In my therapy practice the issue of sibling rivalry is a recurrent theme. Here are some thoughts about the issue by Francoise Dolto was a very popular French psychoanalyst. She had a radio show in the 70's. Her understanding of the world of children is still very relevant today. This is a continuation of last week's post.
The interviewer mentions a 4 year old boy biting a little baby quite viciously, and asks Dolto whether that is quite common. She replies:
'Relatively common yes, it is especially important that the parent stays calm and present (see the post on reflective vs reactive parenting). Especially, don't yell at the older child. He feels already pretty bad about what he did. Instead, take him aside and tell him: 'See how strong you are. But your little brother or sister is very weak, very small, just like you when you were little. Now he knows that he (or she) has a strong brother and he will have confidence in you. But, you know it is not him that you have to bite. There is no point. You cannot eat him.' Because little children when they find something that they think is good, they taste it, eat it. They are not that far removed from cannibalism. Especially as they might see the little baby breastfeed. For them a baby that sucks on his mother is a cannibal. They don't understand anything of this strange world. Biting will pass when the parent perceives it not just as a mean reaction, but more as an anxious reaction.'
But when the jealousy continues, does it not become serious? What to do in those cases?
It becomes serious when the parents are anxious. Secondly, when the child suffers a lot from feeling abandonned. This does not mean that he really is abandonned, but maybe he is not getting the right help. And how to help a jealous child that is suffering? The father can do it best. The father, the mother's sister, an aunt, a grandmother...If it is a boy, it should be a man who helps him. For example, on Sunday his father might tell him: 'Come, we men...' And they leave the mother and the baby: 'She only thinks of her baby.' It is important that the dad says little thinks like that: 'You are big, you come with me.' It is as if he is promoting the older one to help him deal with the jealousy reactions like wetting the bed again, just wanting to eat baby food, whining or not wanting to walk anymore. What is all this? It is an identity problem: a child seeks to imitate the ones that he admires, and he admires what the mother and father admire. So, when it looks like one is admiring a baby, you can't manage anymore: it is important to support the older child in his development. It is important to have him spend time with his peers, not always keep him close to the mother and the baby."
From Francoise Dolto: 'Lorsque l'enfant parait.'pg. 23
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