggressiveness.


Another factor in differentiation comes from the different attachment styles of each child. This may happen because after the birth of a first child, even though the baby becomes the centre of attention in the home, the parents may feel so exhausted from the pregnancy and the caretaking that the couple might desire intimate time away occasionally for themselves too, also to plan more babies. By the time of second or third babies, not only they are more skilled at raising a baby, their attention tends to be centred on the younger ones, as the first child observes. Thus the elder child learns to compete for attention at a much younger age. In fact, a research conducted by experts from the University of Michigan notes that rivalry begins after the birth of the second child when the older child feels sidelined because his newborn sibling has a much higher level of parental attention. Accustomed to all the love and attention since the start, he/she starts feeling unusually unloved and thinks his/her presence her no longer valuable. These feelings can quickly develop into jealousy, which is not good for his sense of self-identity and emotional growth. Not only are the children, at this point, robbed of their childishness all of a sudden, asked to be responsible, act like a grown kid, and be understanding and adjusting but also starts struggling with their sense of identity in a way that their toys, their bed, and parents belong not just to him anymore.

Due to more number of families with working parents and mothers nowadays, the attachment styles in children have shifted to insecure and detached parameters. These attachment styles serve as the foundation for establishing friendships and relationships in their teenage and adult lives, thus it is becoming more worrisome the way the trends in relationships are changing, affecting interpersonal and emotional factors of one’s identity.


A difficult time comes for parents when the firstborn comes into the teenage phase, when children question the authority, challenge rules, and become more socially preoccupied. This throws off the balance parents had once worked hard to create in the family. The parents too then tighten the grip of discipline, become rigid to set an example for the younger ones to keep following. Most Indian parents are seen having the younger siblings see the elder one being scolded, punished and controlled, which drives them to report on the actions of the teenager. This gives the younger one to become the favourite one, and at the same time benefiting from the bribes offered in exchange for favours and keeping secrets. The children who were held in such high regard no more are given examples of and questioned in terms of good and bad all over again. The teenagers now especially in the Indian context feel caught up between the traditional rules and values set by family, and peer pressure influenced by the western land trends.

While the parents have always done their best according to what they knew, they too feel angry, yet worried for their children at the same time. At these crossroads, when the child has no experience and idea about what is good for him/her, and relationships to foster and maintain, the parents know little how to adapt theirs to the challenges of this new age. Thus, the parental instinct to protect their children, from each other as well as world outside family, gets in the way of understanding them, despite being well equipped to help their next generations the children’s conflicts too, and redirect them to adapt to their new age life challenges by creating new rules and regulations, keeping with the advancements.


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