What is it?
Jealousy between siblings is not a new phenomenon. However, for many parents it comes as a shock because they expect their children to behave like the ideal siblings of Bollywood. Little do they realise that not all siblings can be best friends all their lives, because not everyone has the same personality or disposition. Even identical twins may not always be the best of friends. As humans, there is bound to be some competition, which may not always be healthy. There may be some jealousy, a bit of bitterness and may be even fights, which can sometimes be intense.
Why does it happen?
More than the parents, the siblings are the ones who end up being with each other most of the time. They may be sharing the same nursery as kids, the same room as they grow and even be going to the same school. They know each other better than even their own parents do. Jealousy between them may be born out of many reasons:
- Unwillingness to share: Most signs of jealousy become obvious the moment the sibling is born. Usually, the elder kid, irrespective of age, resents the new arrival because she or he, who had all the attention of the parents up until then, ends up playing second fiddle. Suddenly, the elder one is expected to act grown-up and responsible and even protect and take care of the younger one. Also, from being the owner of a hoard of toys, the elder one goes on to become part-owner as she or he is expected to share his or her toys with the younger kid and accommodate and include the younger child in all his or her activities. Not all elder kids are prepared for this change.
- Parents unknowingly fuel the jealousy: When there are young children in the house, it is natural to witness fights, verbal and physical. Sometimes, parents seek to end the fight by scolding the elder one of the two and holding her or him responsible for the conflict. They refuse to listen to the elder one’s arguments preferring to convince him or her that the younger is just a baby or too young to understand. This only frustrates the elder sibling and sows in him or her the seeds of jealousy for the younger sibling. This kind of jealousy may grow with age and take on dangerous proportions in adult life
- Hand-me downs: Often, the younger children are handed down dresses, toys and books used by the elder brothers or sisters. After a certain point, these young ones resent this. They desire new books, toys and dresses, which the parents probably cannot afford. Many siblings in Indian lower-middle class families use the same text books that their elder siblings have used in school. The condition of these books is not always good. After all, the books have been used for a whole year, day in and day out. Similarly, often, teachers at school compare the younger sibling with the elder one(s). If the elder one happens to be a brilliant student, the younger one is expected to be as brilliant if not more. Such expectations often put immense pressure on the younger siblings to perform academically. If they are unable to take the pressure or end up scoring below expectation, they develop an inferiority complex. In some cases, such siblings begin to hate the elder sibling. This hatred, born in school, grows through the years and may last a lifetime.
- Comparisons: Not all siblings resemble each other. Many siblings end up looking very different from each other. If one sister is extremely fair and the other dark; or if one is very beautiful and the other is average looking; and in case of brothers, if one is athletic and strong, and the other frail and vulnerable; or one highly competent and the other incompetent, there are bound to be comparisons. Often, parents themselves end up saying “Why can’t you be like your brother or your sister?” In some Indian families, daughters who are not fair or pretty are considered a huge burden as it is believed that they never find husbands easily. In such families, if one daughter is pretty and the other less so, it will be natural for the latter to feel jealous of the former. Insensitive relatives may accidentally say things that may fuel the jealousy further.
- Age gap: At times, the gap between siblings is so huge that the elder one ends up being the caretaker of the younger one. The parents literally feed to the elder the fact that it is her or his duty to take care of the younger sibling. If the elder one is a teenager and the younger one has just started school, the elder may even feel embarrassed to admit that she or he is a sibling. Things become worse if they are in the same school. Teenagers have their own circle of friends and activities they like to indulge in, whereas small kids expect to be taken out on play dates and for outings to the park. They require a babysitter and the parents often force their teenagers to babysit the siblings. This doesn’t always go down well with the elder children, who need their space, would prefer to hang out with friends their age and would rather indulge in activities that interest teenagers. Too much of babysitting makes them hate the younger siblings and forces them to drift away from the ‘happening’ crowd.
Counselling at home
Children understand a lot more than we think and their little brains absorb far beyond what we can ever imagine. They are fast learners and have powerful observation skills. If they witness their parents resolving conflicts effectively, they will also learn to do the same.
It is best to sit them down and tell them that their siblings are a part of the family and it is important to take care of each member of the family. The earlier they are imparted this lesson, the better their relation will be. Tell them how important it is to share things with everyone, especially siblings. Remember, all these lessons have to be taught to the elder one as well as the younger one. Taking sides is a strict ‘No’ here. The younger child should be taught to respect the elder one and the elder should be taught to be understanding and protective towards the younger one. After all, this is the equation they will follow throughout their lives. Punishment for a wrong deed should be equally strict for both of them. No child should feel that the other is his or her parents’ favourite. This is the primary reason for the birth of jealous feelings.
Most importantly, parents must bring up their children such that even in their absence, the siblings should be aware of their duties towards each other and the significance of family bonds.