The Sibling Relationship
The sibling relationship is one of the most important, but difficult relationships we will have in life. Some sibling relationships are full of daily conflict and arguing. Other siblings may be more indifferent towards each other and the relationship seems almost non-existent. As a parent, you can take small steps now to reduce sibling conflict so that your home is a more peaceful place to be and help your kids connect with one another to enhance the sibling relationship.
Cain and Abel, the Boleyn sisters, Thor and Loki. What do these pairs have in common? Some intense sibling rivalry. These pairs are great examples of when sibling relationships went really, really wrong. While few sibling relationships end as tragically as Cain and Abel’s did, sibling rivalry is a real struggle for most families. Even the best sibling relationships can be a little love-hate at times.
An Essential Relationship
Growing up as the middle child of three girls, I am no stranger to comparing myself to my siblings. As we’ve become adults, I see how much I gained and continue to gain from having siblings. The sibling relationship is potentially the longest relationship we will have in our lives and by nurturing it in early childhood, parents can enhance the sibling relationship and ensure that it is strong for years to come and that kids will learn essential social and emotional skills.
Sibling rivalry often begins when the younger sibling is in the womb and is seemingly a fact of human nature. It is usually characterized by jealousy, competitiveness, and comparison between siblings. At BPC, we see many parents who feel saddened by the conflict they see between their kids and at a loss about what to do when conflict erupts. Although conflict will inevitably happen, it does not have to get out of control.
Common causes of sibling conflict:
- Arrival of a new sibling and the attention baby receives
- Sharing toys/things
- Younger sibling feeling excluded
- Taking Turns
- Things being unfair
Healthy Sibling Rivalry
There are some very famous unhealthy sibling pairs, but there are also examples of siblings who can be competitive with one another in a healthy way. Venus and Serena Williams, for example!
By enhancing the sibling relationship, kids can learn skills that will serve them well into adulthood and being a sibling can be an important learning opportunity. Kids can learn communication, compromise, and cooperation.
Nurturing the Sibling Relationship
So what can parents do to nurture this unique relationship? At BPC, we use some activities to help siblings understand each other and improve sibling communication. These activities are cooperative, not competitive and encourage communication and teamwork.
- Mirroring. Have siblings sit across from each other. One sibling starts by moving hands, arms, or upper body and the other sibling is the “mirror” and must copy the movements. Repeat with the other sibling leading.
- Communication Drawing. Each sibling should have paper and a pencil and should be seated so they can’t see the other’s paper. One sibling draws an object of their choosing and must describe to the other sibling how to draw it without saying what it is. Repeat with the other sibling drawing an object of their choosing.
- No Smiling Contest. Siblings take turns trying to make the other one laugh. This increases attunement and attachment between siblings.
10 Tips to Promote a Healthy Sibling Relationship
Stay calm in the midst of sibling chaos. Avoid joining in the argument and be the neutral and objective, wise adult. I know it’s easier said than done.
Avoid comparing siblings
Treat each sibling as their own unique person with different strengths. Kids will naturally compare themselves with their siblings and they may need help seeing their own talents and strengths.
Understand the developmental stages of both children
Even if your kids are close in age, they are in different stages of emotional and social development. Do your best to understand where your kids are in their ability to manage conflict and regulate their emotions.
Teach communication skills
Sibling conflict is a great opportunity to teach your kids to communicate effectively. This can start with helping kids identify and describe their feelings with each other.
Teach your kids to understand and appreciate their differences
Have conversations about what strengths and interests they have in common and that their skills are equally valuable.
Teach kids to calm down before talking through an issue
We know, as adults, that we have difficulty being rational when we are overwhelmed with emotion. This is even more true for children whose brains are still developing.
Notice what kids are communicating with their behavior
At BPC, we believe that all behavior is communication. When siblings are in conflict, there are feelings underneath it. Try your best to understand what each child may be feeling.
Keep young kids from hurting each other
As the parent, you should set a firm rule that no one in the family can physically or emotionally harm another person.
Be the mediator (especially with young kids) but don’t take sides
By intervening in sibling arguments, you can teach your kids effective conflict resolution skills that will be beneficial in their other relationships as well. The parent can help determine what the emotions are underneath the argument and help them better understand each other. The parent can also ask the kids to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
If sibling rivalry gets out of hand bring them to a therapist!
A therapist can work with siblings using age and developmentally-appropriate methods such as play therapy to help siblings express their feelings and learn ways to communicate and cope with them. The therapist will also coach parents on the best ways to respond to the specific problems in your family.
At BPC, we specialize in working with families to help improve relationships. Contact us to set up a free 20 minute phone consultation. As a Houston area family & child counseling clinic, Brittani Persha Counseling has child behavior specialists and works to provide parents & child caregivers support throughout the therapy process. Whether you are looking for play therapy for a pre schooler or mental health therapy for an elementary child with anxiety, we are here to help. Call today to talk about how our counselors can help your entire family!