Chennai: After a 33-year-old man was arrested for immolating his parents and younger brother, sibling rivalry - an issue common to almost every household - has come to the fore as a vicious motive. The man, who at first succeeded in making the murder look like an accident, confessed to the crime in the face of forensic evidence, stating that he was driven to it because the parents were extremely partial to the younger son. Even if other motives do arise later in the course of investigations, the fact that sibling rivalry could lead to longstanding damage that can potentially end in crime, remains undisputed. In this age when most families have only two children, what can parents do to make sure one of the children do not feel alienated?
“Sibling rivalry is probably the most common among childhood issues, and it happens unknowingly in most cases,” says Dr Sujatha, a clinical psychologist. Every child may feel it at some point, but this is an issue that could be easily managed if parents are aware of signs to look for.
In the past, families used to have more than two children. Relationship between the siblings would be built in a mutually connected manner. But when there are only two, the instinct of competition comes into play, especially if the elder child is not mentally prepared to have a sibling.
“Getting the elder child ready to accept a younger sibling is important,” says Dr Sujatha. The older child, used to being the centre of all attention, has to undergo a drastic change in hierarchy, once a baby is born. The older child, who is used to getting the attention of parents as and when needed, now has to learn to wait for his turn. This shift of priorities in the part of the parent becomes too much for a child to handle. Sibling rivalry, therefore, can take birth along with the birth of a second child.
For one thing, parents could make sure the older child is ready for the sibling. “Siblings should be taught that they belong to each other, and that they have to support each other.” Sometimes, there might be an unknowing lapse in the part of the parent, sometimes it exists only in the perception of the child - but the fact remains that a child may feel easily alienated. It is up to the parents to spot early signs and make amends.
An easy way to find if the child is distressed is to pay attention to their behaviour in school. If a child suddenly begins to perform poorly or displays unruly behavior, it could be because the child wants more attention. To a child, even the time an adult spends trying to solve issues created by them, is also attention.
If you teach a child that you would spend time with them for no reason, then he does not have to create a reason for you to spend time with him. While children could also grow as an introvert or could shut people out due to such issues, aggression is a more common response to alienation.
Bullying could also become another outlet for the child. The sibling, who 'receives more attention', could be bullied in secret or a younger child at school - an easier victim - could be bullied. Sometimes, children try to prove they are better by being more obedient, which as a child grows, results in an adult who would bend backwards regardless of his own comfort to please others. While it is a common issue, sibling rivalry can also be dealt with just as easily. “If parents are aware and willing to do their part, it could be easily solved,” says Dr Sujatha. “A three-and-half-year-old girl was referred for counseling from school after her performance dropped significantly. She had stopped paying attention and interacting with others kids. She would simply sit at her place and sharpen her pencil all day. Later, we found that the family had just welcomed a second child. The girl was stressed because now the younger brother received all the attention and she began feeling unwanted.”
The solution to the issue is equally simple. “The doctor advised the parents to spend a particular time everyday exclusively with the child. The parents
made a routine where the child could expect the parents to be with her at a certain time every day.
One of them would take her to play in the evening, give one-on-one attention while doing homework… and simple steps like that. The child improved after this.”
“We see such incidents almost every day,” says Priyanka O.V, a 26-year-old class-five teacher. “To be honest, we don't get involved in 'smaller' issues simply because of the number of kids we have to work with. If there is a slight behavioural change that could be restrained with a bit of disciplining, we would do it that way instead of talking to the child, because we simply do not have the time.”
However, the teacher admits even 'small' issues won't go away if not addressed. “But of course, if a child is really distressed, has huge performance issues or disrupts class constantly, we will approach the parents and say perhaps you should see a psychologist, instead of yelling at the child,” she adds.
“A child who is often compared to siblings, lose the will to perform, since anyway the performance will be compared and found lacking. One of my students used to be compared to his elder brothers as a child, and after graduation, he left for Mumbai 'to prove he could be something too'. I have no idea what became of him,” says Varna Valsan, HOD of the MBA department at a private arts and science college.
As Dr Sujatha points out, no one deliberately wants to be a bad parent. “Most parents constantly worry and wonder if they are a good parent or not. Every parent has an instinct to get their offspring the best, make sure they are safe and happy. All it takes is a little more awareness of your own child. Look for signs that tell you 'your child is stressed'. Talk to them. Let them know you think of them.”
Another mistake that parents could make is trying to compensate for time with toys and gifts. “Don't make it materialistic,” says Dr Sujatha. “What they want is your time, energy and effort. A gift might make them happy for a while, but cannot replace your presence. Also, parents have to be consistent. It is not the work of the mother alone to raise kids. A mother might give her 100 percent, the child will still miss the father if he is absent. The key is spending time consistently, and working with your spouse.”...