When your child wishes their sibling didn’t exist

Sibling love lost.
Sibling love lost. Photo: Getty Images

"I wish he'd never been born."

Have you ever heard your child say this about their sibling? When it's said in anger, perhaps you can roll your eyes and let it go, but when it's said in a moment of quiet confession it can take a bit of sensitivity to deal with it.

As a parent you obviously love all your children, so it can be heartbreaking to hear one wish the other didn't exist. "It can be extremely confronting for a parent to hear their child so dislikes their sibling," says parenting expert and psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip. "Parents can feel love for all their children and simply want them all to get along and like each other, but they sometimes don't know how to create this."

The first step in dealing with such a confession is to try and understand why it's been said. "One sibling may feel overlooked by their parents, which creates jealousy, or one may feel they are less special than their sibling or less capable," explains Phillip. "This can create a feeling of resentment and they think if their sibling wasn't there, they may get the attention the want and need."

Then, it's time to take a deep breath and DON'T react in these ways, advises Phillip:

  • Never tell your child their feelings are wrong
  • Contain your own emotion: don't become angry or upset
  • Listen and acknowledge these feelings as legitimate to your child
  • Never dismiss your child's feelings or emotions, even if they do not make sense to you – they are real to them
  • Ignoring it may only escalate your child's anger

So, what is a good course of action when you're faced with a serious case of sibling resentment?

Phillips suggests, "Be curious. Sit quietly with your child and ask questions such as: What is the reason you feel this way? What is it that you need your sister/brother to do so you can feel differently? Is there anything that has happened to make you feel like this? How can you do something to feel differently? What do you need from me to help you?"

Of course, all of this depends on your child's age and stage, so you'll need to help them through their issues in a way that suits their individual needs. Phillip adds it can be different in various circumstances too. "If one sibling is giving the other a difficult time or is picking on or bullying them, this is slightly different and steps to protect the victim are a necessity," she says. "All children must feel safe in their home environment and creating this safety is essential."

When your child tells you they wish their sibling didn't exist, or shares their feelings of resentment with you, your role becomes that of mediator. You can also use this as an opportunity to create empathy and understanding of differences, and hopefully over time your children's sibling rivalry will settle.

"Allowing the children to understand they are both unique and different individuals, and just because they are different does not make one of them right and one wrong, just different, is a learning curve in life," Phillip says. "The sooner we all can understand that each of us is an individual with our own thoughts, responses and personality the better placed we are. If your child is older, you can point out that all through life they will meet with people who are diverse from them. And acceptance is a gift that is learned and modelled by parents."