When Cousins Become Hypercompetitive

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BY SUSAN ADCOX

I was so proud of the mini scrapbooks I had found on clearance. I bought two, one for each of my youngest granddaughters, and I printed out photos for their books ahead of time, so we’d be ready for an afternoon of fun and bonding. Instead I had an afternoon of whining and fighting. Each girl worked on her scrapbook with an eye on her cousin’s book, constantly measuring it for quality against her own work. They took forever to finish a single page and argued over markers, stickers, and glue sticks.

Finally we abandoned the project altogether. The two partially finished scrapbooks now sit in a closet, reminders that cousin rivalry can be just as potent and just as hard to deal with as sibling rivalry.

Here’s what I’ve learned about cousin rivalry:

  • It occurs in some cousin combinations and not in others.
  • It is at its worst at ages 8-12.
  • It occurs most often when cousins are close in age and of the same gender.
  • Sometimes grandchildren compete for attention from a grandparent, but at other times they may be vying for the attention of another cousin, especially an older and “cooler” cousin. 

One way to avoid cousin rivalry is to avoid competition. In the case of the scrapbooking disaster, however, I never imagined that the two would see the activity as a contest. Besides, avoiding competition is easier said than done. Most things that grandparents do with grandchildren are either naturally competitive (board games, outdoor games, card games) or can be turned into a competition by determined grandchildren. (Who can blow the most bubbles in their milk before Grandpa calls a halt to the game?)

A grandparent’s first responsibility is to make sure that the rivalry doesn’t become physical, but we can also help our grandchildren understand their feelings and discover ways of handling them.

In the case of my two granddaughters, it helped to tell them that they wouldn’t be invited to sleepovers at my house unless they could get along. They really did want to play together. They just needed a little incentive to make it work.

One of my favorite grandparent memes states: “Grandma’s House: Where Cousins Go to Become Best Friends.” And I believe that it is true. What it doesn’t say is that sometimes there’s a little fighting first.

CousinsSusan Adcox is the Grandparents Expert on About.com and the author of Stories From My Grandparent: A Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild. A former teacher, she has seven grandchildren.

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