Sibling Rivalry and Identity Crisis

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Siblings are getting separated rather violently in terms of property, even killing each other. Children are asking their parents to live separately, the latter ending up in old-age homes. Siblings cutting off contact with each other and competing rather publicly. More and more movies are being made about  sibling rivalry. Apart from this, there is less tolerance amongst people towards each other, more bitterness and violence, rise in depression and loneliness,  upsurge in juvenile crimes . Social, communication , peace-making and conflict resolution skills and tactics are becoming more and more relevant, and need for psychologists and psychiatrists is increasing.

Siblings have always giggled together one moment and then detested and fought with one another like enemies in the next, but parents never took it seriously because they always got back again. Same was when we as children would fight with children in school and park where we played, where parents would make the children compromise and make peace. But at the turn of the millennium, these relationships and social behaviors have visibly completely changed!

It is natural for siblings to fight with each other as they compete throughout childhood for their parents’ attention. This competition, from claim on toys, to parents’ attention, and appreciation continues throughout childhood, affecting the children’s social, and emotional development and thus eventually their intellect and sense of identity too.

It’s the parents who primarily provide the environment for overall growth of their children, and thus naturally get to play a very important role in the sibling rivalry and the sense of identity each of them develops as individuals.

One’s Identity is determined by the values, beliefs, appearance, ethnicity, basic demographic details, habits/ behavioral patterns, personal qualities, relation to family and friends, skills and capabilities, interests, and possessions. Most of them are provided, and others to a great extent determined by the environments in which they experienced and explored their worlds.

The trajectory of the growing years of an Indian child in this advanced stage goes as follows.

THE IDEAL CHILD

  • The first time parents have no experience of raising a child and thus through investing their time, energy, emotions, and out of the way efforts to take care of the child, they feel especially entitled to determine the course of life of that child, being extra protective and projecting on them all the hopes and desires they have had from their respective childhoods, giving way to ideas they had about raising their own children. So for example if one’s own parents were too strict about going out, studying etc, they would want to cut some slack on their children, even if some may still end up acting like their own parents.

THE CONTEST OF ATTENTION & FAVOURITISM

  • Going further, though the commonly held idea in India, behind bearing more children, at least or at most two now, is for company among the children, it rather becomes a contest for parental attention and appreciation. By the time of parenting the second or third child, which is the maximum number of babies that parents plan now, the parents become relaxed about the discipline they need to have on their children, expecting that they have worked on and trained the first child well enough that the younger ones will follow the example. The parents need all the more reasons now to relax and escape the exhaustion of raising children, catch up on their own lives and socialize, that they also put the pressure on school teachers to take care of the children, that the younger ones grow like they raised the elder ones. Since parents still have to attend to all the needs of as many children they have, they tend to get exhausted, and naturally tend to favor and create one ideal child that other has to live up to. For parents who have more than two kids, it can become all the more challenging, thus the pressure on first born is the most in terms of understanding parents’ needs and aspirations/expectations and living up to their ideals so as to instruct the younger siblings the same way. It’s very common that the teachers too always tend to compare the performance of younger children to the eldest one. At the same time, they are willing to be much more experimental with younger ones, letting them go into arts and other hobbies. This further perpetuates the jealousy amongst the siblings.

CONFLICTS, FRIENDSHIP & IDENTIFYING WITH EACH OTHER

  • Specially in India, since the stress on academics is so tremendous now, parents seem to be favouring one who is scoring well, getting good feedback from teachers and other guardians and relatives in terms of manners, and becomes the example given to the the other children. This gives rise to jealousy and pride respectively as the children see the wishes of the favoured one being fulfilled by parents. This way the parents end up sabotaging the friendship and ability to relate to the other sibling, despite being brought up in same environment, and evaluated against the same standards for conduct. As the parents don’t take account of the different natural behavior patterns and capabilities, talents, cognitive needs, the children feel compromised upon equally, but blaming each other for the lack of attention from parents. As they aren’t able to identify with each other, they both learn to attack each other and complain about the other so that one would win the contest where the parents would favor them. Meanwhile, when a parent is angry, both get equally scolded, even if one or none of them played any part in it. Both feel, for different reasons that he/she has to beat the ideal child created by the parents, and yet stay in the contest of taking away more attention. Moreover when one of the children is dull, comparatively to another, especially the elder one, this jealousy increases manifold. The elder one cannot bear the younger one getting any attention, as he/she is already scoring well without the much prized attention, and the younger one learns to adapt to parent’s lack of availability by taking advantage through material gains, compromise against lack of attention.
  • Parents dismiss sibling conflicts as an essential stage of child’s development where they learn to resolve fights or not get into any, cultivate friendliness, as well as adjusting and sharing nature. A general tendency have been noticed among siblings of getting into fight, usually after one child has been favored more number of times than the other could allow. Parents in that case often lock them up in different rooms and considering the reason of fights as mild ,casual and intimate, expect them to get back together on their own. This competition to earn parents’ consideration makes it difficult to relate with one another, which further creates differences in children’s ability to make friends or expressing themselves that culminate in lack of social/interactional skills. This way the differentiation is further created in a rather belittling/pitiful way against one of the siblings who isn’t able to make friends, talk confidently, participate and interact freely and so on.
  • Also due to the rise of stress of urban living, work, and competition amongst adults, a decrease in tolerance being observed by the children which is being emulated, as this is how children learn behaviors and reactions. Thus not only are siblings becoming more violent towards each other, but there is less tolerance towards kids in school and play environments too, and on top of that the parents now are observed becoming more supportive and defensive about their own children and picking fights with other adults, thus being observed by children again. Even if one family believes in making peace and teaching better reaction patterns to their child, even if they have to scold their own child in front of others, the other child’s parents may not do the same, result being that one child alone feels harassed, and thus feeling all the more angry and cultivating passive aggressiveness.

