I’m so pleased to welcome back guest poster Angelica Perez-Litwin of Modern Familia.
The power of the sibling relationship is often over-shadowed by the value we place on building good parent-child relationships, friendships and marital relationships. The fact is that no bond is typically longer, stronger or more comforting than that between siblings.
As parents, it is easy to focus on the day-to-day bickering, conflict or rivalry, and loose sight of the tremendous long-lasting impact that sibling relationships have on our children. Here are a few reminders (based on research) why we should continue to honor and foster loving relationships between our children:
The Role of Sibling Relationships on Development
Because brothers and sisters typically spend a lot of time together, they are one another’s first playmates and companions. As a result, sibling relationships influence both social and cognitive learning:
:: Older children serve as effective role models and teachers: Older children, despite the age difference, always serve as role models and teachers in a variety of pro-social skills, such as helping, sharing, and cooperation. Language development and communication is also influenced by the presence of older siblings.
:: The impact of the sibling relationship extends beyond the home: The social skills children learn from their siblings can actually impact interactions with peers at school or in the playground. Negative and hostile sibling relationships have been linked to aggressive behaviors with peers during adolescence.
:: A moderate amount of sibling conflict is actually good(!): If you’re worried that your kids bicker a bit much, worry no more. Surprisingly, a moderate amount of sibling conflict enhances social interactions with peers. Moderate conflict, balanced with warmth or support between siblings, is associated with higher social competence, emotional control, and better school adjustment.
Factors that Influence Quality of Relationship Between Siblings
A multitude of factors influence the quality of sibling relationships. If you have more than two children, however, you might have noticed the role of gender, temperament, age spacing and birth order. There are other important factors that impact the bond between your children. Here are some:
:: Parenting behaviors: Negative parenting practices (bribing, hitting, spanking) and inadequate parental monitoring are associated with negative sibling interactions.
:: Marital satisfaction and family emotional climate: When mom and dad are not happy, or are experiencing emotional conflict, the interactions between siblings is affected. Children who grow up in a conflicted family environment tend to exhibit more sibling rivalry, aggression and avoidance.
:: Emotionally unfulfilling or unavailable parental care: Children who grow up with emotionally unfulfilling parental care do one of two things: they either bond more intensely, or become hostile with one another.
:: Preferential treatment of a sibling over another: Real (and even perceived) preferential treatment appears to affect how siblings get along with one another. Children who feel less attended to begin to feel resentful, upset and angry with their parents, and are likely to displace much of that anger towards the sibling who is receiving the parent’s attention.
Fostering a Loving Sibling Relationship
So what are some important and practical things we can do to promote a loving, close and respectful relationship between our children? Here are some tips:
:: Role model affection. As with anything else, we are our children’s biggest role models. Show affection in your relationship with your spouse, your children, and your own siblings. Hugs, kisses and loving comments are excellent forms of affection that children can easily imitate when they feel positive feelings towards their siblings.
:: Encourage polite behaviors among siblings. Being polite and appreciative are behaviors we highly value at home. Saying “thank you,” “please,” and communicating with politeness honors the type of respect that siblings should show one another.
:: Promote a sense of responsibility for one another. At home, we try our best to make each child aware of their siblings’ needs, and encourage them to be caring and helpful. Our 4 year old is very sensitive to our 2 year old needs, and she’s often found using mommy talk with him, in a very loving way. This can set the foundation for a close bond between siblings as adults.
:: Educate and remind your children about the limitations of younger siblings. Regardless of the age difference, developmental differences are bound to cause conflict and bickering between siblings. It is important to help children understand why their younger siblings are not able to exercise impulse control, or express their needs clearly. Remind your children of the stage their siblings are in, and how that impacts what they can and cannot do.
:: Give your children plenty of opportunities to do fun and memorable things together. My fondest memories with my sister took place during fun trips to the beach, family celebrations, and playing together. Today, at home, we try to create opportunities for our children to engage in activities in pairs (we have 4 children) and as a group. There is a qualitative difference between both experiences, especially depending on the age differences.
:: Remind yourself that the bickering and rivalry will soon pass. As with temper tantrums, the rivalry and conflict is part of normal development (as long as it doesn’t escalate to aggression and hostility). These are stages in our children’s lives. Soon, you’ll notice their relationship evolve and transform. In the interim, patience, tolerance and the ability to let them figure it out will prove to be quite helpful.
How do you foster a loving relationship between your children?