Mom vs sibling rivalry

Jane Gopalakrishnan

Most of us are nodding our heads in agreement. How do you stop the constant bickering, name-calling, fist-fights and howling? The good news is you don't. Sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up and gives your children their first peer interaction and helps them develop conflict strategies and negotiation skills. So don't keep butting in and sorting it out for them. As my friend Azfar said, when I asked him how his little children were, 'Wherever they are, they're five minutes away from a fight.' Step in only when it's getting dangerous, you think...

Related read: Is your child a troublemaker?

A good start is to diagnose whether your children are just having a healthy difference of opinion or whether it is serious sibling rivalry, which can get carried over into adult life as low self-esteem, dependency or trouble in relationships. Here's a look at what causes the rivalry, and the worth-a-try ways to stem it:

'You love him more than me' Stated or unstated, the share of time or attention received from a parent is a -leading cause of jealousy. A new baby demands more time and so the elder sister is expected to play by herself. Or her brother plays football with dad, which she isn't good at. Time equals love for children.

Solution: Spend alone-time with each child. Ask each child what she's interested in and get yourself involved in her life, even if it means dad has to help braid Barbie's hair, instead of playing football. 'Why does he get to stay up, but not me?'Big age differences between children can cause problems, because the older child gets to do more "adult" things.

Solution: Do not treat your children equally. This may sound radical, but it is practical. Make sure you have rules for each age. So, yes, 'Bhaiya gets -pocket money on the weekends, and when you turn 10, so will you.' Keep your promise! Also, make sure -that the children know that with rights, come -responsibilities. 'Bhaiya can go cycling on his own, but he must wash his own cycle.' Set an age for sleepovers, TV time and going out with friends. Don't punish an older child by making him sleep at eight like the younger sibling, in the name of equality.

'Why should I share with her? Young children have an attachment to their toys and giving them up is a -mature trait. However, since most parents can't afford separate rooms or toys for each child, children need to learn to share early.

Solution: Share time with each toy. 'You have the first chance to play with the remote-control car, and after 10 minutes, he gets it.' Even better, let the child who volunteers to go second, get an extra minute to play with it. And the eventual tie-breaker is: 'If you don't share the toy, Mama takes it away for a week.' It works! One bit of advice I've always loved is on sharing a cake. Let one child cut it into two, and the other child choose which slice he wants. Win-win!

'You're always praising him' Children come with different skills and some may be better at academics. And so parents tend to compare. 'Look at your brother! See how he studies.' She'll probably resent her brother.

Solution: Celebrate one child's academic success, and the other one's sketching skill. Don't compare.

'You never believe me!'
And finally, are you actually being unfair? Without knowing it, we label our children. One tends to lie, one is unruly... Have you decided, for instance, that one child is the hooligan and you yell at him everytime?

Solution: Do a reality check. Ask another adult who's watching. Ask the children separately. Let them voice their grievances. A child has nowhere to turn when his own mother doesn't trust him. Finally, talk to your children about how lucky they are to have siblings. How great it is to have someone around who doesn't go home after a play date. Make them realise they've got a best friend for life. 'You always punish me, not her'

The older one's persistent complaint comes from a feeling of injustice. When Mom breaks up a fight, she always sides with the younger one. The older child feels discriminated against time and time again, and has a growing resentment towards his younger, vulnerable sibling.

Solution: Play fair. If any child hits the other, or breaks his toy or spoils his book, the outcome needs to be the same. Whether it's a pocket money cut or even a heart-felt scolding... No saying, 'He's younger, he didn't mean it, he didn't know what he was doing.' Help the younger child too learn early that he pays for not playing by the fair game rules.

'She's no fun!' This may seem heart-wrenching if your cosy picture of loving children shatters when a child spurns her younger, weaker or ill sibling. This scenario is common in houses where one child persistently falls ill, and the parents are at her bedside or always worried about her. 'Shh, don't shout. You'll disturb Mini.' Or if she needs special help while studying in case she has a disability. The stronger child who, after all, is still a child, feels abandoned.

Solution: Acknowledge the tougher one's resentment. Do not make him continuously put his own life on the backburner. If you're busy in hospital, make sure his dad takes him for his friend's party. Do -something special for the tougher one, like stage a "no-reason" movie as a surprise for him.

5 things you may not have known about sibling rivalry

  • The more responsible child often gets victimised because parents expect higher standards out of him or her.
  • The way they fight (and resolve their differences) as children is the way they will as adults.
  • Children end up resenting a sibling they are forced to be kind to or 'love'.
  • Don't treat the children equally. It's necessary to allow an older child later bedtimes, for example.
  • Children pick up conflict resolution from what you do, not say. If you hit them, they will hit. If you sulk, so will they.