The Roots of Sibling Conflict
It's not surprising that when two siblings who aren't firmly bonded to each other live under the same roof, they have so much trouble getting along. To help parents comprehend what toddlers experience with the arrival of a new brother or sister, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of
Then they are asked to consider how they would react if friends and relatives fussed over the newcomer before turning to the first wife and asking, “How do you like the new wife?” Readers are further asked to think about how the first wife would feel if the husband gave the new woman some of his first wife's old clothes, pointing out that since she'd gained weight, they were no longer of any use to her. What if the husband responded to the newcomer's request to use some of the first wife's personal possessions by urging the first wife to “be nice and share”? It is certainly understandable that older children feel jealous of a new sibling!The Seeds of Discord
It is understandable, too, that parents are especially nervous about the possibility that a toddler who looms over a tiny newborn like a clumsy giant will accidentally hurt the baby. Parents tend to be vigilant, rushing in to protect the little one at the first hint of conflict. This, of course, makes the toddler angry and more anxious to oust the rival who usurps so much parental attention. Parents find themselves having to step in more often to protect the little one. When it becomes obvious a couple of years later that the baby is purposely antagonizing its older sibling, parents chastise the baby. At long last the older sibling sees hope of vindication and begins pointing out each of his sibling's crimes in hopes of besting the little one who has made life such a misery for so long. Once these dynamics are established, they tend to take on a life of their own.Playing Favorites
It is rare for thinking parents to compare their children, since most realize that this can only breed discord and intensify jealousy. “Why can't you get good grades/cooperate/get along/behave like your brother/sister?” are the kinds of statements that serve to erode sibling relationships, which are often tenuous at best. Tweens who come out worse in the comparison feel compelled to redeem themselves in their parents' eyes to attain the golden position of favorite child. Since they don't know how to outdo their rival by getting similarly good grades and behaving differently, they try the shortcut. They set out to prove that their sibling is not so wonderful as parents think. The way to do that, of course, is to watch for every conceivable error and omission and highlight it.
A sibling problem is usually a parent problem in disguise. The proof lies in the fact that most children can enjoy one another's company and play together quite nicely when their parents are gone. They don't kill or maim one another when they do squabble, and the occasional injuries are typically the results of accidents. When parents are present, however, fights can turn vicious.