By Gitanjali Marcelline/newsin.asia
Colombo, July 6: The other day, when I was at a friend’s place, I was fascinated by the competition between her two sons to impress her with some artwork. So bent they were on outdoing each other that when one gained her praise and before she could praise the other, he bawled his head out and pushed the brother away. That was sibling rivalry in its earliest stage.
Sibling rivalry is a type of competition or animosity among brothers and sisters, whether blood-related or not. It is said that 82% of people in the world have at least one sibling, and siblings generally spend more time together during childhood than they do with parents. But the sibling bond is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as parental treatment, birth order, personality, and experiences within the larger family and indeed outside the family too.
According to child psychologists, sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age and of the same gender, or where one child is intellectually gifted or physically stronger than the other. The worrying part is, sibling rivalry can lead to aggression as was the case in my friend’s house.
According to studies by psychologists, children are sensitive from the age of one year to differences in parental treatment. From 18 months on, siblings can understand family rules and know how to comfort or hurt each other. By three years, children have a sophisticated grasp of social rules, can evaluate themselves in relation to their siblings, and know how to adapt to circumstances within the family.
Sibling rivalry often continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to parents. Adolescents fight for the same reasons younger children fight for, but they are better equipped physically and intellectually to hurt. The sense of hurt is also deeper and longer-lasting. Physical and emotional changes cause pressures in the teenage years, as do changing relationships with parents and friends. Fighting with siblings as a way to get parental attention may increase in adolescence. One study found that the age group 10 to 15 reported the highest level of competition between siblings.
Sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood and sibling relationships can change dramatically over the years, especially when it comes to inheritances, be it family heirlooms, land, housing and business. Siblings become estranged from each other because of this. In some cases aggressive feelings could result in murder. Shared values are forgotten. Faith and religion are forsaken. As a result, rivals risk distancing themselves from God, family, good health and may get caught by the long arm of the law.
Looking at history, the Book of Genesis describes how the rivalry between Cain and Abel sprang from Cain’s resentment that God favored the younger brother. In Egypt, Cleopatra had a direct hand in the in the deaths of all three of her siblings. In the British Royal court, there was rivalry between Mary and Anne Boleyn to catch King Henry the VIII’s eye.
Occasionally real-life instances of sibling rivalry are publicized in the mass media. Siblings who play the same sport will often be compared with each other; for example, tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, Formula One racers Michael and Ralf Schumacher,
The Music world too has had its fair share of sibling rivalry. Starting with Michael and La Toya Jackson, Musicians Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Joni and Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge fame – all are portrayed as having had turbulent relationships.
Actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine had an uneasy relationship from childhood and in 1975 the sisters stopped speaking to each other completely.
The rivalry between industrialist brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani was often talked about in the Indian media. Twin sisters and advice columnists Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren had a relationship that was alternately very close and publicly antagonistic. Then I read recently that one of the world’s richest families in England is fighting over a letter dividing their US$ 11.2 billion fortune.
Journalists Christopher and Peter Hitchens have had many public disagreements and at least one protracted falling-out due to their differing political and religious views. Singing siblings Michael and Janet Jackson, are often compared as the rest of the Jackson family.
Sibling rivalry has been reported in the political arena too. There was the famous rivalry between Ed and David Miliband of the UK. Half a century earlier John Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Ted were potential American Presidential candidates. In Sri Lanka, the rivalry between Chandrika and Anura Bandaranaike was intense for a long time before they patched up. It is learnt that mother Sirima Bandaranaike used to favor Anura over Chandrika. The Ranatunga brothers, Arjuna and Prasanna, have tended to be in opposite political camps.
It does look as if sibling rivalry is pernicious and destructive of the exalted value of brotherhood and family unity. Apart from physically and intellectually hurting each other, siblings make it stressful and frustrating for people around including the parents, the rest of the siblings, relations, friends, colleagues and aides.
Parents can reduce rivalry by refusing to compare or typecast their children, by teaching the children positive ways to get attention from each other and from the parents, planning fun family activities together, and making sure each child has enough time and space for himself. Parents can also give each child individual attention even as encouraging teamwork, refuse to hold up one child as a role model for the others, and avoid favoritism.
However, according to psychologists, sibling rivalry may be a healthy indication that each child is assertive enough to express his or her differences with other siblings. But the million dollar question is: Where does one draw the line? That is the challenge before parents and the siblings as well. The problem is that, in a significantly large proportion of cases, sibling rivalry tends to fly off the handle.