Written By: Connie H. Deutsch
Sibling rivalry is perhaps the most difficult thing for a child to experience and for a parent to handle. No matter how often a parent tries to reassure a child that she loves all her children equally, that's not necessarily what the child feels.
Think of it this way . . . you have several friends and you all hang out together frequently. You may feel more comfortable with one of your friends whom you regard as a kindred spirit. Yet this friend may spend more time with one of her other friends, or one of your other friends. Isn't there that little spark of jealousy and resentment toward that other friend? And if it's one of your other friends, don't you feel hurt and betrayed because you were her friend first?
Adults often bury their emotions and don't admit that they are jealous of one another but children don't know how to do that. In a parent/child relationship, in a moment of frustration, anger, or hurt, it may all come spilling over and the child may tell his mother or father, "You love him more than you love me."
A parent, upon hearing those words from her child, may still be angry with him for this latest incident and not be inclined to have the kind of discussion with him that would diffuse the situation.
When tempers cool, she can tell her child that she loves both of her children equally but that this particular behavior was not acceptable and she would be just as upset with her other child if s/he had done the same thing.
Emotions are not logical and parent and child do not speak the same language when emotions reach the boiling point. If you can think clearly enough to know when it's in your best interest to make a strategic retreat, you can delay your discussion for another day.
But sibling rivalry is a serious problem for children and parents alike. These formative years are what children remember all their lives and they are the basis for their adult behaviors. We can rationalize past behaviors through adult eyes but it is the child within us that reacts to life's difficulties with our emotions.
After something traumatic has happened, we often think of all the things we should have said, and all the things we would say, if placed in the same situation again. We hear the words in our heads that we would say and we see all the things that we would do differently the next time. We see it so clearly in our heads, that it's as if we're planning it out down to the last detail.
It doesn't take away the feeling that this time around we failed, but it gives us hope that we will do much better the next time because we will be more prepared. We can say to ourselves that this time we were blindsided but now that we have planned everything in our heads, we won't get caught unawares the next time, and next time, we will win the day.
Even with all the shoulda coulda woulda thoughts and planning for the next time, life is not made up of hypothetical situations where we have the luxury of thinking things through and coming up with appropriate responses when we're placed in similar situations. We'd like to think we'd do differently but most people live in the NOW moment and our responses are usually quick and spontaneous.
When you're driving your children to school and they are fighting in the back seat of the car, it is difficult to imagine a harried parent thinking of the most tactful and loving way to stop their argument. More often than not, the parent will yell at the child who is yelling the loudest or yell at the child who is making her other child cry.
It's not fair and it's not loving but it is expedient and when you are living in the NOW moment, expedience often wins out over textbook theories of how to lovingly handle sibling rivalry. It is also during these moments when children are being blamed that the feelings of being unloved and unlovable are born.
Think of the countless ways we, as adults, internalize hurt feelings, anger, betrayal, and indifference from the people who are most important in our lives. We might get in the car and drive around until we calm down or go to the gym to work off the red haze of anger but a child can't do any of this. At most, he can act out or learn how to stifle his emotions so that he doesn't get punished.
Parents would do well to observe their children playing in the sandbox with other children because the old adage is true: What you are at seven, you will be at seventy.