“Sibling rivalry”- 9 June 2019

No, it is not normal for all siblings to suffer from rivalry with each other. Although it may be true that every sibling experiences a pang or too here and there and feels inferior to their other sibling but this does not become a mental health condition worth talking about. The disorder sets in when the situation is not recognised as such by parents and it may escalate into a major concern.

Anuj was beginning to lose out on studies and with his falling grades he was falling in grace too in the eyes of his parents as well as his teachers. He was in grade 8 and had always been a top-class student in academics as well as sports and cultural activities. Lately he had been sulking a lot, staying locked in his personal room, communicating less with his parents and losing his interest in studies. During counselling we found out the chief culprit- his younger sister who seemed to have become the apple of the eyes of his parents. His younger sibling was five years younger, a naughty girl who would often play mischief on him and get him scolded from the parents as she was the ‘younger one’ and ‘hence innocent’ and ‘you must understand she is small and she is your little sister’! This was getting on his nerve and it was beginning to impact his mental status. He was feeling angry and depressed with his parents and his sister whom he no longer liked as he felt she was the root cause of his problems.

Rishika was jealous of her younger sister as she was a shade better looking than her but a lot fairer in skin than she. It happened that when the talks of marriage started for Rishika the prospective grooms would prefer her younger sibling and sort of reject her. This happened twice and that was enough for her. Her moods spiralled downwards and her fighting with her sister began. She told her parents to marry off the younger one first and that she was not interested in marrying at all. She would not tolerate the presence of her sister and stopped communicating to her. The younger one was also shocked and sad about the turn of events and not at all happy about it. She in fact loved and adored her elder sister and wanted to see her married well to a good boy. She too decided never to marry and the family went into a deadlock.

We all know comparisons between siblings is commonly done by parents. One child may be excellent in studies and one may be learning disordered. As a method of motivation parents compare and do more harm than good. Chinmay was constantly being compared with his elder brother who was an all rounder and here he was always struggling with his writings in school leaving his studies half undone. He was rebuked by all and his elder brother too made fun of him at times. That nailed it for him. He became rebellious, aggressive, moody, started stealing money from home and spending it on his friends. He would treat them to goodies from the canteen and garner some love and affection from them. He was getting into a ‘conduct disorder’ from his ‘learning disorder’.

Parents need to realise that each child is unique and different in talents, intelligence levels, physical fitness and mental states such as personality and temperament. Hence each child needs to be addressed differently by the same set of parents. The rules of living can be the same, the principles and moral values can be the same at home for all and yet each individual will have a uniqueness that cannot be compared with anyone. Each child needs equal attention and dose of love and affection from his parents and that fact cannot be ignored. Sometimes a parent with a special child faces this dilemma of having to spend more time for the special child and the so called ‘normal’ child gets neglected. This needs a balancing act from parents.

Parenting is not an easy task today in the type of world we live in. However, some rules can be followed in all situations. Understand the temperament as well as the talents of the specific child and encourage them in that direction keeping strengths in mind. Do not use comparison with other children as a tool for motivation. It just does not work. Quite on the contrary it generates jealousy, hostility and anger. This bad mood in fact de-motivates. Help siblings develop good bonds by saying good things about each other and teaching respect for the older sibling and love for the younger one. Encourage elder siblings to mentor and nurture the younger one and specially if there is a special child at home, the entire family can rally around the special needs of that child. I remember an interesting story, of a seven-year old girl who pleaded with her mother for a sibling. The mother reluctantly gave in and delivered a boy. As the mother grew busy with the baby, the girl began feeling jealous and neglected. Each time she would throw a tantrum ‘you don’t love me any more’, her mother would remind her that the baby brother was there for her company and her request which God had fulfilled and she should help mother bring him up into a good boy. Slowly she began behaving like a responsible elder sister and would shield him like a mother when their mother scolded him! Such endearing stories speak of the thoughtful handling by parents who are engaged in serious parenting and keep changing their strategies to suit the needs of their children. Following the needs of specific children is a good way to handle and manage them effectively.

Each child born of love is unique and each situation is unique too and parenting requires an innovative and creative mind to do the balancing act to create a happy harmonious family where is there is no room for jealousies and hostilities within. No mean task but not impossible too.

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