Why do brothers and sisters fight? How can parents help solve them?
Taruna is exhausted. She has just come back from a hard day at work and she walks into the house only to hear her children screaming at each other. The moment they saw her, accusations against one another flew faster than she could handle them. “He's not letting me study and I have my exam coming up,” shouts her daughter, while her son screams back, “She only pretends to study when I want to watch TV.”
Sibling rivalry is a fact of life. Taruna and her husband have tried hard to bring up their children with no conflict but are unable to overcome the forces of nature! It seems that they are always pulling them apart or acting as referees in another skirmish. What is the solution to sibling rivalry?
Sibling rivalry or sibling conflict is very common. Fights among brothers and sisters will be interspersed with periods of affection and adoration for each other.
When there is a new baby born, the seeds of sibling rivalry are sown because the sibling sees a potential rival for parental attention. We also expect the child to share everything with his new sibling, from toys to books to room space. It does not seem to matter what the age difference is between siblings — they will find new and innovative situations to escalate a sibling war!
Why do siblings fight?
Natural evolution: It is natural that as they grow, siblings will develop individual needs and personalities. They will grow away from each other in terms of attitude and temperament. This will lead to conflicts. One child may be so possessive about her belongings that she may find it difficult to accept her sibling using her stuff. On the other hand, the other sibling might have such an innate sense of sharing that he is left angry and frustrated that she won't share with him.
You love him more! This is a statement all parents have heard. Most children grow up with a secret conviction that the other child is more important to the parents. This triggers off unacceptable behaviour that makes one sibling try to expose the other child as being the worse one. Unfortunately, in some families a child may get more attention because of a physical, emotional or learning disability. This may be hard to handle for the other sibling.
Each child has a different temperament: All parents have had moments when they wonder how the same genetic material has produced children of such disparate personalities! An independent child may fight with the sibling who is always turning to his parents for attention. A child with a laid back attitude may find a focussed sibling's behaviour unacceptable.
Parental behaviour: Children, who see their parents treat each other with respect and a strong sense of fair play, will learn acceptable behaviour from them. Conflict within parents may precipitate and aggravate sibling rivalry.
The parents' role
Parenthood comes with no instruction manuals. Nevertheless there are a few good rules to follow:
* Don't make comparisons. Each child is unique and all your children are not going to be carbon copies of each other. Constantly pointing out one child's shortcomings in comparison to his sibling will only brew resentment.
* Do not expect a child to never get angry. Anger and resentment are normal emotions. The child must be allowed to vent his anger but must be taught rules. Use of foul language, violence and inappropriate behaviour must be strictly against the rules. Acknowledge that the child has every right to be angry (“I know she should not have taken your book without asking you.”) but also point out that tearing her book as retaliation is out of bounds.
* Allow the children to try to work out their differences. You might have to step in and separate the siblings when the situation is out of control. Do not try to resolve the issue right then and there when everybody's temper is high. Let everybody calm down and then initiate negotiations. The children must be equally held responsible. The best resolution comes when both are taught to compromise and then each, at least partly, gets what they want.
Sibling rivalry is a means by which, on their way to adulthood, children learn the rules of engagement, negotiation, compromise and resolution.
The author is an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising in Chennai and has written the book ‘Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy'.