Sibling Spillover Effect: From combat to cooperation
Can you imagine what it must have been like growing up in Serena and Venus Williams’s home? The constant challenge of two young girls, two teenage girls, competing with one another in the same sport? Imagine being the parents and having to watch them enter the same arena, compete against one another, and then deal with the triumph of the winner and the disappointment of the loser? But perhaps this sibling rivalry is precisely what’s brought the Williams sisters such phenomenal success in the realm of professional tennis.
Ever heard of the ‘sibling spillover effect’? We all know about sibling rivalry, and the exhausting, never-ending squabbles. But the sibling spillover effect is almost the polar opposite. It’s not ‘big brother’s watching you’, rather ‘big brother’s helping you up your game’. Or in the case of Venus and Serena, it’s big sister.
Sibling rivalry can have a negative effect on children where they compete for attention, a sense of individuality (and “I’m different to my sibling” mentality). They try to be the dominant sibling in a specific area (sports, academics or a hobby) or even in terms of their parents’ affection. Let’s face it, it’s tiring for everyone concerned and can leave children with a dented self-esteem.
New studies have shown that the relationship between siblings can have the most profound effect on our identities. Through the competition with our siblings, we learn the most about ourselves, from developing new skills to discovering our limitations. One of the most important lessons we learn is that of winning and losing, as well as the value of hard work and creativity in achieving success. Competition with a brother or sister can be damaging or beneficial and this is where the sibling spillover effect is most noticeable.
While sibling rivalry means squabbles over toys, over dominance and over strength, there’s a gentler side to the sibling spillover effect. For example, an older sibling who has brought home an academic achievement begins to teach the younger one how to do the same. Or a younger brother or sister, wowed by their older sibling’s capacity on the sports field begins to mimic them in order to learn from them. The sibling spillover effect means siblings share knowledge, teach each other skills, encourage one another and help one another to achieve by raising the bar. The competition between them is healthy; it has a positive effect through the sharing of resources.
In the case of Venus and Serena, born just 15 months apart with Venus being older, the sibling spillover effect has been phenomenal to watch. The sisters have faced off in no less than 28 professional tennis matches, playing against each other in four consecutive Grand Slam titles. The competition on the court is fierce, and Serena is leading this clash of the titans, with 17 wins from their 28 matches. It’s also Serena who has snatched the trophy for all four of their Grand Slam matches.
Yet the bond between the two women is evident – they praise each other’s successes, respect each other and give the other sibling the spotlight. After winning the Australian Open on 28 January, Serena said: “I really would like to take this moment to congratulate Venus. She’s an amazing person. There’s no way I would be at 23 (titles) without her. There’s no way I’d be at one without her. There’s no way I’d have anything without her. She’s my inspiration — she’s the only reason I’m standing here today and the only reason the Williams sisters exist. So thank you, Venus, for inspiring me to be the best player that I could be and inspiring me to work hard.” Venus was no less effusive in her praise of her sister: “When I’m playing on the court with her, I think I’m playing, like, the best competitor in the game.”
And the Williams sisters are not the only celebrity siblings who’ve enjoyed incredible success in their respective fields. Consider the Wayans brothers: Keenen Ivory Wayans, Damon, Shawn and Marlon Wayans are a veritable force in Hollywood, with sitcoms and movies ranging from In Living Colour to the Scream movie franchise.
Michael and Janet Jackson’s astronomical fame is recognised worldwide, with Janet earning $718 million from album sales and touring during her career, according to Forbes. Michael sold more than 750 million albums and has been cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time.
Beyoncé has topped the Forbes Celebrity 100 list for earning $115 million, and she has six number one albums on the Billboard 200 chart. In October 2016, her sister Solange joined her with her first number one album, A Seat at the Table. In a recent interview, Solange says that growing up with her talented older sibling was like a “master class” on achieving success.
How can you encourage your children to tap into the sibling spillover effect? It’s important to reinforce the message that comparison is unhealthy as each child will have differing strengths and talents. Teach your children to share resources, help one another, and that competition should be used to build each other up. Children who are treated equally will be less inclined to compete with one another, knowing they have intrinsic value and worth.