Between Cain and Abel


Ever so often it happens that when a previously favourite or single child is confronted with a reality of having a baby sibling to share his/her space and parental attention with, he/she ends up acting out. Exhausted parents—who have their hands full with a new born baby—may find that their older child is quite suddenly and inexplicably developing a tendency of getting into trouble. The truth is, it’s not that the child is inherently naughty; this is his/her way of trying to get attention that he/she believes is rightfully his/hers. It is a method to remind parents that he/she is still there and must not be forgotten.

Sibling rivalry is a term that is not only often misused but also arouses a very interesting reaction from this side of the world: near absolute denial. The culture we have grown up in preaches family values, togetherness and bhai chara as the acceptable norms. An outlandish and (what most would consider) blasphemous concept of sibling rivalry is ‘western’ concept that does not exist in this geography. However, it is very much a part of our reality, and is often coated in the (presumed) absolute authority of the eldest sibling or in the indulgence of the youngest one. South Asian examples of sibling rivalry can come in the form of the famous Indian playback singers Ayesha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar—two sisters whose conflict and competitiveness with each other is almost legendry.

Sibling rivalry occurs mostly between siblings who are close in age, are of the same gender or if one of them is more intellectually gifted than the other. Children are sensitive to changes in parental attention as early as at the age of one. They will often, mostly subconsciously, compete for this attention from a very young age and will get into conflicts with their siblings mostly during their adolescence. Such rivalry doesn’t occur as an actual feeling of competition between siblings, but is a reaction of a child’s parental behaviour towards their offspring and variations of that attitude that may occur from child to child.

This is not to suggest that parents are single-handedly responsible for sibling rivalry among their offspring. Each child is born different and must be treated accordingly. Having said that, parents can make a conscious effort to ensure that on the surface, the treatment of all of their children remains fairly equal. There are some dos and don’ts which include, first and foremost, that the parents should not make comparisons between children. This creates a lack of equality among them. Also, parents should not repress feelings of anger or resentment in the child, but encourage him/her to express it in a more positive manner. For as much as they can, they should try and let children sort out their issues among themselves—intervening only when they feel the situation has gone out of hand.

The media in itself has often used sibling rivalry in their scripts and some of the most famous and loveable characters on-screen act it out on a daily basis. These include cartoon characters such as Bart and Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons and onscreen characters Ross and Monica Geller from the TV show Friends. Publicised tumultuous relationships between siblings include that of Liam and Noel Gallagher of the rock band Oasis.

Sibling rivalry is very normal when it happens at a young age. More-often-than-not, it wanes and disappears over a period of time. Most people who experience sibling rivalry in their childhood are said to develop a closer bond in their adulthood as compared to those siblings who never experienced it at all.

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