Jealousy or animosity that children may feel towards their brothers or sisters, usually stem from a feeling of being neglected or not being loved by parents.

Sibling rivalry today What parents need to keep in mindImage for representation
Features Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - 11:41

In the 2003 Malayalam movie, "Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum" (My home is also Appu's), a young Kalidas is initially excited about having a younger sibling. His elation, however, fades away when he feels neglected by his parents after the arrival of the new member, Appu, in their family. 

A hurt Kalidas decides to harm Appu and ends up killing the baby unintentionally. 

Directed by Sibi Malayil, the award-winning film is based on an issue which is very prevalent today- sibling rivalry. 

Jealousy or animosity that children may feel towards their brothers or sisters, usually stem from a feeling of being neglected or not being loved by parents.

After a child is born, all attention, including that of parents and guests alike, is usually on the baby. This may not go down well with the older child who may feel ignored or left out. 

Joint family vs nuclear family

Dr Jayanthini, a Chennai-based psychiatrist, says that the concept of joint families in a way acted as deterrent to jealousy between children of the same house. There were several children across various age groups living under the same roof with many members looking after them and none getting preferential treatment. 

However, in the nuclear family set up, the first born is treated like a prince or princess. And when a second child arrives and the mother needs to spend more time in taking care of the baby, the older child may not like it. 

Not all children though get jealous of their siblings, says Dr Jayanthini, and some may even eagerly want a younger brother or sister. 

Also most children eventually move out of the "jealousy phase" as the younger child grows up and starts going to school and the parents can then devote equal time to both. But a sizeable number of cases, like 2-3%, can become severe. 

"In such cases, the older child hates the newborn. They may tell the mother to leave the baby in someone else's care or will not allow her to carry the baby. They also may want to be fed like the baby or cling to the father or may even try to hurt the baby,” Jayanthini says.

She recounts one such case she had received involving a three-year-old boy from a joint family in Chennai.

He was the first male child in the family after three girls and as a result was given a lot of importance. He was annoyed when a fourth child- another girl- was born in the family. 

“He was so jealous of her that he'd try and hurt her when no one was around. He'd pour water on the child, pinch her and pull her leg,” she says.

It took some time for the parents to figure out what exactly was happening. While they thought the pinch marks were ant bites, they suspected something fishy when they found the baby drenched in water. 

The boy was caught red-handed one day and had to be separated from the baby for six months till the latter had grown up a little and could respond. He had also thrown a puppy outside the house and his mother was scared he'd do same to the baby. 

The boy was counselled during those months and things were then brought under control. 

Does sibling rivalry persist in later years?

In 1% of children, the animosity may persist, says Dr Jayanthini. It depends on the nature of the child and how they are nurtured.

“If someone knowingly, unknowingly or even jokingly tells the child that his mother is taking more care of his younger brother or sister, a sensitive child may take it seriously. He may then act violently forcing the parents to scold him, following which he may in turn accuse them of partiality,” she says. 

But, in rare cases, the sibling rivalry may continue long after the children have grown up and are mature. "Occasionally, they may become emotionally disturbed, may hate their sibling and find faults with whatever their parents do."

Prevention is better than cure

Prepare the child mentally when the family is expecting another baby. Give equal importance to all and get the help of the child to look after the younger one. Parents can also record moments from the life of the older child, like their first birthday, and can later show it to them as an assurance of their love towards him/her, states Dr Jayanthini, listing out measures to avoid such situations with children. 

If the problem persists, meet a pediatrician. 

Signs to look out for in children if parents suspect sibling rivalry

  • Displaying dislike for the newly born
  • Irritability 
  • Refusing to eat
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Child trying to hurt the mother, other family members or the newly born. 
  • Clinging to the mother or avoiding her
  • Throwing tantrums
  • Crying without any obvious reason
  • Displaying regressed behaviour like urinating or passing stool in their dress
  • Sulking or showing aggressive behaviour, especially in the presence of visitors. 

(With inputs from Megha Varier)

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