ATTACHMENT STYLE

  • Another factor in differentiation comes from the differences in attachment style of each child, one maybe securely attached, while other is anxiously attached. This may happen because after the birth of first child, even though the baby becomes the center of attention in the home, the parents may feel so exhausted from the pregnancy and the care taking that the couple might desire intimate time away occasionally for themselves too, also to plan more babies. By the time of second or third baby, not only they are more skilled at raising a baby, their attention tends to be centred around the younger ones. Thus the elder child or children compete all the more for attention. In fact a research conducted by experts from the University of Michigan note that rivalry begins after the birth of the second child, when the older child feels sidelined because his newborn sibling has a much higher level of parental attention. Accustomed to all the love and attention since the start, he/she starts feeling unusually unloved and thinks his/her presence is no longer valued. These feelings can quickly develop into jealousy, which is not good for his sense of self-identity and emotional growth. Not only are the children, at this point, robbed off their childishness all of a sudden, asked to be responsible, act like a grown kid, and be understanding and adjusting but also first starts struggling with their sense of identity in a way that their toys, their bed and parents belongs not just to him anymore. Many more lines get added in their essays on “Myself”. Due to more number of families with working parents and mothers, the attachment styles in children have shifted to insecure and detached parameters. These attachment styles serve as the template/ foundation for establishing friendships and relationships in their teenage and adult lives, thus it is only becoming more worrisome the way the trends in relationships are changing, affecting interpersonal and emotional  factors of one’s identity.

TEENAGE TURBULENCE IN NEW AGE

  • A difficult time comes for parents when the first born, the eldest comes into the teenage phase, when children question the authority, challenge rules, and become more socially preoccupied, that throws off the balance they created in the family. The parents too then have to tighten the grip of discipline on the ideal child they created to set an example for the younger ones to follow. Most Indian parents are seen having the younger siblings see the elder one being scolded, which drives them to report on the actions of the teenager. This gives the younger one to become the favourite one, and at the same time benefiting from the bribes offered in exchange for favors and keeping secrets. The children who were held in such high regard no more are given examples of and questioned in terms of good and bad all over again. The teenagers now especially in Indian context feel caught up between the tradition and experience based rules and values set by family, and peer pressure influenced by the western land trends.

Though teenage is marked as the stage of life where an individual’s identity formation takes place, determinants of one’s identity are laid since childhood by Parents, in terms of emotional availability and expression, environments provided in relation to home, relatability with siblings, school attended, degree of strictness in rules and regulations, religion and behavioral habits taught and imbibed, hand dexterity decided upon in some cases, and so on. These factors determine how kids perceive themselves in terms of emotional connection they can establish, resolve conflicts and perform in competitive situations, extent to which they feel they are allowed to express feelings, thoughts, level of intelligence and patterns in which they are taught to make sense of their world, and how well they can endure social interactions and participate in social situations, through feedbacks from their friends, and people outside family. The children feel so torn between what has been taught and is expected from parents and what is expected from social environments they encounter outside family.

 

With the dawn of new advanced age and its rapid trends, that they naturally choose one way that makes them suffer in either home or social environment. Those who give in to parents’ discipline suffer socially, while others struggle to balance the needs, and yet some let their parents and family stay in rage, and find refuge among age mates in the same boat. In teenage phase of life, the sense of relatability in a child shifts from parents and family environment to friends who are further looking up to the trends and behaviorisms of young and older adults, idealizing them, and their trends. Their need for attention becomes socially centred, and their sense of identity now is determined by their membership in the groups following the latest trends.

The sources of stress increase manifold everyday for the children now, as they try to balance the needs from different environments, adopt behaviors and switch between them based on different environments, adapt and compete with different capabilities they observe in different social environments with variety of ideal standards to deal with now, imbibe different belief systems and priorities, and thus struggle to decide on who they are. On top of that they are on an emotional roller coaster ride, and directed by hormones, feeling angry because rarely anything is falling is place and happening according to their expectations and fantasies. They struggle for attention from all sides now, in this day and age.

