A few days ago, my son, Adrian, informed me that his class teacher wanted to talk to me. The consequences of my failure to go to his school that day were that he would not be allowed in class. It was day two of the mid-term exams.

I wanted to get mad at him. Why hadn’t he informed me the previous evening when I arrived home from work? I would have prepared myself earlier so that I would not have to be late for anything that day.

It was, however, too late for me to fume. There was no way I would let him miss an exam, this being the final term of the school year. I had to go.

The Shocker!

On arrival, I found a very angry teacher. She informed me that my son had become stubborn and persistently refused to finish writing class assignments. The matter had been referred to the deputy headteacher and I was to go to his office in the company of my son.

Mixed feelings; mixed thoughts…

When and how did things get this far? Nobody informed me. I never noticed any changes in my nine year old son’s character that would have affected his behavior so terribly.

As those thoughts criss-crossed my mind, we got into the deputy headteacher’s office. He was a mean-looking man and I knew there was trouble. He asked my son what his name was, which class he was in and why he had brought me to school while other parents were at work. He then ordered him to go and call his class-teacher.

The class-teacher arrived and repeated the narrative to the deputy head. She then sought to prove her case by sending my son to their class to call one of the top-performing pupils and ask her to come to the office with all her books.

The girl arrived shortly thereafter and the teacher compared her books with those of my son in our presence. Yes, she was right. My son would sometimes only write a sentence or two out of two pages of work. I was astounded!

Bright Boy

For your information, the boy I am talking about is not some lazy thick-head. He is a top-performer. He has never gone beyond position five in his class since he started school.

We were all mad at him. The deputy threatened to give him a transfer letter to one of the poorest-performing schools in the area. The boy was so scared that he said “yes” to every suggestion that came from his teachers, including that of taking him to an approved school!

When we finally calmed down, we sought to find out what may have caused the changes in the boy’s behavior. The class-teacher reported that sometimes, while others did their assignments, he would be staring blankly on the wall or anything else and would only be ‘awakened’ when the teacher called out his name.                               I knew right away that something was wrong. But, what was it?

Our brainstorming session finally came to an end when the deputy asked me a question; “Does Adrian have siblings?” And my answer: “Yes, he has a sister aged one year and eight months.” He and the class-teacher exchanged glances and seemed to have gotten the key.
(I was still ‘blank’ )

After discussing this further, I also realized that something had changed since the arrival of baby Arianna into our family, and that’s where Adrian felt left out…

The Revelation

Jealousy and fear of being abandoned by parents are the main causes of insecurity in children when attention is given to other kids, be it siblings or any other. Children are naturally dependent on their parents or closest caretakers and any indication that their point of dependence might be taken away will always bring that feeling of insecurity. They, therefore, always need assurance that nothing can take that love away from them.

Way Forward

Parents have the obligation to ensure that their children are assured of their love, especially in cases where that love has to be shared with other kids.

I have been researching on the best ways to get Adrian back on track and assure him of my unaltered love for him. It is a long, tricky journey, but with actionable steps, it can be accomplished.

I invite all parents who face the challenge of kids feeling less loved, especially as a result of the arrival or existence of their siblings, to join me in discovering the best ways to help them out and strengthen their relationships through the following top tips;

1. Take Time With Each Kid.

In their article titled ‘Child Psychology and Mental Health’, US-based Child Development Institute noted that “parents must find time to play with their kids on a regular basis”.

This time should include one-to-one time with each child. Such time makes each child feel special and loved individually and drastically curbs the armed struggle for parental love that is called sibling rivalry.

On evaluation, I realized that this is one thing that had dwindled in my relationship with my son. So much of my time was dedicated to the sister, leaving him like a mere observer. I am sure that this is one thing that heavily contributed to his feeling of neglect and rejection, leading to his retaliation by just being absent-minded. May be he wondered how he could get back the love and attention he used to receive before his sister came into the picture.

This is also the advice I received from the class-teacher. She insisted that I try and give him as much attention as I could, commenting that he must be wondering how and why all the attention he had been receiving had been taken away, suddenly.

