"Two things are bad for the heart - running up stairs and running down people."
Children begin by running down their siblings. In time, they fault teachers and classmates; and not much later, parents. Unless the `running down' habit is checked, when it starts, parents better be prepared to become the butt of jokes. The `blaming game' is not new. It has its genesis in Adam, who blamed Eve, who in turn blamed the serpent.
Why do children pick on their siblings to complain, exaggerate and even lie? Because:
a) of the inane compulsion to appear blameless - `the other is to blame, not me'.
b) of the child's need to test the waters. If he can wade shallow waters(get away with minor tiffs), he will venture into deep waters(take on the heavy weights). Never
under-estimate the child's capacity to size up the opponent.
c) of the child's insatiable hunger for minor triumphs. Siblings are nearest and
therefore become the target. Scoring a point, managing to `fix' the other are
schemes that occupy the child's mind.
d) of the child's urge to assert her personality. She must gain credit, occupy space,
acquire possessions and climb the victory stand.
Sibling rivalry is common; found even in well-regulated families. That it is common,
does not absolve parents of their responsibility to check it. Their guilt is manifest when they allow it, tolerate it and sometimes take sides, not on the basis of fairness, but for other reasons. Sibling rivalry is an acid test for parental impartiality.
Heredity does not equip the child with attitudes; children will learn what they are taught. From the start, if parents spell out norms and enforce them, children will not get a chance to `manipulate' situations in their favour. Students despise teachers who do not maintain order in class. In the same way, children have a low opinion of parents who do not walk the talk.
In sibling rivalry, the affected child - the one who suffers at the hands of the bully - harbours fears. When such fears are expressed - `I don't like the way she pulls away my toys' - parents blunder by rubbishing such admissions as silly or sissy behaviour. If the child cannot freely express his fears to his parents, to whom will he? The child should not be forced into denying or hiding his fears; and not be disciplined because of the nagging fear he has of his bully sister. Subtly
and without giving up, his negative self-talk - `she is smarter than me' - should be
changed to positive self-talk - `but I am good at drawing and painting'. Denying the fact that the sister is smarter, if she is, is not wise. Instead, let him find a new line to bolster his confidence and an area of competence. Build on that by unearthing more strengths.
As children grow they will find ways to resolve disputes. But in the early years, strong signals from parents must put each one in his/her place. Accusations based on facts need to be probed objectively, but lying or exaggerating should be dealt with sternly.
During the famine in Mogadishu, Somalia, a visiting photographer saw a famished boy on the street. Out of compassion, he gave the boy a fruit. The eyes of the boy conveyed gratitude as he staggered to another little boy, his younger brother, who lay at a distance. The first one fed the fruit to the second, without holding back any part for himself. The photographer was deeply moved. A few days later he learned that the older boy died of starvation, but the little fellow who ate the fruit survived. Surely, their parents taught them a lasting lesson on sibling love.