Parenting is hard: sibling jealousy

I’ve been noticing in the last few months that E1 has been taunting her sister more and more, or doing things just to bother her. Putting her foot on E2’s chair. Purposefully taking up more space so there is no room for E2. Belittling things or accomplishments that E2 wanted to share with the family. They still had lots of moments where they got along great and have fun together, but the ratio was starting to to the other way.

I decided to address it at our family meeting this week. (Inspired by my friend L and her family, we are using a responsibility chart that has changeable list of behaviors and responsibilities that we decide on as a family to work on. Each day they achieve the behavior without being reminded explicitly, they get a token. At the end of the week, we tally up the tokens and it forms the amount of allowance for the week.)

I explained that I was seeing this type of behavior from E1, and so I thought that one of her responsibilities to work on for the week should be “No teasing”, as it was the closest magnet we had to ” No taunting”.

E1: “No.” She then starts playing with the magnets and avoiding our eye contact.

T: “What do you mean, No? Let’s talk about this.”

E1: continuing to avoid eye contact, “No. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I feel my frustration rising. “Please explain why you are saying no. Because I am seeing how you have been treating your sister lately and I don’t like it. I am disappointed about this behavior because you are family. As sisters, ideally you two are each other’s biggest supporter and help take care of each other. So when I see you being mean to her on purpose, it hurts my heart.”

E1’s lip starts trembling and her eyes water, but still she keeps repeating, “No” before collapsing into my arms wailing with tears. Our talk has a short recess while she uses 10 tissues, uses the bathroom, and seeks out her favourite stuffed toy and blanket.

I have a guess as to why she might be acting out like this – sibling jealousy. Jealous of the time and attention given to E2. Yes, E2 is younger and does still require more help in some daily tasks, but am I perhaps indulging in her “baby” status? I have to admit that I likely am grasping at holding on to the last vestiges of her cute, round, toddlerhood and I steal some extra kisses and cuddles. E1 must have taken notice and perhaps starting tallying in her head. Acting out toward her sister may be her way of deal with her hurt feelings – by trying to make E2 feel hurt feelings too?

With E1’s intellect, independence and maturity in so many areas of her life, I keep forgetting that she’s only 7 years old and still craves the attention, hugs and kisses from her parents. *sigh* Even though I say I try to treat both exactly the same, it’s hard to do so consistently in reality, day in and day out. Their temperaments are quite different – E2 seeks out cuddling and affection and has the most empathetic heart, while E1 is curious, energetic and boisterous. I suppose I’ve developed some habits in dealing with their differences that aren’t all innocuous.

I catch up to her alone in her room, and cuddle up with her in her bed.

Me: “You know it’s not a competition between you and your sister over who is loved more or best, right? Mommy and Daddy love you both very, very much the way you are. There is no such thing as a favourite daughter that you have to try and win.”

E1 sniffles and tries to change the subject by starting to talk about a scenario she’s imagined for her stuffed animals.

Me: “E1, please listen to me and tell me you understand what I’m saying. I don’t want you to think there is a competition or prize that one of you is loved more than the other.”

E1: “Well, I’m two years older, so you’ve loved me longer and so more than E2.”

Me: “While it is true that you are older, and will always be my first baby, it doesn’t change that I love you both the same. If I’ve been doing things that have made you think that way, then I’m sorry. You have to help me by telling me when you feel bad, ok? Just trying to make your sister feel bad by taunting her or bullying her is not what I want you to do. She is your sister and I wish that you will love each other always. Of course you guys will fight sometimes, but afterwards I wish for you to be each others’ best friend and supporter, for the rest of your lives. Otherwise it will hurt my heart.”

My eyes well up to match her teary face. It’s hard to admit that I’ve hurt your kid’s feelings. We cuddle some more and then go down to join the other half of our family to resume our family meeting.

I hope that it will start getting better now. Time will tell. Parenting is hard.