Sibling rivalry can be any parent’s worst nightmare. They feel being in a tug of war 24*7. While some degree of sibling rivalry is absolutely normal and developmentally healthy, in some cases it takes a very ugly shape and makes everyone’s life a mess.
When the parents are expecting a new baby, the elder one goes through a lot of turmoil. "Will my parents love me? Were they not happy with me?" are some of the heart-breaking thoughts that haunt and torment them.
Here are some pointers that parents can take note of, to manage (read: not erase) the negative feelings and behaviour in the elder child better:
- Tell the elder one things about his infancy, i.e. how cute he was, how much you enjoyed with him being first-time parents, how he would eat-poop-sleep-repeat (just the way younger one does now). Do this by showing him snaps, clothes. The aim is to reassure him that he as an infant was given his due and what the younger one is getting is not unreasonable
- Tell him how the younger one will grow up the same way he has and that then younger one will also do things that he is doing now, like going to school, playing on his own, watching T.V. The aim is to reassure him that the present situation that threatens him so much will change in some time and both the kids will then get equal attention and treatment.
- Never burden him with ‘being the elder one’. Do not expect him to be the more responsible one, more sensible one, and more sacrificing one. Show him that your expectations from him will depend on his age and not on his birth-order.
- Do not ridicule the younger one to over-assure the elder one, like “he is so demanding, oh god! You are so nice!”. This may backfire and make him angrier on the younger child for troubling his parents.
- Show him graphically how your love has multiplied after the second child has come. Make cut outs of hearts and show how you had 1 love when only one child was there, and now 2, since the younger one has come. You can make a collage of two photos- one snap in which he is there with both parents (near this photo stick 2 hearts) and another snap in which all 4 of you are there (near this one stick 4 hearts). Place this collage at his eye level on a wall/ almirah where he can see it everyday. The aim is to reassure him that your love multiplied and didn’t get divided.
- When you see a problem-behaviour, try to say something reassuring and soothing to him. Like if he is crying for his meals when the younger one is being breastfed, the father can say something like this, “I know this upsets you a great deal when you see that mumma and papa are not attending to you the moment you want us to. May be you feel ignored and sad about it. Let’s count till 10 and see if mumma comes.” This will not only reassure him that you understand his feelings instead of dismissing them, but also teach him the correct behaviour (i.e. not wanting immediate gratifications, waiting for turn). Thus you taught him the right behaviour without sounding like a teacher of do’s and don’ts
- No matter what, do not give in to a regressed behaviour. Be firm and soothing, that you do understand how much he wants to do something but it’s not ok. He may not agree to your terms in the first attempt, but if you continue to be reasonably understanding, he will eventually stop being aggressively demanding.
- Do not express your anxiety regarding his behaviour in front of him. The more he perceives your concerns/worries the worse he will feel and it can become a vicious cycle.
- All children face sibling rivalry. It’s a part and parcel of growing up. Some behavioral symptoms when a new sibling arrives, are normal and not to be worried about clinically.
- They feel tender towards the newcomer to begin with. It’s only the bad experiences (real or imagined) with parents that make them dislike the younger one