Benefits of Siblings

So many times when we think about siblings the immediate reaction is to think about conflict, rivalry, tension or the like, but what about the benefits?

Think back to your own childhood, what are some of the memories that stick out to you relating to your siblings?  If you didn’t have siblings, what did you think of your friend’s relationships with their brothers/sisters?

What are some favorite memories?

  • Not so favorite?
  •  How do the relationships look now?
  •  What were your parent’s roles in determining it?
  •  How do you think life would be different without this/these relationships?

Now think to your own children.

  •  What is your vision for them?
  •  How would you like their relationship to grow?
  •  What is your role in this?
  •  How much do you think your perspective plays into this?

Siblings (and, at times cousins and close family friends) are some of the most influential people in our lives.  Given typical circumstances, a sibling relationship is likely to be the longest intimate relationship you’ll ever have.  They outlast parental relationships and start earlier than romantic relationships, leaving them to be one of the most influential in our lives.  Unfortunately this does not automatically make them easy to navigate.

In early childhood our siblings are a guiding force in our social-emotional development.  Regardless of where you fall in birth order, having a sibling is going to impact you and your view on the world.  A younger sibling will often look to their older counterpart for cues on how to behave in certain situations; an older sibling may use interactions with a younger sibling to flex his or her budding authority and negotiation skills. While each has its own inherit benefits to growing both the sibling relationship and the development of the individual children, it can drive parents crazy!

 So what do we do in these situations?

Try to focus on the positives.

Siblings provide a safe place to learn how to properly interact with peers.  The actions and words that you will see and hear between siblings are rarely used in a real life setting.  Take heart that your children are learning social norms in a situation where they are secure in the fact that they are loved and accepted, even when the bickering gets intense!

Siblings provide built in entertainment, though unfortunately for parents, the entertainment is not always the peaceful playing that we may have envisioned. While developing, children go through different periods of craving power and control to help them feel that they have some say over their lives.  Sibling relationships provide an excellent outlet for this—what better way to declare your power than to take a toy from someone younger or demand the exact way that a game should be played? What better source of entertainment than to have your younger sibling do exactly as you say?  While these types of behaviors often get under our skin as parents, they provide children with valuable learning situations, outlets to release feelings and to practice skills and tend to blow over quickly if they do end in conflict.

Siblings often will be extremely protective of each other…against outside forces.  The bond between siblings is such that there seems to be quite a bit of leeway for acceptable behaviors between each other, but very stringent guidelines for the outside world.  In other words there’s an unspoken philosophy of I can do/say what I want to my sibling, but you better watch yourself!  This is an element that parents often look over when thinking of the sibling relationships, especially in times of conflict.  It can be very helpful to step back and look at the way your pair (or group!) interacts with the world around them.  Look for how they protect and boost each other in numerous different ways, this is when you’ll see the bond that you hoped for.

And finally, siblings hold a lot of power with each other—embrace it and use it to your advantage!  While the style of communication/interaction may not be the same as what you’d choose, step back and watch how siblings handle each other in different situations.  Preschoolers can often soothe a baby faster and more efficiently than a parent, school aged children can tame the wild meltdown of a preschool sibling with an ease that parents will envy.  Remember that siblings are using each other to learn how to navigate the world around them and they are equally invested in helping each other survive us, their parents!  Siblings also have the ability to look at things from a much different perspective than adults because of they’re generally closer in age and more attuned to the wants and needs of a child. Next time you are struggling with one or more kiddos, ask their sibling what they think would help—you may be very surprised!

Raising any amount of children is an exceptionally challenging task.  Siblings can sometimes make the challenge seem insurmountable.  Hopefully by using some of the above methods to find the good in the fighting, the day to day will become more enjoyable.

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