When you were little, sibling rivalry probably amounted to nothing more than stealing each other’s clothes and Barbies. Today, those frivolous fights might have fizzled out — or perhaps they’ve become more inflamed into serious competition. Either way, feeling at least a little jealous of our closest family is totally normal. Whether the oldest, middle, or baby, all kids are susceptible to catching the green-eyed monster at one point or another. But before you start pointing fingers at each other, parenting expert and author Dr. Vanessa Lapointe has an alternative explanation.

A pair of siblings eat dinner together

“[Sibling] jealousy will be about key themes that have to do with how we attach or connect to our primary caregivers, even if the parent isn’t around or the siblings are all grown up,” Dr. Lapointe explains. There ya have it, kids: Because of the way our parents shape sibling relationships, the way they treat us growing up has a huge impact on potential sibling jealousy later on. But where do parents go wrong?

Dr. Lapointe shares that sibling jealousy is rooted in the way that parents divide resources like their time, energy, and finances. If you think in terms of economics, these resources are inherently scarce, which means they’re less available to you when they’re being used on your siblings. “A dynamic can emerge where the sibling relationship becomes one fraught with competition to secure these resources,” observes Dr. Lapointe. “Enter jealousy and a host of other emotions, alongside thought patterns meant to resolve any existing cognitive dissonance about those emotions.”

Two sisters sit together on a dock watching a lake

While the feelings surrounding jealousy might be complicated, Dr. Lapointe points out that the sources of jealousy are pretty finite when it comes to our parents:

1. Commonalities With Your Parents

2. Feeling a Sense of Belonging in Your family

3. Feeling Significant in Your Family

4. Feeling Warmth and Love

5. Feeling Fully and Deeply Known

Sure, there are plenty of immediate things that can make you jealous of your siblings. However, these five themes are generally prevalent on a deeper level that has to do with your parents. For example, if your sister and dad love to hike together, you lose out on your dad’s commonality resource and therefore can more heavily scrutinize your sister’s habits (e.g., “I’m not as outdoorsy/athletic as my sister”).

If you’re self-aware enough to assess these feelings for yourself, you’re probably wondering how to remedy them. “At the end of the day, addressing the problematic dynamic of sibling rivalry actually comes down to addressing the parent-child relationship rather than the sibling relationship,” Dr. Lapointe recommends. “If the child can feel secure in the parent-child relationship, then the sibling dynamic will also be resolved.” But changing these longstanding relationships is easier said than done. To ease the transition, Dr. Lapointe suggests starting with an open discussion that’s confirmed by caring actions.

So here’s the bottom line: You might never stop stealing each other’s clothes, but you can take steps to keep the green-eyed monster out of your relationships with your siblings.

How do you deal with sibling rivalry? Let us know @BritandCo!

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(Photos via Getty)