Q I have two grandchildren, a girl aged nine and her brother aged five. My granddaughter is always complaining about her brother. If he brushes against her accidentally, she says he pushed her and runs off crying to tell her mammy. She constantly watches in case he gets something she hasn't got and is jealous of him. The boy is easy and good fun whereas she is very needy and cannot bear to be wrong. It spoils the happiness of a visit when we see this constantly going on. I would appreciate any advice you can give please.
David replies: It can be very difficult to watch sibling rivalry in action. We can feel powerless to change the situation and it can be distressing to see the enmity between people we love. Right from the start, I will recommend a great book to you, that you might also want to share with the children's parents: Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
Beyond the few tips I can share in the space I have here, the book may give you insight into the situation and what you or their parents might do to change it.
However, let's start with your granddaughter and think about things from her perspective. She may still struggle since her "only child" status was lost five years ago, and may never have forgiven her brother! She may also have some sensory sensitivities (to touch for example) that her brother may exploit. Over time she may have realised that she can't compete with her brother for cuteness or affability and this may drive some of her responses to him.
I wonder if yours is a more widely held and entrenched view now, in the family, that her brother is the nice "easy" kid and she is the "needy" one. These are the kind of shorthand judgements that we sometimes make about other people that do then, define, how we respond and react to them. She may feel the weight of the negative perception that everyone has of her, and is acting this out in her relationship with her brother.
I think your granddaughter may need a lot of empathy and understanding, from you and her parents, about the difficulties she may face as an older sister. I have no doubt that if she felt she had a more positive alternative way of interacting with her brother, that she would use it. Just right now, though, I don't think she has any such strategy.
It is also important to consider how the adults react to the situations that arise. I wonder if she feels you really understand, too, the things about her brother that bother her. Become aware of your own attitudes and responses to your granddaughter and grandson because you can be sure that they notice them. How can you and her parents learn to see her positives and accept her negatives?
Noticing, and acknowledging, things about her and her personality that are likeable and attractive, may help her to feel the love that you and her parents have for her. Focusing, like this, on the good things about her might change your perception of her as "needy". It may also boost her self-esteem and help her to know that she is likeable in her own right, rather than perhaps only perceiving her own worth in comparison to her brother.
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