Thus, What results from all that is discussed is a distraught sense of identity in the young children. Either they don’t have any sense of identity, or they have adopted those handed over by family and/or friends or people they don’t even know but are trending on TV and internet.

While the parents have always done their best according to what they knew, they too feel angry, yet worried for their child at the same time. Their own teenage apprehensions may resurface, and thus the parental instinct to protect their child gets in the way, which is not understood by the child whose life has been split from all sides.

At these crossroads, when the child has no experience and idea about who he/she is, what is his/her calling, what is good for him and what not, the relationships they can foster and those to stay away from, the worried parents who know little how to deal with the challenges that this new age has brought, can after all this time still come to their children’s rescue.

The parents of children today lived every possible revolution- from strict disciplinarian parents, Doordarshan, to changing trends in clothes and movies, to telephone, more to explore in rapidly developing urban living, to computer, internet, development of work culture for women as well, and rapidly coming and going trends today. Thus as much as they find themselves in conflict as to what to allow for their children, they are in the best position to understand the children’s conflicts too, and redirect them. The way the parents raised their kids maybe imperfect, but they are still the best agents to understand the fast changing trends in culture and adaptations in societal values.

Here are the tools that will empower the parents all over again in seeking what’s best for their children.

  • Listen to your children about what’s going on in their lives, about their age mates and others who influence them, about their changing needs before you lose your temper and keep them away and restricted from their peers and an open space to explore the world. They will join all the social media platforms, they will see all that is being talked about among young adults, on TV and on internet, they will imagine themselves trying it out too to gain acceptance, attention and popularity. Even if you don’t allow them to go out with friends, or for girls, with male friends, they will lie and go anyway. Listen to your children, even talk to them yourself about their friends and what’s going on in their life rather than spying on them. Let them share with you what they see on TV and Internet, watch it with them and even discuss it with them. So that you will stay informed, and can detect any red flags to protect your children and even give them better ideas to stand out, to gain individuality amongst their peers. Listen to them so that the children feel good about discussing about themselves freely and being guided through the meaning, impact and context of the information that they register.
  • Think like children in this day and age, spend time away from your own approach and experiences in life, compare with yours, in terms of what all has changed, and then with the early experiences of your own parents. You will see that society and it’s people have been advancing constantly with each generation, and early experiences and values, beliefs and approach towards the children ( new generation) has to be adapted as well. Impart the wisdom you have acquired from your experiences, share your experiences of conflicts and achievements with them, but not force them to internalize, and allow, in fact help the children develop their own identity in this new age. In fact contact the different parents, even teachers and mentors, and stay in contact with them, and discuss about ways on how to avoid conflicts, setting an example for their children as well, rather than pitting against each other.
  • Respect the children’s needs for privacy and sense of individuality that starts growing in this age. Give them a separate room, or at least some private space to be themselves. When any one the children commit a mistake, do not be lenient, but do not scold in front of siblings, instead correct them, suggest different and better ways to achieve what they want. Respect them and help them build their respect in eyes of other siblings.
  • Ensure and emphasize on sibling friendship since the start, regardless of constant comparison which may belittle one of them. Let them solve conflicts on their own, make them both make a pact to not shout or be violent, be present as a referee to listen to both equally, and make them both make a decision that is agreed upon by both. Even if example has to be given , make sure it’s in a way of suggesting to try a different approach, and use the example of the sibling on how it is working for him/her. Most importantly be a team as parents, rather than siding or being more soft towards one, and thus encourage them to be a team as well. If one sibling is more outgoing than other, balance it out with more family time together, where the children can be free. Encourage the children to play games or indulge in an activity and compete constructively in terms of fight, and then make them as one team and then compete against them as team of parents.
  • Let the children make their own decisions once you have informed them and feel responsible for their lives. Then be there to support the child if they fail, offering constructive feedbacks for both siblings to learn for. Make the other sibling realize they can experience similar as well. Participate in children’s life, impart important insights and suggestions to look at their situations, but allow the children to experience the lessons they need to learn , and choose who they want to be seen as, help them weigh pros and cons, suggest but not impose, and even encourage discussing it amongst the siblings only, for them to grow apart.

DON”T TRY TO SAVE CHILDREN FROM WHAT COULD GO WRONG,

BUILD A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR THEM FOR WHAT GOOD CAN HAPPEN.

BUILD THEM UP IN A WAY THEY CAN CREATE AN IDENTITY OF THEIR OWN

AS A FAMILY MEMBER, A SIBLING, FRIEND, STUDENT,

AND

A GROWING INDIVIDUAL ,

LEARNING THEIR RESPONSIBILITY IN DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENTS AND TRENDS, GOOD OR BAD,  THEY MAY ENCOUNTER.

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