Managing sibling rivalry

Published On: May 3, 2020 02:00 PM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

All parents want their children to have good relationships among their children. The best thing to do is to allow your children to develop bonds at their own pace.


I can imagine a household full of children, without the option of going out during this current state of lockdown. Schools, colleges, offices and everything else is closed, and everyone is home. I am sure the first few days were very chaotic, till the establishment of routines, and everyone found their corner to play, or to do their stuff. Still, the siblings had some level of rivalry and tensions among them. That’s what siblings are all about.

By the end of the month-long lockdown, even parents who did not have time for their children, have had plenty of opportunity to understand their children a little better. They have learned about older, younger, and middle-aged children’s personality. Along with the skill to handle unpleasant situations, and of course, mastered the art of negotiation
with their children.

Just the term sibling brings back plenty of bittersweet memories to people who have siblings. It is natural for people to ask about your siblings immediately after introduction. Questions like, “Do you have siblings? How many? Are they married?” Even now, I have no idea what knowing about our siblings means to people. I believe it is just a matter of natural curiosity. Then again, if asked, how is your term with your siblings? That becomes a little personal, and not everyone will feel comfortable answering it. The reason behind this is perhaps the memory of their dynamics with each other.

Everyone has special memories of their childhood. These memories often impact their decisions while raising their children. In my case, my sister is eleven years younger than me. I was more her guardian than a friend while she was growing. That was one reason I decided to have a small age difference between my children. So now they are much closer and are like friends. As my children grew up, I noticed they went through cycles of friendship and healthy rivalry. However, these dynamics changed as they grew. This is true of everyone, regardless of whether they were inseparable companions or in a phase of constant fighting. Parents need to understand their children’s relationship with each other as they grow up.

If you had siblings, you will understand it much better, and reflect on that knowledge, while caring for your children. If you do not have siblings but have more than one child at home, you can expect their dynamics to change as they grow up. My experience tells me that siblings can be annoying when they are young, especially when they are growing up together. Sometimes, comparisons and competition come in the way. Parents fail to understand that comparing one with the other is a bad practice. This reinforces the annoyance already there as an undercurrent.

I am sure, now you remember your children complaining, "Why does he get to do this, and I don’t?"   "Why does she get to wear a new dress, and I don’t?" "Why do I always have to wear old clothes, and she gets new ones?" "Why do I have to wear hand me downs?" These are just a few examples of situations you might have faced. I know I have opened a pandora’s box. Yes, there are so many things that can go wrong, even when you think you have done the right thing. It is often difficult to foresee your children’s reactions to your action. For parents, balancing their actions is like walking a tight rope, one misstep and they are accused of being partial. Parents feel they are being just, but their children understand these actions differently. For example, when the second child is born, the first one automatically becomes older, and parents start behaving as such. They feel this is normal. They fail to understand that just designating the older position does not automatically change the way a child feels and expects from their parents. Parents’ attitude changes, but it takes a while for the child to adjust to the situation. This often promotes rivalry among the siblings. Sometimes parents are responsible for the difficult situations their children have to face. Often the age difference between siblings seems larger than it is because of the heavy emphasis placed on the age difference throughout their childhood.

However, this difference becomes less of a factor during adolescence. They might even discover new bonds and similarities they shared while growing up. This is especially true if the age difference between the siblings is small. You will find your children locked in constant battle for parents’ attention while growing up. This will push the siblings to explore new interests, so they don’t have to compete with each other. Despite all this, sometimes there is still some healthy competition among them. I remember my sons competing on who would read the maximum number of books during the summer break.

As a result, I had to take them to the library every week to get an equal number of books for each. They were both avid readers, and they finished each other’s books, amounting to fourteen books, each in a week. As my sons grew older, they became good friends. This became more visible when one of them left to study abroad. By now, parents must be thinking, “So what should we do to foster healthy relationships among our children?” All parents want their children to have good relationships among their children. The best thing to do is to allow your children to develop bonds at their own pace. Parents can guide their children to foster successful and mutually beneficial friendship. It turns out parents can do a lot to help their children to develop a positive attitude towards each other. According to scientists, a child as young as two years understands the respecting people’s feelings and listening to each other and working towards a solution, under parents’ guidance.

It is necessary to instill some form of manners in your children, even if your younger child is a toddler. They need to understand the importance of acting properly, so they understand that s/he does not have a free rein and that they respect each other’s feelings.

Parents be careful and do not overlook your child’s bad behavior. Rather guide your child towards taking turns and model a way to be considerate and polite. It is always a good idea to foster teamwork among siblings. When you notice siblings competing for your attention, tactfully place them in a situation where they can be partners. The idea is to make the younger sibling feel included, and an older sibling feels protective towards his/her sibling, this helps build their bond. Always encourage when siblings form a team to accomplish certain tasks. That is another unifying tactic.

Allow your children to develop their bond at their own pace and implement structures that help foster a healthy connection. Just remember that a child’s interactions with his/her brother or sister shape his/her opinion about him/herself. Hence it is always a good idea to help your children get along and feel good about by acknowledging each other’s needs. Thus parents can guide their kids to a successful and mutually beneficial friendship. While you are at it, don’t aim for equality between siblings in your effort to be fair to your children. The reason behind this is that each of your children has different developmental abilities, needs, and wants.

Finally, keep in mind to respect the possessive instinct of each child. Forcing your younger or older child to share their favorite toys might breed resentment among themselves. Often the younger ones have certain things that they do not want to share with their older siblings, and that is ok. It’s up to the parents to create a situation where you can play along with your children. At the same time, also guide them, when playing as a team. Now that is something parents have well learned during this lockdown situation, right parents?

Usha Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books

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