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Dealing with sibling rivalry

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 11:30am

Sibling rivalry didn't exist in our household. My two daughters had been sharing a bedroom for more than a year. They played nicely. The camera caught countless instances of the two of them in a warm embrace. I felt blessed to be a part of this. That is, until my younger daughter figured out she had been getting the short end of the stick and started to tell me. Very loudly.

In generations past, it was natural for a new baby to be the centre of attention. Older children were expected to be more accomodating.

Then came the warning of contemporary parenting experts: if we don't pay more attention to a newborn's elder sibling, we are asking for trouble. The older one will seek attention by behaving badly. And he or she will become jealous and resent the new baby.

And so, a generation of growing families started to focus on the needs and feelings of the elder child. When my younger daughter was about to come home from the hospital, friends reminded me to buy a gift "from the baby to her big sister". Really? My elder daughter may not have grasped consumerism, but she must know that a baby cannot choose or buy a gift, right?

In any event, I bought the gift and she accepted it without much fanfare. And thus began my hyper-conscious efforts to ensure our elder daughter wouldn't feel supplanted.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I had my elder daughter on my lap and the younger one was on our helper's lap, as I got ready to read them a story. My younger daughter suddenly screamed, "Mama mama mama! I want to sit on mama's lap!" I was so surprised by this outburst that I promptly nudged the elder one off and plopped the younger one onto my lap.

Since then, my days comprise of the elder one's tattletale complaints about the younger being naughty, and the younger one whining about her sister not sharing.

Micah Player's Chloe, Instead is a great story about an elder sister learning to accept a younger sister who is nothing like her. A former creative director, Player produced the bold art work for his new release.

My elder daughter also enjoys Russell Hoban's Best Friends for Frances. It is a story about a badger named Frances who only wants to play with her friend Albert and treats her little sister as a nuisance. In the end she discovers that her little sister can also be her friend.

This scenario was mirrored when my eight-year-old nephew stayed with us recently. He and my elder daughter played well together, leaving my younger daughter trying to join the action. I couldn't quite figure out how one additional child could result in a three-fold increase in noise level. This has reaffirmed my respect for friends with three, four and five children under one roof.

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong bringmeabook.org.hk

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