Sibling Sensitivities

Gita Nambiar

“You love Anna, you don’t love me”, is an oft heard refrain in families with two or more children. Parents are generally at a loss when it comes to handling sibling rivalry. The reasons are many – ranging from physical appearance, prowess in sports to excelling in academics. It is inevitable in most households; however, the severity varies from home to home. Whereas in some cases it is mild and manageable, in others, it takes on gigantic proportions, even culminating in bodily harm or seriously affecting the personality.

This is a sensitive issue and needs to be handled with caution and in an empathetic manner. Parents need to give it a thought even before the second child is born. The first child would have monopolized all the love and affection for a long period and become accustomed to receiving the undivided attention of parents and other family members. To be suddenly deprived of all this and be thrust aside, while the newcomer is welcomed into the fold, can be traumatising.

It would be a wise move to prepare the firstborn for the arrival of a sibling, in a positive manner. That he or she will have a playmate and companion and would soon be given the esteemed status of an older brother or sister, with someone to take care of and protect. Each parent can take turns spending time with the two children. Other family members too can ensure that the older sibling is not deprived of attention.

It is quite natural for the arrival of the newborn to be viewed with apprehension and sometimes rejection by the older sibling and these feelings need to be handled delicately. Parents who are themselves the older of two siblings may recall their own reactions at the birth of a younger brother or sister. It would be a good idea to involve the older child in the care of the younger one so he does not feel left out. He could be a participant in all play activities and given responsible roles to play in the nurture of his sibling.

Bringing up two or more children in a family should be a pleasurable experience for the parents and not considered a deprivation of freedom and private space and time. The happiness automatically transfers to the children, who grow up emotionally secure and content. The way we scrutinise our children determines how they look at each other. The most important factor to remember is that each child is a unique creation. Once we absorb and internalise this idea, it makes the going easier.

Children are unlike peas in a pod. No two are alike, even among identical twins. As parents, we cannot rest on our laurels thinking if we can bring up one child, the second should be a piece of cake. Each one is different and has varying needs. As they grow and learn, we grow and learn too, and it is an enriching experience. We need to be alert and sharp in order to identify each one’s highs and lows. A requirement that is absolutely essential in their nurture is ‘acceptance’ – for what they are and what they turn out to be. While the former is beyond our control, the latter is well within our means. We need to revel in their victories and strengths and be supportive in their defeats and weaknesses.

As much as we are aware of each child’s pluses and minuses, we also need to make each sibling aware of the other’s strengths and weaknesses. They should respect each other’s qualities. We, as parents, should encourage each one’s pursuits and refrain from comparing one with the other. Quality time should be spent with each separately, doing what they like. Household rules should apply equally to both and each should be given his or her share of responsibilities. The atmosphere at home should be conducive so that each child feels free to share his concerns and emotions. Children should be encouraged and appreciated for helping and caring about each other.

In families where there is a special child, there is a natural tendency to focus more on this child. The typical sibling may feel neglected and bitter, but this attitude can be turned around by counselling him or her on why the other child requires the extra attention in view of his inadequacies. A feeling of empathy can be created, which could prove beneficial in the care of the special child.

Sibling rivalry is a problem that can be worked on and solved with sufficient forethought on the part of the parent. As most parents would agree, even a one-year old child has a mind of his own. Bringing up two or more very different individuals is definitely challenging, but the right measures of patience, understanding, tolerance and appreciation can mould well-adjusted and mutually accepting kids. We can then pat ourselves on the back for a job well executed!

(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)