From then, I purposed to spend time with him alone. Whenever his sister goes to sleep, I take time to play with him, regardless of how many other things I have to do. I now understand that I am his most important possession and must ensure him that nothing is taking me away from him.

2. Expressly Confess Your Love For Them

Twice, thrice in a day, tell your kids that you love them. Tell each kid separately and on different occasions such as bed time, as you drop them off to school or any other opportune moment. Confess to them. Just say “I love you” to them and it will work wonders.
This is an express assurance of your love for them and it can never go to waste because the kid trusts you. Even when you find yourself busy the whole day with not much time to spend playing with them, those words will leave them assured of your love for them.

I have started practicing this with my son and it is already working wonders. He is more confident, no unfinished work at school and is more warm and easier to get along with.

3. Make the Older Sibling Part of The Baby’s Life.

This will involve making a connection between the older kid and the unborn one in cases where the mother is expectant. Here, you can inform the older kid that he/she will soon have a brother/sister. Let him/her know how it will be like and some times, take him/her down memory lines on how he/she was from birth to the present time.
This way, the older kid will be able to understand and know what to expect when the baby is born.

For those who missed this step and already have the younger sibling (like myself), start involving the older kid in activities concerning the little one so that he/she feels part of the journey.

In my case I now allow my son play more with his sister, let him feed her, allow him take a walk with her and even let him undo her hair (of course under my supervision). This way, the feeling that his sister is being favored over him is reduced because he is also allowed to do to her what I do and I don’t show any signs of envy.

This is really working wonders because we are now closer to each other as a family.

4. Avoid Comparing the Kids. Treat Each One as an Individual.

Making comments such as “Why can’t you be like so and so? She is always obedient, quick, sharp…” can make kids feel inferior and, worse still, unwanted.

Always treat each kid as an individual. Even when one child excels at something, don’t try to show the other that he/she should do the same. Kids are different and differently gifted. One might excel at sports and the other in academics. Don’t try to show them that they should be equal to each other. This will only strain them and eventually make them feel inadequate.
In effect, whenever one child excels in his/her area of gifting, the other will feel that your love is drifting towards the sibling, which might affect him and also his relationships with others.

Remember, you can never treat kids equally, but you can treat them individually.

5. Only Intervene When Squabbles Are Excessive.

In older siblings, fighting and squabbles are the order of the day. Some are minor and should be left to the kids to sort out other that interfering and appearing to be favoring one kid over the other.

Give them limits and guidelines on how to sort them out. For instance, you can give them a minute to decide on who gets into the bathroom first, failure to which they will both remain at home as the rest of the family goes, say, to the stores. This way, they will see the risks of fighting and stop at once, sorting the stalemate without having you decide for them.

However, squabbles may get more serious, necessitating your intervention. In such instances, listen to both of them and always be fair. Ask them questions in relation to what they report to you and let them decide who is on the wrong or how to settle the matter without hurting each other’s feelings.
This way, you will leave them in love with one another and feeling loved by you.

Finally, kids should always be reminded that they are each other’s life-long friends and that even when their friends go their way, each one of them will always be in the other’s life. This will encourage them to endeavor to maintain a friendship that will last a lifetime.

Today’s Practical Action Plan.

Here are some steps you can apply today as a starting point to re-assure your children of your love for them.

1. Say “I love you” to your children before sending them to bed. Repeat the words first thing when they wake up in the morning.

2. Spend some time with each of the older kids, even if it’s only five minutes a day. Just play a game, chat or tell/read him/her a story.

Long Term Action Plan

It does not matter how bad the ‘neglect’ of the older sibling has affected him/her. You can take some steps that will help reverse the situation and make him/her feel loved and valued again. Start a culture that will go a long way in restoring your relationship with your kid and rebuilding confidence in them through the following steps;

1. Let your older kid take part in caring for the younger one. For instance, allow the older kid to feed the younger one, bring the diaper for change, etc.

2. Also, step by step, incorporate humor in your relationships with your kids. Whenever one does something wrong, make some fun of it and allow them see how insensitive they are in their dealings with each other. This way, your kids will be on their toes in trying to be the best that they can and love one another, instead of doubting your love for them at the expense of each other.

Start the action today, right now!

Originally published at myfamilylife941.wordpress.com