I recently overheard my 11-year-old daughter complaining to her friend: “Ever since my younger sister (now four) has come, my mom favours her. If I say anything, mom doesn’t believe me. And even if my younger sister lies, mom believes her. If we have a fight, mom always tells me to stop because I’m older.” I don’t think I favour one child over the other, and I certainly don’t love my older child less. How can I ensure the older one feels I’m being fair?
While we all struggle to be impartial to our kids, this can be extremely difficult, what with them being at different ages/stages, possessing different personalities and evidencing differing needs. You also have to take into account the dynamics between two siblings, especially when there is a slightly large age gap between them.
Many older children, suddenly finding themselves under pressure to accommodate the demands of a younger child and share parental love and attention, have been known to say things such as: “I told you we should have got a puppy instead,” or “Why can’t we send him back to God?” and other similar heartfelt sentiments. (There’s actually a book on sibling rivalry titled I’d Rather Have an Iguana by Heidi Stetson Mario.)
Parents try to find a balance, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. While you think you’re being fair, the fact is that your older girl is feeling pushed around and treated unfairly on account of her younger sister. And this is the time for you to fix it, particularly since she is spelling it out.
To start with, don’t discourage your older girl from honestly expressing what’s on her mind, at least to you in private. When she says nasty things about her sister in front of the child, you’d usually say things such as: “What a terrible thing to say! You don’t really hate your sister… You have to be more caring, you’re older.” This forces her to push her feelings underground, where they build up steam. Instead, give her a chance to vent it to you. By limiting her aggressive responses to the younger child, but permitting the expression of aggressive thoughts and feelings, you’ll actually diminish sibling rivalry in the long run.
Respond to her complaints with genuine understanding. For instance: “I know you’re very angry with Baby because she grabbed your origami. She’s too young to understand how hard you worked on it. But I promise I’m going to try harder to keep her out of your way.” And do seriously see to it, visibly and demonstratively, that Baby, too, begins to learn to respect Didi’s things.
Some parents even go as far as sharing a secret humorous/ comical moment with their older child when the younger one is being particularly bothersome, but needs to be accommodated at the moment.
While things do sort themselves out between siblings, parents need to do their bit, too. Sibling relationships have much to do with how we feel about ourselves, as well as how we relate to others throughout our lives.
Email your questions to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org