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Setting the Scene for Sibling Rivalry


Y (33_female_Egypt)

Reply Date

Jan 13, 2018


As-Salamu ‘Alaykum. Thank you for giving me this provision to wend all my worries. I have written to you before regarding my daughter and the subject was about toe walking. She has improved little, but she still walks on her toes sometimes. But now my worries are about her character. She is a very disobedient child, always testing limits and is very demanding and seeking attention. I also have a son who is 2.5 years old and is a very loving boy. Maybe that is the reason also that everyone in the family seems to dislike my daughter’s character including me. She is much matured sometimes and agrees to improve, but of no use. I admit I have to deal with her rudely when things go out of control and sometimes my language is also little harsh. However, I try to be with my kids as much as I can: I play, tell stories and talk to my children every day after my work. She is good at her studies and doesn’t have too much problems at school. Recently, my in-laws came to stay with us. She misbehaves with them and they are very upset with me. They blame me for her character. Now, I am considering quitting my job. I strongly feel that my work has an effect on her character especially because my son is very different from her. They are taken care of a maid who I feel is really good with them. Please advise.



As-Salamu ‘Alaykum dear sister,

Can you remember how your daughter was before her brother was born? Of course, she was younger then, but because you cast your daughter’s image as one not likeable and your son as likeable, this gives the impression that she has never had desirable qualities. So, it is important if you can recall how your daughter used to be. Now, how was your daughter when her brother was born? Did she change instantly? Also, how were you after your son was born? Did you pay attention to your son, neglecting your daughter’s emotional needs? It is all too easy to slip into showing preferential treatment of one child over another. By comparing them, you will be unjust. They have their own identities and different characteristics, and besides they are not at the same age.

Abu Rurairah narrated that Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon him) kissed Al-Hasan of Al-Husain Ibn `Ali whilst Al-Aqra’ Ibn Habis Al-Tamimi was sitting beside him Al-Aqra said: “I have ten children and I have never kissed one of them.” The Messenger of Allah looked at him and said: “`Whoever is not merciful to others, will not be treated mercifully,”(Al Muntaqa Min Al-Tar’ghib, # 1326 )

“The Prophet (PBUH) asked, `Have you done the same for all your children?’ [My father] said, `No,’ so the Prophet (PBUH) said, `Fear Allah (SWT) and treat all of your children equally.'”(Abu Tammam, al-Hamasah 1:167)

When one treats favorably one child over the other, one helps to sow the seed of disunity. Instead of growing together, the children grow apart with resentment, jealousy, with one child feeling superior over the other and one child feeling inferior in relation to everyone else. This might not be the intention, but the more you expect her to behave badly, the more likely she will resent your authority over her because to her you are being unfair.

Each child develops differently, but there are some basic common features that can be applied.


A 2-year old child:

-Is still learning about relationships and learning to see themselves as a separate person, and thinks that a parent knows what they are thinking

-Has not learnt to manage feelings

-Knows what they want

-Will play with other children for short periods, but finds difficulty in sharing

-Finds making choices difficult

-Likes to mimic adults

-Is trying to understand the rules, finds difficulty with reality (imagination plays a major role here and cannot differentiate between what is real and what is not real e.g. T.V)

-Enjoys make belief

-Does not understand that all their bodily parts belongs to them, so may be frightened about losing parts of themselves

-Will do things by themselves when they want to

-May stereotype the opposite gender

-Begins to be helpful


A 5-year old child:


-Sees the family is still the center of their world, and the family is where they are emotionally nourished

-Has a greater understanding of rules

-Shares sympathy with others, but not able to do so with younger siblings

-Comes into different ways of behavior and rules at school

-Is sometimes demanding, and sometimes cooperative

-Is competitive and organized

-Prefers gender related activities

-Is proud when they have accomplished a task

-Is more practical

-Expresses greater awareness of others feelings

-Enjoys imaginative play with other children

-Brings detail to dramatic play


By putting together the characteristics that go with age, along with your parenting, and the behavior of the children, you might begin to realize why your daughter is behaving the way she has been. When a new sibling is born, there may be some resentment at the attention they seem to be getting. Children approaching school age may feel as if they are being replaced, if they have not prepared for the new member of the family. They may even resort to behavior that they have outgrown in order to get that attention, because they feel insecure and they feel threatened. The more you reprimand them, the more stubborn they will become, because you are being unfair. And what better way to challenge you when your in-laws are present, because you want her to behave a certain way when as far as they are concerned, you have no right to.

Every person has a right to feel love, and a child is no exception. By being there for her, by understanding and caring, your daughter is more likely to listen to you without so much resistance.

It would be most helpful if you could ask your daughter how she really feels about her brother in order to see if the problem is one of sibling rivalry. Also, asking her in a tender manner will demonstrate to her that you care about her feelings. ‘Abul Kalam Azad in his book The Opening Chapter of the Qur’an explains:

” … Rububiyyat means nourishing’. In its widest sense, the term means ‘to develop a thing from stage to stage in accordance with its inherent aptitudes, needs and its different aspects of existence, and also in a manner affording the requisite freedom for it to attain its full stature.'”


Some Tips:


*”Yahya said, “Malik said from Hisham ibn Urwa that Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr gave judgment based on the testimony of children concerning the injuries between them”(Hadith – Al-Muwatta 36: 9)

*Explain to your daughter that you realize that you have not been treating her unfairly (honesty is the best policy when it comes to children – they only like the truth), and that you want to change the situation. Explain how things will be from now on so that she will know where she stands, and so that she will understand the rules.

*Do not punish your daughter when she has done something wrong accidently as she needs to be clear as to what the limits are. If your daughter is punished for every single thing, then you are imprisoning her into a code of behavior that will undermine her developmental needs, and she will learn from that she can do nothing right.

*If your daughter has done something wrong with intent, then set her a task, a chore that she usually does not do. This will give her time to think about what she has done.

*Be consistent

*Be fair to both your children, and advise other family members also.

*Help each child recognize their uniqueness, and what they have in common


It is probable that after a hard day work, like anyone else, you want to unwind, and that you react to your daughter in the way that you do, because she does not seem to be very helpful when it comes to your unwinding. Just starting school, it could be that she is going through many challenges that she may want to share with you.

Dear sister, please do not speak of your daughter as someone with unlikeable characteristics. She is only reacting to what she sees and feels around her. She has not always been like this, so allow her to get through this phase by being there for her as much as you are for your son. Don’t forget, your daughter has just started school. She has been going through a lot of changes in terms of expectations, so speak with her regularly so that you may remain cognizant of what is going on with her in her life.


About Hwaa Irfan

Late Hwaa Irfan, may her soul rest in peace, served as consultant, counselor and freelance writer. Her main focus was on traditional healing mechanisms as practiced in various communities, as opposed to Western healing mechanisms.

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