Jealousy and rivalry among siblings

Quarreling among siblings may often be a result of their ages or stages of development. For example, the endless "why?" questions of a three-year-old may be intolerable for a ten-year-old sister or brother. Or, a small child who likes to sit quietly and play with their toys alone may naturally express annoyance when confronted by a headstrong adolescent sibling.

Another basic cause of contention is rivalry and jealousy among siblings. After all, jealousy has been a human condition since the beginning of time. Some people are mature and fully grown, but still retain anger and resentment against those close to them. Since they have not been able to get over their childhood jealousy, feelings of resentment and envy have grown and changed shape; these could even be a threat to the community.

Sibling rivalry arises from a desire to compete for the affection of the parents. If one child is shown a great deal of affection by the parents, the other children will be jealous. But children do not demonstrate feelings of jealousy in a direct manner. A jealous child may feign affection toward their sibling. Such a child will often be inclined to try to hurt the brother or sister when no one else is around.

In the famous story in the Qur'an about Joseph, Joseph's brothers tried to harm him, spurred on by jealousy. The Qur'an says, "Assuredly, in (this account of) Joseph and his brothers there are many sans (messages) for seekers of truth" (Yusuf 12:7).

As is well known, Prophet Jacob fathered twelve sons. However, Jacob discerned great potential in Joseph and therefore he paid greater attention to Joseph. Because this was obvious, the other brothers' jealousy grew against Joseph. One night Joseph had a dream. When he woke he said to his father, "0 my father! I saw in a dream eleven stars, as well as the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrating themselves before me" (Yusuf 12:4). Jacob thought about this dream, and he believed it meant God would give Joseph every kind of opportunity, bestowed on him a high level of honor and renown, and make him an important leader. Aware of the feelings of the other brothers toward Joseph, Jacob feared they would try to harm him. So he told him, "0 my son! Do not relate your dream to your brothers, lest (out of envy) they devise a scheme against you. For Satan is a manifest enemy to humankind (and can incite them to do such a thing)" (Yusuf 12:5). The Qur'an goes on to describe the plan the brothers hatched, a terrible example of just how far jealousy between siblings can go:

When they (the brothers addressing one another) said, "Joseph and his brother are indeed more loved by our father than we are, even though we are a powerful band (of greater use to him). Surely, our father is manifestly mistaken." (One of them said:) "Kill Joseph, or cast him out in some distant land so that your father's attention should turn only to you, and after that you may again become righteous people." (Yusuf 12:8-9)

It is the duty of parents to recognize when a child is jealous, and watch for how it will be expressed. From this aspect, keeping tabs on the relations between siblings and keeping their bickering under control can be a very difficult task for a family.

Undeniably, jealousy is an emotion that is embedded in human nature. The important thing is to prevent this negative element from causing damage to children and their environment. The way to do this is to channel these tendencies toward the positive with self-discipline. It is difficult to put forward any general, practically feasible solutions for such situations, as they are very sensitive and complex. It is of course necessary, in principle, for parents to listen to children, try to understand the reasons for their behavior, and examine their own attitudes and approaches. Parents should develop the ability to see situations and conditions from their children's perspective.

Other things parents can do to neutralize jealousy are to prepare games that will help children spend their physical and emotional energy in positive ways and to praise children when they get along well and have fun together. Here are a few more tips:

  1. Avoid incorrect educational methods. For example, do not always take the part of the younger sibling or automatically blame the older sibling. Often if you intervene just to "save" the younger child, it gives rise to contention between them without you realizing it. Further, you may not know whether it was actually the older child who instigated the problem or not. Accordingly, sensitivity and attention are necessary if we are to treat children equally. It is also good to give them a chance to solve their own problems; tell them you trust them to do so.

  2. Be sure to spend equal amounts of time with each child every day. If one is jealous of the other's time, tell them that you want to be with each child and their turn will come.

  3. Take care to make a distinction between siblings, and not to hold the others responsible when only one is doing something wrong.

  4. Avoid giving different treatment to girls and boys, giving more importance to one or the other or being more proud of one or the other. For example, parents may have a son after many daughters or a daughter after many sons; in such situations they tend to love this youngest more or show more tolerance toward them. This naturally promotes problems between the children.

Excerpted from the book "Good Character" by Musa Kazim Gulcur.

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Older Comments:
very super site

Masha'Allah. Great advice. I realized that maybe my parents haven't treated my siblings the same way the treat me. I will have to be humble and tell my parents they should change their treatment as well as to give them no reason to give me preferential treatment due to being the only son. That means helping around the house more and doing my homework as everyone else does.

Allah knows best.