THE New World Online Encyclopaedia defines sibling rivalry as the "intense competition that exists between brothers and sisters for the attention of their parents".
It says children are sensitive from the age of one year to differences in parental treatment. From 18 months on, siblings can understand family rules and know how to comfort and hurt each other. By three years old, children have a sophisticated grasp of social rules, can evaluate themselves in relation to their siblings, and know how to adapt to circumstances within the family. The sibling bond is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as parental treatment, birth order, personality, and people and experiences outside the family.
The stories of Esau and Jacob and Cain and Abel are evidence that sibling rivalry is not new. Recently though, sibling rivalry has created much havoc in our society and has left many families hurting.
It is important for parents to know about of the dangers of sibling rivalry. Parents should also be cognisant of the causes and the steps that should be taken in order to stem such negative behaviour.
Everyone in the family should be made to feel very special but oftentimes this is not so. Each child should understand his/her position in the family and his/her role in the home. Also, everything should be done to quell jealousies and ill feeling among siblings. Parents should not wait until the situation gets ugly or out of control before putting plans in place to deal with sibling rivalry.
Here are some suggestions for parents/guardians who want to be proactive in an attempt to eliminate or lessen sibling rivalry and the dangers associated with it.
* When parents are expecting to have another child in the family, they should prepare everyone in the home, including the children, especially the younger ones. Mental preparation will make it easier for young children to receive the new child as a part of the family.
* Do not neglect the other family members; do not neglect your child/children because your family has grown. Remember that each person is unique and each person has a special role to play.
* Care for your child/children by treating them in a kind and loving way. Love your family members and model positive behaviour at all times.
* Do things together as a family and ensure that each one knows his/her roles. Make sure that each one takes turn in doing things for the baby or the new addition to the family.
* Make it clear to everyone that rude, impolite and negative behaviours will not go unnoticed.
* Treat the children equally well; give them lots of love and equal opportunities as much as is possible. Try never to criticise, compare or cause one child to feel inferior to his/her sibling/siblings.
* Verbalise your affection for each child and find creative ways to prove your love and commitment to your family.
* Build a family altar and pray regularly for each other; believe in the power in prayer.
* Never say never. Do not believe that you are immune to having sibling rivalry in your family, it can happen in any family, and especially in families where parents are not on the lookout for its occurrence.
* If you desire a particular gender and you are disappointed, keep this information away from the other children in the home. Whether you were disappointed or not, love the newborn anyway. Remember that each child is a precious gift.
* Talk with successful parents and ask them to share their parenting tips with you, for although each family is unique, you can still learn some useful tips to help you and your family.
* Try very hard not to show favouritism.
Doing all that is in your power to eliminate sibling rivalry will not necessarily mean that it may never surface in your home, but you should at least be in a better position to keep it at a minimum if you are aware of the dangers it may cause and if you take the steps to guard against it.
Jacqueline Champier is a counselling psychologist from Mandeville.