Sibling Rivalry at the Super Bowl

by Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program

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John & Jackie Harbaugh
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There is plenty of talk about sibling rivalry in the news this week with the Harbaugh brothers (Jim, San Francisco 49ers coach and John, Baltimore Ravens coach) squaring off on Sunday at the Super Bowl, but how much do we actually know about sibling rivalry and how much could it affect the outcome?

Sibling rivalry can begin even before the second child is born and usually continues throughout childhood. It can be displayed in multiple ways, sometimes as competitive behavior or jealousy, and can even escalate to physical fighting.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with sibling rivalry:

  • Do give each child individual attention.
  • Do allow them to attempt to resolve issues on their own, observing and stepping in when appropriate.
  • Do teach your children appropriate ways to deal with anger and frustration.
  • Don’t make comparisons between children. Celebrate each child’s unique qualities.
  • Don’t take sides.
  • Don’t play favorites

For the Harbaugh brothers, even in childhood their sibling rivalry centered around sports. John Harbaugh said, “We played hockey. We played basketball. We wrestled. Whatever sport was in season, we were at practice. Jim was a great competitor. If you played hockey with Jim, you got bounced around. I shudder to think about it…that was pretty much for any sport though.”

Kids are watching very carefully how we as parents resolve conflicts.  So, by modeling behaviors that encourage mutual respect, active listening, empathy and a genuine understanding of differences, we will give our children a better chance to learn how to resolve conflict in a productive way.

We’ve seen a lot of comparisons, taking sides and playing favorites in the media this week. This Sunday will be the ultimate experience of sibling rivalry for these two. Of course they both want to win, and will be disappointed with a loss, but in the end, one thing will stay the same, they are brothers, now and forever. I feel their parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh are dealing with the situation just right, as they have said that they will be wearing neutral colors on Sunday and both wish the game could end in a tie.

What are your predictions for Sunday’s game?

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