Sibling Rivalry (Competition)
NOTE: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.).© 1964. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
In a section titled "Stay out of Fights!" in his popular book on parenting, Children: The Challenge (1964), Dreikurs recounts the story of a put-upon first-born son whose younger brother and baby sister constantly got him into trouble through their provocations and his retaliatory responses to them. The brother had taken the position of "the good one," while the youngest, allied with the second-born, played "baby girl" (complete with displays of water power). The parents were, of course, blind to the children's maneuvers. They knew only that their first-born was a "bad boy," in need of constant rebukes for abusing his siblings, until Dreikurs revealed what was really going on. This case of sibling rivalry uncovers the role of parents who may naively add to the trouble they complain of having with the children. There is, of course, rivalry among children under different circumstances, especially between the first two children, and more especially in families in which the parents are jockeying for position or openly vying to see who will rule. Later-born children may also feel challenged by their siblings: There is no position without its advantages and its disadvantages [see Psychological Birth-Order Position/Birth-Order Vantage]. Each child enters a world that is already inhabited, and each must fit in and stand out by making a place for him- or herself among the others. Sometimes this eventuates in rivalry, sometimes in competition.
According to Powers (one of the present authors), a student and later colleague in Dreikurs's practice, Dreikurs differentiated between direct and indirect competition by observing that direct competition is seen when siblings struggle to outdo each other in the same arena, while indirect competition operates when siblings try to distinguish themselves in separate arenas. For example, a younger sibling who enjoys and is friends with a senior sibling, and does not want to challenge him or her directly, may turn his attention to another domain of activity. If the elder is an athlete, the younger may become an academic. It is generally helpful to remember that children are not likely to compete for the position of second-best in any arena. [See Mistaken Goals of the Discouraged Child; Parenting.]
See Parenting for suggested texts in child guidance.
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 94).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Dreikurs, R. (with Soltz, V.). (1964). Children: The Challenge. New York: Hawthorn.