Constant competition between siblings can be unnerving for the parent. However, Subha Parthasarathy tells you, it is parental response to these conflicts that can make or mar any sibling relationship
“Mummy, bhaiya is hitting me”, “Mummy, she’s meddling with my stuff.” “I hate you, you love bhaiya more”, “No one loves me’’.
These are familiar expressions that we get to hear in families with siblings. It can be very frustrating for a parent who has to deal with children who are constantly fighting, arguing and using unacceptable language. This behaviour can sometimes extend well into the middle age (30s and 40s). Does this behaviour upset you?
What is it that we observe when we see our children bickering or fighting? How do we respond to these situations? Is there a way we can respond to the situation without letting it affect the children concerned?
The relationship between siblings is a very important relationship which definitely needs nurturing. Rivalry happens when children fight over who is loved more or who is better. In many families, kids fight and appear violent despite parents being non-violent. Is this normal? Fortunately, this is common across families.
Our response to such situations can influence the relationship between siblings. It can help build a warm, loving relationship or one filled with jealousy and rivalry. Often, many adults become distant in their relationship with their siblings and this is largely because of the way their parents handled their sibling relationship when the adults were children. What parents do can cause siblings to pull together or grow apart.
Sibling rivalry begins when the second child is born into the family. How do things change for the child? The first child has been the centre of the family but things change when the second child arrives. It is to be noted that the second child also gets affected by the response of the parent.
Here are some of the typical responses of parents:
- “Do not hold the baby like that! You have to grow up to hold the baby. Now, go and play.’’
- “Look after your younger brother when you go out to play.” (This, when the older child is barely 5-7 years old.)
- “What are you doing? He is a baby. Don’t fight with him’’
- “Give the toy to your little brother, don’t be so selfish.’’
- “He is your younger brother. You should share everything with him.’’ These are some of the responses which send different messages to the older and the younger child. The older one, who may be around 3 to 7, has to suddenly grow up, whereas the younger one remains the baby of the family, even when he/she grows up.
Now, let’s look at some more responses that can cause sibling rivalry: - “You are five and look at they way you eat. Your sister is just two years old and see how neatly she eats, without making a mess.’’ - “Let’s see who finishes first.’’ - “Wow! You completed your homework without being told. Your brother, at your age, used to trouble me a great deal to finish his work.’’ - “You are the scientist in our family and your sister is the artist.’’ - “Why can’t you be more like your older brother. He is so well mannered.’’ - “You are a good boy, but look at your sister. She is just the opposite.’’ - “Take care of your sister. You are big now.’’ - “We love you equally..now give the book to your sister ... let her read it first.’’ Just close your eyes and think of what these responses would do to you if you were in the child’s place. How would these responses help you to have a nurturing relationship with your sibling?
What are the things you need to avoid and reduce sibling rivalry?
- Comparison: Any kind of comparison, positive or negative, does not help the child feel good about himself or herself.
- “You are five and just look at the way you eat. Your sister is just one-year-old and see how neatly she eats.’’
This is a comparative statement which does not help either of the children as one child feels put down and there is pressure on the other child to perform in a certain way to keep up the good work.
- “Wow! You completed your homework without being told. Your brother, at your age, used to trouble me a great deal to finish his work.’’ This statement does not help the child, as there is a pressure on the child to keep doing it right to be better than his brother.
Creating competition with the intention of motivating children actually creates a distance between the siblings.
“Let’s see who finishes first.’’This statement encourages competition between siblings as to who is better. It is helpful to understand that each child is different and each one works at his or her pace. If parents are able to respect them, they would in turn respect each other.
- “You are the scientist in our family and your sister is the artist.’’
Adults tend to put children into roles which become more like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It stops them from exploring and experiencing different things that they would have otherwise explored if not for the labels put on them.
“Take care of your sister. You are big now.’’
Children have a right to their childhood. The first child is our baby until the second one comes along. The older child is supposed to grow up in quick time. He or she is also just a child and giving him or her the unnecessary responsibility of taking care of the younger one can cause resentment.
- “We love you equally...now give the book to your sister...let her read it first.’’ We have this belief that we should love our children equally and actually believe that we can do so. Love is love and it cannot be lesser or greater. Children keep asking the question, “You love me more than bhaiya” and we tend to answer that we love them equally and they just don’t seem to be satisfied as our actions are in contradiction to what we tell them.
Here are a few things we can do to foster love and respect among siblings:
Describe their achievements
Statements like, “You were focused and completed your homework on time.’’
Giving them credit for their action helps them to look at themselves as capable human beings.
No competition at the dining table or while doing homework or while getting dressed. “Each one work at his or her pace.’’
“You eat as much as you are comfortable with.’’ “If you require any help with your homework, you can ask for help.’’
We expect the older child to share his toys and other stuff with the younger child. Acknowledging the feelings the child is going through often helps.
“You do not feel like sharing your toys right now. Whenever you are ready to share, you can.”
Freedom to explore
Children are always open to exploring. It is our responses that are probably stopping them from doing just that.
“It is interesting how you have thought about using this toy as an engine’’ instead of “you are a scientist.’’
“You have used five different colours in your drawing. The combination makes the picture bright and colourful.’’
Catering to their individual needs
Each child is loved differently, not more or less. Looking after their specific needs and making them aware of it helps them understand that they are loved and taken care of. There is no need for any kind of competition at home.
“You want me to spend time with you. Would you like to read with me or play with me.’’ “Right now, your sister needs to be fed. I will be with you in fifteen minutes. Until then you figure out what you would like us to do.’’
“Your sister wanted a skateboard. Let me know what you want.’’ Allowing them to sort out their differences When the siblings get into a fight avoid getting in too soon. Allow them time to sort it out. Come in only when there is the possibility of one of them getting physically hurt. Even then just separate them and let them know that they have to sort out their differences.
Acknowledge their feelings, describe what you see, and express confidence in their ability to think of a solution to their issue.
“I can see that both of you are very angry. But I think you are both capable of talking it out.’’
“Both of your are angry right now. Take some time off and then you can think of what you would like to do.’’
Taking sides does not help children and the basic rule of no hurting oneself, no hurting others and no causing damage to things is to be followed by all in the family.
Despite following the above rules, it is still possible that our children will fight and argue, but they will also respect each other and grow up having a healthy relationship. As parents we have a lot of power within our grasp, in bringing about a change in our responses, and thereby influencing our children’s relationship with each other.