Sibling rivalry is a phenomenon most siblings have first-hand experience with. Most children experience rivalry with their siblings at some point in their lives. For many, it is a short-lived or temporary thing that passes as both siblings get older. For some, this isn’t the case, and the rivalry lives on well into their adult years. Sibling rivalry can raise its head at various stages in life.
Knowing how to identify it can help you see it for what it really is, so that you can respond to it in a way that spares the relationship between you and your siblings.
Being caught up in sibling rivalry doesn’t mean that you just have to lie down and accept your fate. There are ways you can stop this behavior between you and your sibling – you just have to be committed to a healthier relationship.
Rivalry between siblings doesn’t really discriminate when it comes to age. It can show itself at various ages in life, and the following examples below are some of the most commonly known ones.
How sibling rivalry plays out at different ages throughout life – 14 common examples:
1. Crying when parents give the other sibling attention (toddlers).
If you watch 2 young toddlers together and one seems to be acting out every time their sibling gets attention from the parents, you are bearing witness to sibling rivalry in its purest form. From an early age, kids can get jealous of parents splitting their attention, and so they do what they know gets a mom or dad’s attention: they cry and throw tantrums to bring the attention back to them.
2. Snatching a sibling’s toy and not giving it back, even if they scream and cry (toddlers).
Toddlers may show rivalry by getting jealous of a sibling’s things. This often presents itself in stealing or snatching a sibling’s toys and refusing to give them back, even if the sibling is screaming, crying, and becoming desperate.
3. Physical fights and yelling (toddlers and young children).
Toddlers and young children are most prone to this behavior as they find it hard to control themselves, but it is not completely unheard of in adults. Children that are caught up in rivalry might get into a tussle, or one might hit the other or start yelling. This is typical rivalry at play.
4. Tattle-tailing on a sibling (young children).
Young children are especially prone to tattle tailing on their sibling if sibling rivalry is at play. This shows their sibling in a poor light, hoping that positive attention may be sent their way in return.
5. Constantly trying to be better than or beat a sibling (young children and teens).
Young children and teens may show their rivalry by trying to always be better than their siblings. It may actually upset them if they cannot be better for some reason. You might see a teenager trying to get better grades, make it into popular cliques, or beat their sibling at games and sports. This competitive behavior can become quite unpleasant if it isn’t nipped in the bud early on.
6. Being nasty or saying mean things to a sibling (pre-teen and teens).
Sometimes pre-teens and even teens can behave in this way. They tend to feel so frustrated by their sibling getting attention or achieving things that they don’t know what to do. This can be seen in a sibling being outwardly nasty or saying mean and derogatory things. They may even say these things in front of other people and try to garner support for it.
7. Telling lies about a sibling that casts them in a bad light (pre-teen and teens).
If sibling rivalry is getting intense, you might find that one sibling starts to get others to see their brother or sister in a bad light. This is typical in the pre-teen and teen stage of life and often involves telling lies.
8. Setting up a sibling to get into trouble with parents or authority figures (pre-teen and teen).
If a sibling is experiencing a serious bout of rivalry, you may find that they try to get their sibling into trouble. If they know that their brother or sister has done something wrong, they may get them caught out or even orchestrate scenarios that promote a sibling getting themselves into trouble.
9. Mocking or laughing at a sibling (teens and adults).
Mocking or laughing at a sibling in a mean or derogatory way is something that is often seen in teens and even in adults. At these stages in life, we are keenly aware that it works, so it becomes easy to use these to our advantage.
10. Being showy about having inside jokes with other family members (adults).
When sibling rivalry is at play, it is safe to say that both siblings aren’t focused on being “friends”. As adults, siblings may now compete for their parent’s attention, but in different ways. Having inside jokes with the parents and flaunting it in front of their sibling is a common behavior seen in adults.
11. Gossiping about a sibling with parents or other family members (adults).
When a sibling experiences sibling rivalry with a brother or sister, they often want to ensure that they have a better relationship with the parents and other family members. This can often show when a sibling seems too keen to gossip about their sibling with other family members.
12. Being obstructive with a sibling (teens and adults).
Adults and teens are often known to be quite obstructive with each other when there is sibling rivalry at play. Obstructive behavior includes rolling eyes when a sibling is talking, making snide comments, being opposed to any ideas or plans put forward by the sibling, and being difficult in general.
13. Being jealous of a sibling’s success (present in all life stages).
One particular behavior that is seen in sibling rivalry in all stages of life is that of being jealous of the sibling. One sibling may think that another sibling gets more attention and support and therefore achieves more and has greater success. This makes them jealous, and it shows.
14. Not showing support of a sibling’s efforts and achievements (pre-teen, teen, and adults).
If there’s sibling rivalry at play, you might notice that one sibling remains completely detached from the other sibling when they achieve something or put in the effort with something. They may appear completely indifferent and show no real support for their brother or sister. This is typically seen in pre-teen, teen, and adult relationships.
All things considered
If you find yourself behaving in any of these ways or being on the receiving end of such behavior, you are caught up in an unhealthy cycle of sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry can be complicated to deal with, especially if you are on the receiving end and feel no rivalry towards your brother or sister yourself. That being said, being aware of how the behavior presents itself enables you to understand your sibling’s behavior and respond accordingly (or in the correct manner).
If you are trying to get to a healthier place with your sibling, think about the above pointers, and you might notice that rivalry has been present in your relationship for longer than you were aware of it. Getting to a healthy place will take a bit of work, but it’s not impossible. Good luck!