Older Siblings can become Bossy

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Can we determine an "ideal age difference" between siblings? How much spacing between children promotes healthy sibling relationships? An article I was reading on this subject had an unsettling conclusion: It didn’t matter whether there was one year or ten years difference between the two siblings. According to this article, all siblings and their parents will go through a similar pattern of pains and headaches that stems from a sibling rivalry.

I believe that there should be at least two to three years of age difference between children so that each child can enjoy two or three years of uncontested spotlight before he or she bows out to the next one. With that age difference, the two siblings can be almost playmates and the older may not be able to establish unchallenged supremacy over the other. If the age difference is five, six or more years, the older sibling can have an unfair advantage over the younger one.

Dr. Karen Wagner has cited very poignant examples to illustrate the power that older siblings can wield over younger ones. These interesting examples show how inventive children can be in exploiting their little brothers or sisters. One such example is of a 7-year old boy. He got tired of playing with an old toy and gave it to his younger brother. The baby brother was of course delighted. Then he demanded to have his younger brother's new and expensive toy by telling him, "It's only fair. I gave you my toy, now you give me your toy."

In another example, an older sibling was asked by his parents to clean his room. But the older one found a way to have his younger brother clean the room for him. How? His younger brother wanted to know the name of a toy. The older one made a deal with the younger one, "If I do something for you, you have to do something for me. You clean my room and I will tell you the name of that toy."

In another case, the younger one wanted a piece of candy from his older brother. The older one gave him a piece of candy only after he made him chirp like a bird and say, "Tweet, tweet" and open his mouth like a bird would open its beak. Needless to say that the older one got far greater fun out of his trickery than the little one got out of that one measly candy.

Some children have so much faith in their older siblings that they would believe them more than they would their parents. Older ones, of course, are delighted by their power over the younger ones and the gullibility of the latter. Here are a few examples of how some older siblings can get the younger siblings convinced of fibs that plague their minds for a long time:

"My parents found you on the street."

"They (parents) are gonna keep you with us for a while, but later, they will sell you to the neighbors."

"On your next birthday, you will turn into a pumpkin"

"Monsters hide under the bed, but you can't see them. They come out when you go to sleep."

I remember during my childhood, I felt sad and unloved for a while. I felt as an outsider in my own family. I began to "discern" discrimination in my parents' behavior towards me. The doubt of discrimination was put in my head by my older sister who, somewhat jokingly and in order to tease me, told me that my parents purchased me from a wandering lady for a bag of grains. From that day on, I began to read favoritism into everything my parents did. No matter what they did, I felt they favored my siblings over me. This went on until I blurted out to my mother that I was not their child. She cleared the matter up for me, which put an end to my feeling as a second class citizen in my own family.

Older siblings are a child's early models and source of strength and pride. A majority of them for the most part act as "junior parents." When it comes to outsiders, they would fight tooth and nail to protect their younger siblings. My brothers and sisters loved me and protected me. There were six of us, but as a child I wanted to have six more. However, there are times when that green-eyed monster of sibling jealousy gets the better of even the most loving and caring siblings.

Parents have to be watchful and mindful of the fact that sibling jealousy does exist. Some surveys have revealed that sibling abuse is more common than parental abuse. Parental neglect often accompanies sibling abuse.

According to a survey of 20,000 high school students, two thirds of them do not talk daily to their parents. Make a goal of talking to your children at least ten minutes a day.


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