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Sibling rivalry: Are parents responsible?

The basic cause of this conflict is jealousy and competition between children. You cannot eliminate it but you can certainly take measures. Rita Kalra tells you how...

sex and relationships Updated: Feb 16, 2009 13:10 IST
Rita Kalra

3-year-old Nikhil walks up to the cradle of his 6-month-old brother, looks over his shoulder to make sure he’s alone, then gives the infant a tight slap.

This feeling of hatred continues through teenage and adulthood. Parental appreciation seems to be the reason for sibling rivalry.

Children often fight with their siblings for the number one position in the family. Every child wants to be the preferred choice. What one child gets, the other wants.

The basic cause of this conflict is jealousy and competition between children. Thus, avoid comparing them unfavourably with each other. This is particularly true in three areas:
1) Children are sensitive about physical characteristics. It is inflammatory to commend one child at the expense of the other.
2) Intelligence is another sensitive nerve. It is not uncommon to hear parents, say in front of their children, “I think the younger boy is actually brighter than his brother.” Adults don’t comprehend the impact this can have on a child’s mind.
3) Children (especially boys) are extremely competitive with regard to athletic abilities. Those who are slower and weaker than their brothers are rarely able to accept ‘second best’ with grace.

This does not mean that parents should discourage healthy competition to minimize jealousy between children. It’s just that parents should make children feel that in matters of beauty, intelligence and athletic ability, they get as much respect as their sibling.<b1>

What can Parents do?
-Prepare your child before a new baby invades his world.
-Never Compare — Without drawing comparisons, help your child improve in the activities he is weak at, while appreciating his strong points.
-Praise or criticize in private to avoid setting up rivalries.
-Reject the behavior, love the child — When a behavior displeases you, tell him, “I’m concerned it’s only ½ an hour before dinner and you haven’t started your homework yet.”
-Refrain from being judge or jury — If you become the judge who decides who’s right and who’s wrong ,children feel you’re taking sides.
-Be a mediator not a referee — Intervene only when someone might get hurt.

Remember, there is no way (mine or anyone else’s) to eliminate rivalry between siblings. All you can hope for realistically is to minimize it. As you help your child learn to solve his conflicts in a positive way, you build his psychological muscles for dealing with the realities of life.

Rita Kalra is a delhi based physician and author of several published articles on parenting and nutrition. She can be contacted at premritakalra@yahoo.com