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Sibling Rivalry

It was bound to happen one day. That mysterious bundle of joy growing in her mother’s womb,  to whom May used  give  “raspberries,” would one day grow to become a real little person, with a  big personality that seems to constantly attempt to usurp May’s position as the center of the universe.

A short while ago, May was having a particularly harrowing day. To her it seemed that Eloise was constantly being carried, appeased, bounced around, and made a fuss over. May’s beautiful smile and happy demeanor were replaced by a lashing-out at her mother, her way of expressing the jealousy she was feeling. She had a “time out” and gave a half-hearted apology to her mother for her unacceptable behavior, but it was obvious that her feelings of jealousy continued to consume her.  It was a good time for May to take a walk with Grandma.

Removing May from the situation causing her unhappiness was the first step to helping her deal with whatever anger she was experiencing. As we walked hand in hand, I asked May what had caused the “ruckus” with her mother. Her response was that she felt her mother was always with Eloise and thus, May concluded, her mother liked Eloise more than her.

After hearing her response, I asked May if she was feeling jealous towards Eloise; to which she responded, “Yes!” I asked her if she knew what “jealous” meant and her response made it clear to me that she did. I took this opportunity to discuss all the different feelings we experience from time to time. We spoke of feeling sadness, happiness, anger, frustration, surprise, jealousy and many other emotions.

As May and I discussed emotions, we applied exaggerated body movements and facial expressions to each. We screeched loudly when we discussed “surprise,” made our saddest faces at the mention of “disappointment” and rapidly changed our expressions to reflect “silly.” Our stories and movements lightened her mood and we were soon able to discuss the real issue, the one that was becoming increasingly troublesome for May; her anger over all the attention directed towards her baby sister.

With her anger abated, I was able to explain to May that jealousy was a natural emotion and that everyone experiences it from time to time. The important thing is to understand why we feel jealous and how to handle it. May was extremely attentive to what was being said, especially since I related stories about how Aunt Jessica, whom May loves, demonstrated her feelings of jealousy towards Nancy, May’s mother, when they were children. I further stated that Eloise was probably jealous of May and all of the things that Eloise watches her do but can’t do herself and, in her frustration and inability to speak, she cries and screams as a way of gaining attention.

Knowing how children for the most part relate to animals, as witnessed by the many children’s books, shows and toys that are on the market, I compared Eloise’s manner of attention-getting to an animal that can’t verbally communicate with people. Her dog Mr. Woo proved to be a stellar example for this part of our conversation.

Me: What does Mr. Woo do when he wants to go outside with us?

May: He follows us to the door and cries.

Me: Right! Now, what does he do when he wants to play ball?

May: He runs up to us with a ball in his mouth.

Me: Right again! Mr. Woo can’t talk so he does other things to get our attention. If he is in pain or sick, he whines. If some dogs are angry, they might growl. If an animal is afraid, it might lie down and whimper. Animals can’t communicate with humans by speaking, so they use their bodies and make noises to let us know their feelings. Well, it is the same with Eloise. She cries and screeches to get attention and your mommy and daddy try to make her happy so that everyone doesn’t have to hear her crying. One day, Eloise will talk and walk. She will be able to say what is on her mind and won’t have to cry while your mommy and daddy attempt to figure out what is bothering her. When that day comes you and she can do lots of fun things together. In the meantime, know that she wants to be just like you and that’s why she watches your every move, but gets upset because she can’t do the terrific things that you do.

Our walk was one of life’s “magical moments.” We talked about how we don’t want to growl like an angry dog when we feel troubled, but rather, since we can speak, tell mommy or daddy what is bothering us. The animal analogy seemed to have a hold on her and we continued to make our angriest growls as we headed towards home.

I don’t know if our talk will have a long-lasting effect. After all, as one of six children and having two daughters of my own, I have experienced and witnessed the darts of sibling rivalry. But for that one wonderful day in August, as I walked along, holding my granddaughter’s small hand in mine, we were the problem solvers of the world, a world where our emotions can get the better of us if reaction overtakes reason.

By the time May and I returned home, she was back to her cheerful self, loving her mommy, daddy, Mr. Woo and most especially, her sister, Eloise.

4 comments on “Sibling Rivalry

  1. Are you sure you are not a child psychologist? I love reading your posts.

    Jo ann

    • All those years of teaching and sharing experiences with friends like you have formed my understanding of childhood behavior. I am so glad that you enjoy my posts. Thanks for your support.

  2. Well said Betty. Your stories are like a quiet thoughtful moment during a pleasurable cup of morning coffee.

    • Danny, your words move me to tears. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You should write poetry! Better yet, be my agent. I love you, my friend and can’t wait to spend time with you and Margie.

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