The Upside of Sibling Rivalry

sibling-signpost2There’s no place like home, so the saying goes. But what if that home is filled with screaming and fighting? It can quickly become a place no one wants to be.

As a parent of two teenage boys I marvel at the absurdity of things they choose to argue about. Whose turn is it? Who started it? Who did what to whom? Who said what? Who deserves what? Who really cares? Can you guys just stop fighting for even a minute?

Sibling rivalry is a staple of family life and I often ask my clients what they get out of it. After a few seconds of pondering they usually say they get nothing out of it, and then I respectfully disagree. In my experience nobody does anything without a reason. Even when we do things that hurt ourselves and the ones we love there is some motivation behind it or else we wouldn’t do them.

So what could possibly be the “upside” of all this sibling rivalry?

I’m reminded of a nature documentary that tracked the daily lives of wild cats on the African plains. A pride of lions spent most of the day hunting, exploring and resting in the tall grass while the lion cubs played nearby. The cubs were cute and fun to watch, but the purpose of their play was a serious matter.

It was clear that they were practicing for life as adults, learning to explore and hunt, getting ready for a day when they would be on their own. And how did they do this? By attacking each other.

What may be the biggest irony of parenting is that the happy home you provide is exactly what kids need to do the unhappy work of practicing the skills of adult life on a smaller scale. Where else can kids learn effective conflict management than in the safety and comfort of their own home with loving parents to guide and protect them?

If your stomach just turned don’t feel bad. The happy home with perfect parents is a rare sighting in the modern world. But take comfort in knowing that sibling rivalry isn’t your fault. In most cases it can be a natural, normal and necessary part of development when paired with guidance from adults who role model effective conflict resolution.

If that’s not something you’re good at it might be something the whole family can learn together through counseling. And you don’t have to wait for things to reach a point of crisis before seeking help. Family therapy can be an effective and valuable investment for families who just want to get along better.

The ability for children to handle conflict at home will translate into healthy relationships throughout their lives and generations to come.


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