There are many factors that cause friction during childhood but the most important one is the attitude of parents….Here’s a piece I wrote for Mumbai Mirror on how parents can raise siblings in a balanced way. The article appeared on 18th December 2019. 

A sibling can be the strongest influence in one’s life and sibling rivalry can be the best and worst thing to happen to you. It teaches you valuable life lessons about making friends, working with teams and initiating romantic relationships, but it can also damage a child’s ego and cause various problems as an adult. It’s a problem that needs to be dealt with on an almost daily basis. If parents employ the following strategies when children are young, chances are they will develop a loving relationship and a stronger bond. They will also grow up to be mature, balanced and happy adults.

Lifelong Implications

I’m not good enough”: Children who are adversely compared with a sibling develop very low self-worth. They are scared to voice their opinion and lack the ability to be assertive. Resentment sets in along with difficulty in managing conflicts. The person’s low self-esteem also hampers their success in future life-she/he may avoid taking risks or assuming leadership roles for fear of failure.

Battlefield at home: Siblings who are unfavourably compared with each other tend to fight all the time. Quite naturally, such a home environment would be replete with tension and discord. Worse still, this can reflect in marital conflict between the parents who may side with one or the other child. In short, the home turns into a battleground with enemy camps and family relations get skewed.

“I want to win… always”: sibling rivalry has been described as the “archetype of all human rivalries, enmities, and hate”. When parents constantly compare their children are motivated only by competition. They may later turn all relationships – with their partner, friends or workmates  – into a contest, feeling satisfied and fulfilled only when they are trying to “best” someone else’s performance.

Working nightmares: Psychologists right since the time of Sigmund Freud have theorized that the relationship we shared with our sibling will siblings will reflect how we deal with our colleagues at work. Children who have been unfavorably compared with their siblings are not likely to work very well in teams; they may react with hostility and defensiveness to any feedback. Conversely, the child who has been told “you’re much brighter than your brother” will obviously have an inflated sense of self-worth. As an adult such a person is likely to snub others, may hate taking instructions and treat workmates as less intelligent or inferior.

Sibling abuse: Where sibling rivalry veers off into abuse is a matter of concern. According to Dr. Vernon Wiehe, author of “Perilous Rivalry: When Siblings Become Abusive”, as many as 53 out of every 100 children abuse a sibling. Parents may ignore fighting and quarrelling between children as a normal part of growing up.  But thousands of adult survivors of sibling abuse – physical or emotional-tell of the negative effects that such unchecked behavior has had on them as adults.

The psychological impact of sibling rivalry can, therefore, have far-reaching consequences for a child. Instead of hoping “they’ll grow out of it” parents can be proactive and balanced in dealing with their children, siblings can become the best of friends and enjoy healthy social relations as grown-ups.

Strategies parents can employ

  1. Start at the very beginning:

Allow the older child to take responsibility for the younger one but use this strategy cautiously. Being burdened with caring for younger siblings is often a huge area of resentment for children. Instead, allow the child to help you while you do the chores – he can sing songs as you bathe the baby, for example, another important rule is: never neglect the older child. Psychologists say the root of sibling abuse is when parents completely ignore older children when a newborn arrives.

  1. To each his own: avoid comparing children with each other especially in the open. Each child is unique and resents. Being evaluated only in relation to someone else-(“I don’t understand it. When Tarun was her age, he could already tie his shoes.”) Instead of comparison, each child in the family should be given goals and levels of expectations that relate only to them.
  2. Who is the favorite? A recent study concluded that 70 per cent of mothers show a preference for one child. Children usually latch onto this, and it contributes to siblings rivalry, if you catch yourself thinking, “I wish Namrata was more like Arun,” consciously change your behaviour to take it more fair and unbiased. Spend time with each of your children individually; if possible, single a “day out” alone with each of the children each week.
  3. Gift them self-esteem: Usually, the younger kids are made the butt of jokes and these then grow up to hate even friendly banter. Promote your child’s sense of self-worth – this must be for all the children, not just the one who is the one who resembles you the most. Frequent praise. Respect for privacy, encouraging open sharing of thoughts and ample physical affection are simple but powerful ways to make a child feel special and loved.
  4. Identify Abuse: parents need to control any behavioural that borders on abuse. Don’t consider violence or bullying as normal, especially if one of your children cries all the time, or seems quiet and withdrawn. Make sure you set ground rules: no hitting, ridiculing, manipulation or cruel teasing.

Sibling rivalry is a continuous problem that needs to be dealt with on an almost daily basis. If parents employ these strategies when the children are young chances are they will develop a loving relationship and stronger bond. More importantly each of the children will grow up mature, balanced and happy adults.