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Sibling Rivalry and Parents

Whenever there are two or more children in a family, rivalry between them is inevitable. Jealousy is a very common trait in human beings. People look at the successes of others and react in one of two ways. Some wish to achieve the same and thus try to work for it, harboring no ill-feelings or grudge. Others however, wish to despoil the good fortune they see. Their nature is such that they cannot bear to see the success of others, and hope for its destruction. This is the type of jealousy that is so strongly condemned in Islam. Says the Holy Prophet (s): Beware of jealousy, for jealousy eats good deeds the way fire eats wood.

It is not abnormal for children to feel jealous of one another. The aim of parents should be to control it and keep it within appropriate limits. It cannot be totally eliminated. When confronted with the achievement of a sibling, many children perceive it as a threat. They are afraid of losing their status. Success of a sibling could result in unfavorable comparisons, greater expectations and lower respect for themselves, both at home and outside. Although this could be entirely imaginary and blown out of proportion, it is necessary to understand why children react as they do.

Most sibling rivalry stems from the perceived loss of parental love and respect. Children wish to have the greatest share of their parents love and attention. When siblings take it away from them, even temporarily, it becomes greatly upsetting. Only time and maturity helps the child understand that this loss is only imagined and not real.

An important point to consider is that it is sometimes possible for a parent to love one child more than another. It could be because of certain qualities the child possesses. The parent has to be very careful, however, not to display this inclination. It could result in greater jealousy. In the story of Prophet Yusuf (a), the Holy Qur’an gives us an example of sibling rivalry. The brothers of Prophet Yusuf (a) thought their father loved him more than he loved them. Some commentators of the Qur’an mention that Prophet Ya’qub had a special affection for Yusuf, and perhaps gave him more attention. That could have been because he was one of the youngest sons, or because his mother had passed away. Perhaps Prophet Ya’qub foresaw the great future of Prophet Yusuf. Whatever the reason, the brothers of Yusuf felt threatened and resorted to throwing him in the well.

The Holy Prophet (s) always emphasized that children should be treated equally. The sixth Imam (a) is reported to have said that he felt more inclined towards some of his children, but he purposely displayed more affection to the others.

Adopted from the book: "Raising Children" by: "Tahera Kassamali"

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