Our brothers and sisters are there for us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk.
Author Susan Scarf Merrell penned these words that exemplify the importance and value of sibling relationships. As a mother of 4 children I desperately strive to nurture relationships between my children that will provide them with the kind of relationships that only siblings seem able to provide. Research has shown that as parents we can provide a powerful gift to our children when we foster positive relationships for them with their siblings. While we all might experience our moments of sibling rivalry, there is a common vine of friendship that can only be woven between brothers and sisters, and as parents we need to make certain we do all that we can to nurture these relationships.
As I was reading a research paper written for the Child Trends’ Positive Outcomes Conference (March 2003) about the influences of childhood relationships with siblings I kept coming back to a particular part in the paper. It discusses how the value of sibling relationships is understudied in light of the fact that it is the longest lasting relationship any of us will most likely experience. Most children know their siblings from birth, outlive their parents together, and spend more years as siblings than as spouses, parents, or employees.
The paper also reiterates through literature reviews that just as nurturing and loving sibling relationships can help to foster respectful and caring friendships later in life, sibling relationships fraught with strife and conflict can actually teach children to interact with others in those same negative ways. Given this premise, it seems even more important that we as parents work to provide environments where sibling relationships can flourish and mature.
How to Help Brothers and Sisters Avoid Rivalry
Sibling rivalry often stems from struggles to exert independence, autonomy, and personal freedoms. While these can be valuable traits to seek, they don’t have to be won at the expense of the sibling relationship. Parents can do several things to create positive environment in which their children can deepen their brother/sister friendships.
- Treat siblings equally and don’t foster favoritism within the family.
- Speak respectfully and lovingly about your children with their siblings.
- Allow for space, both physical and emotional, between your children.
- Provide them with opportunities to share special activities with each other.
- Give them positive examples of healthy relationships with your own siblings.
- Give them reasons to laugh together – even if it is at your expense – for someday they may have to grieve together over their loss of you.
Diverting Sibling Rivalry
If your children are typical, they will display some sorts of sibling rivalry at various points in their lives. During these times it is important to try to respectfully steer their bickering ships in new directions.
Let them work on their own conflicts, but don’t be afraid to step in if you see or hear behaviors that just don’t sit right with you. Just make sure that you tread carefully and don’t appear to take sides.
Instead of focusing on who you think might be right, ask your children to see the situation from the other’s point of view. Then ask them to verbalize what type of outcome they think would help the situation. For example, if the kids are arguing about which game to play, possible solutions might be to take turns, flip for it, or choose a 3rd possibility to which both agree. Compromise is never in short demand for sibling relationships, so help them to work on this important skill together.
Look for patterns of sibling rivalries, such as every evening after dinner there is conflict over who helps with the dishes or gets to pick the television show to watch. Sometimes it is more about the time of day than the actual activity. If you see their patience with each other start to dwindle by evening, try to encourage alternate activities in the evening that will give them each their own space.
Don’t get sucked into the mantra that siblings will fight, or you might risk giving them permission to treat each other poorly. Set clear expectations for treating siblings with respect and warmth and make sure they follow through with them.
Treasure their Sibling Relationships and Teach them to Treasure Each Other
There is something magical about the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters. They are truly our introductions to friendships and can be the tones we set for future relationships. Not every day in my home is filled with sibling harmony, but today reminded me of the rock-solid value that sibling relationships have. By choice, my sons decided to rearrange their bedrooms so that they all share the same room for sleeping (thankfully there is one huge room to accommodate this), and then have another for their desks, bookshelves, and a special guy place for playing games.
Every bedtime since I can remember they have gathered together in one room for bedtime stories, either read by me or their dad, or provided by books on CDs. Today as we shuffled bedframes and chairs, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude that they were excited to share traditions and make memories together, all while building their bonds of brotherhood. The fact that they want to share a room because they truly enjoy spending time together is one of the greatest gifts they could give me. Now let’s hope this magic doesn’t wear off before my back recovers from furniture moving, but for now I will relish in the peace of their sibling un-rivalry.
Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.