Kids Health

How sibling rivalry has more to do with parents than their children

Pataakha, starring Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan, shows how two sisters keep fighting with each other. Express Parenting got in touch with a psychologist to find out how parents can tackle sibling rivalry.

Pataakha, a Vishal Bhardwaj movie starring Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan in lead roles, lays bare the bitter side of the otherwise romanticised relationship between siblings. The sisters turn out to be intolerable with their shameless animosity towards each other. Come to think of it, sibling rivalry is an oft-seen phenomenon among children. Sometimes, it takes the form of a bittersweet tussle; on some occasions, it might aggravate to the point of violence and aggression, which can cause serious harm to the children. Of course, there’s no way one can completely avoid sibling rivalry, but it can surely be tackled.

Causes of sibling rivalry

“The feeling of rejection, comparison and lack of attention, these are the three major things that usually affect a child’s mind,” Dr Rachna Khanna Singh, HOD-Holistic Medicine & Psychology, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon, explained while speaking to Express Parenting.

Sibling rivalry can start right from when the baby, the second child, is in the mother’s womb. With the parents’ attention mostly centred around the newborn, the elder sibling might start feeling neglected.

Again, parents may tend to play favourites among their children. This not only makes the less favourite child yearn for the parents’ attention, but also gives rise to undue jealousy among siblings, which then translates into rivalry.

One of the major catalysts is comparison between siblings, which most parents tend to resort to in the name of encouraging them to become that “perfect” kid. “We are all aspiring towards what can be termed the dream child—one who is an all-rounder. The child is under a constant pressure to perform. It is the era of competition now, where children are constantly pressurised to excel. Parents don’t want their children to be complacent, which is why they keep pushing them to do better and better,” asserted Dr Singh. And to most parents, comparing one sibling’s success with the failure of the other is considered the most feasible option.

More often than not, parents usually consider the elder sibling to be smarter than the younger one. And the sibling who is at least seen as less smart will tend to deliver a worse performance, as concluded in a study published in the Journal of Family Pyschology.

Does that mean parents should completely do away with comparing between their children? Dr Singh clarified, “Comparison, to a certain degree, is normal. If parents are comparing one child to another only to motivate him or her, it is absolutely alright. But there is a thin line between motivation and criticism. When criticising the child for every little thing he or she does while praising the other becomes a routine, it is sure to pose a big problem. The child may start feeling incompetent which, in turn, would make him or her target the sibling. The child might start viewing the sibling as the enemy.”

Effect on the siblings

Extreme cases of sibling rivalry can have a lasting impact on the children concerned. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, sibling rivalry can feed psychological and physical aggression, traumatise the child and lead to higher instances of depression, anxiety and anger later in life. Sometimes, what might seem to be an innocent fight between siblings, can also turn out to be violent, which may entail abusive language and physical brutality.

“Sibling rivalry, in many cases, can trigger a rift in families too,” added Dr Singh. “We often come across cases where siblings end up fighting over property, for instance. And it stems from the feeling of competition, where one needs to be better than the other. And the conflict aggravates especially when the siblings have not shared a strong bond since childhood,” she said.

Also Read: 6 ways to prepare a firstborn for a sibling

How to tackle sibling rivalry

It is not like sibling rivalry can be avoided completely but can surely be moderated. Suggesting ways to do so, Dr Singh said, “Sibling rivalry can be contained if parents nurture their child and tackle the issue right from the beginning.”

And how do they tackle this? To begin with, parents need to appreciate the strength of each child and help them hone it. Instead of playing favourites among children, parents should treat them as individuals. Again, they should spend enough time individually with the children so that neither feels neglected.

Parents often tend to ignore fights between siblings, treating the event as extremely common and normal. While parents need not interfere in every little argument that the siblings might have, it is important for them to intervene if things seem to go out of hand. “Parents need to intervene if they find the relationship between the siblings is found to be getting worse. On other occasions, they just have to let them be and let them solve their problems on their own,” advised Dr Singh. This way, children will gradually find themselves taking ownership of each other and of the situation while learning how to handle a crisis.

Also Read: How a brother or sister can affect a kid’s growth

“Conflict between siblings may heighten especially in the teens, when the child is going through hormonal and physical changes. It, however, may gradually lessen as the siblings become more mature with age,” said Dr Singh.

The root of sibling rivalry lies in the way parents handle their children. Parental intervention plays a key role in tackling sibling rivalry which, as Dr Singh suggests, “needs to be higher especially when children are very young and not mature enough to deal with such conflicts.”

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