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Extreme Sibling Rivalry

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A viewer asked: “I know it’s normal for siblings to fight, but two of my daughters seem to take it to the next level. They are competitive and just plain mean to each other. It was bad when they were younger but we figured they would grow out of it. They are gentle and sweet to others, but they unveil a cruelty to each other that is hurtful and scary and it seems only to be getting worse. What can I do?”

Rabbi Simon Jacobson answered: “First thing to ask is are there any factors at home or at school that may be causing this animosity. It may not even be between the siblings themselves. It could be parental preferences, sometimes school difficulties that one of them or both of them are going through, something with their friends…so you really have to go through the usual suspects, so to speak, and look to what could be a factor that is causing this kind of inconsistent behavior. You say they are nice to others but not to each other. Additionally are there incentives that you can offer that would make them be closer. Sometimes you can use an incentive — something that they really want. It’s critical to nip it in the bud and not allow it to escalate because they are going to grow into adults and you don’t want to have a situation where sisters simply don’t speak to each other or worse. But there’s always factors. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. When you see siblings who have that kind of attitude toward each other it is usually due to a factor that we’re not identifying as of yet. It’s critical to discover what that is. Someone may have hurt one of those girls, they may have been molested, there may be matters that people don’t want to talk or hear about. When there is an inconsistency like that rest assured that erratic behavior always is the result of some underlying psychological imbalance. And it’s incumbent upon parents who love their children to figure out what it is in a sensitive way, in a kind way, in a giving way and not obviously in a critical or judgmental way. You really have to be able to understand the pathology and the whole environment to be able to understand what is going on with these particular siblings. May G-d bless you that you find the answers, that you help them to discover the strengths in each other and love each other. Because in some ways, sibling love is the deepest love of all. It’s that unconditional connection that children — brothers and sisters — have with each other that can help them to endure any challenge in life.”

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Years ago I read an article in rhe Neshi Newsletter by the editor Rishie Deutsch about her young kids fighting, saying basically that when they grow up the become very close and bind together.
I ‘trusted’ her advice and saw for myself that is true, my own kids as teenagers and later when got married became very close and mature.