In conversations about our siblings it is very likely that we start by saying how much we used to fight as children and how we would drive our parents up the wall with our arguments and spats! In most households with more than one child, this is reality even today.
It is undeniable that how a child feels in relation to his/her siblings plays a very important part in how their personality develops and affects them throughout their life.
Let’s look at a common situation which may cause siblings to fight.
Parent says, “See how well your sister keeps her things” or “Come on, he is your younger brother, give him the toy, you can always play with it later.” Child may think, “I hate my sister, amma and appa think she is better than me” or,” Ever since he has come, he cries and gets whatever he wants. I wish he could go away forever!”
We need to be aware of how the statements we make to one child may unknowingly create rivalry between siblings. Comparing, resorting to reward and punishment, using competitive statements or labelling the child may cause harm and develop resentment between siblings. The child who is put down could feel anger towards the other child and develop a low self-image. The other child could feel pressurised to keep up his ‘good’ image to receive love from parents.
Experts agree that the root of sibling rivalry is each child’s deep need for exclusive love of his/her parent. Children receive food, shelter, warmth, a sense of identity, worth to survive and thrive in their environment from their parents. The presence of siblings could threaten this very existence as it could signify less time, less attention, less appreciation, less security leading to feeling less worthy.
To make sure all our children feel secure and thrive, we need to equip ourselves with the attitudes and skills to nurture each child as a unique individual in relation to his or her sibling.
Firstly, we could explore how to effectively address the intense feelings that children express about their siblings. For that, it is important that we communicate to our children that we do understand, acknowledge their feelings and needs. Through our actions and words we can then guide them to communicate these in a healthy manner. For example, “I hate her, I wish she was dead” is something we may have heard from one of our children. It makes us furious that our child could think this way about their sibling! Our gut response is, ‘How can you say something like that? You love her!’ But what if we could pause and respond with, “Sounds like you are very angry and upset with your sister”? By acknowledging and listening to our upset child we are helping her to process her angry feelings. Our child learns how to handle emotions and express them to their sibling in a constructive manner thus strengthening their relationship.
Awareness of our own thoughts and feelings can help us to be more careful and sensitive to our children. This very awareness will guide us to seek out the uniqueness of each child and reflect it to them making each child feel loved and special for who they are. Creating a nurturing environment for sibling relationships helps each child to have a secure self-esteem, grow into a balanced adult and share a strong bond with their siblings.
The writer is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more about our workshops and programs, do look us up on www.parentingmatters.in