The Tendency To Blame The Elder Child

I was at the supermarket with my children when I saw two young children run towards a touch screen game station. The two of them looked about the same age as my own children, the older boy looked like he was four or five years old and his younger sister looked about two to three years old.

As they both arrived at the game station, they started pushing and squeezing each other so that they could get their hands on the screen. The older boy, obviously bigger and stronger, managed to get his way simply by using his buttocks to gently push his sister aside. The sister, not backing down, tried her best to squeeze to the front of the screen. 

They made some noise during their little fight, so I happened to look their way. Just as I looked over, I saw the younger girl forcing her way in and pushing her brother and then it happened. She banged her head on the game station and started screaming and crying. I looked around and I didn’t see any adult come to these two children.

The little girl continued to scream and cry and her mother finally appeared. 

“Boy, did you push your sister? Did you beat your sister? Was it you?!” I could hear the Mother taking her son to task. She was shopping in another aisle and had not seen what caused her younger daughter to cry, and her first response was to scold her son.

The boy shook his head helplessly while his mother continued to question him in a reprimanding way. I couldn’t stand the sight and decided to be a nosey poker. “She bumped her head herself,” I said.  The mother of the two children did not turn to look at me but the moment I said that, her tone softened. “Did you push her? Did meimei bump her head herself?” Her questions started to change.

By now, the little girl had stopped crying. I could see that this little girl probably usually got her way by crying at the slightest thing. I may have been too fast to judge but the way the little girl stopped crying when she heard me tell her mum that she had bumped her head herself, she probably knew that her crying this time was not going to work and she was not able to get her brother into trouble. She probably learnt to manipulate adults with her tears because the first response from adults around her is to scold her brother.

Okay, maybe I went too far with the analysis of the little girl. To be fair, I don’t know how her brother usually treats her at home too.

I turned back to my own groceries selection while the mother talked to her son. A minute later, she said, “Thank you” and flashed me a quick smile.

I have to admit that I am guilty of this sometimes too. When I hear Breyen cry and I know Phoebie near him, my first response sometimes is, “Phoebie, what did you do?” 

While the older child does provoke or fight with the younger one at times, the older child is not always the reason that the younger child gets hurt or cries. I know the kind of mischief my two year old Breyen is capable of and he has gotten himself hurt on numerous occasions. Also, it doesn’t seem fair that I sometimes expect my almost six year old Phoebie to be in charge of keeping her brother safe while I am busy or distracted with other things.

As parents, there is a need to make a conscious effort not to be fast to blame the older child for everything and anything that happens to the younger child. We need to be able to ask better questions to find out what happened. Even if the younger child is crying badly or seriously hurt, we have to be careful with our words. We don’t want hurt the older child badly emotionally. 

Here are some questions we can use instead of immediately taking our older child to task:

1. Do you know why didi/meimei is crying?

2. Did you see what happened?

3. Do you know how he/she got hurt?

There is also a need to assure the older child that it is safe for him/her to tell the truth. In the event that the older child is indeed responsible for the hurt and crying of the younger child, we have to be able to explain the importance of safety and why certain things should not be done or played with. (Of course, this is a whole different topic altogether.)

Whatever the cause for the younger child’s crying, we all need to make a conscious effort not to jump to conclusions and blame the older child as a first response, especially if we did not see what happened.


One thought on “The Tendency To Blame The Elder Child

  1. Yes. I tend to do that as well. Being the elder child, I realised that’s wrong being treated that manner. Most of the time, we are just reacting to the situation without giving thought how the blamed might feel. I totally agree about the part where the younger usually use their tears to get the older into trouble. Not out of malice but more they won’t be blamed. Defence mechanism I guess. Parenting, sibling management, it’s a lifelong skill and we can never fully master it.

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