Siblings: Turning Rivalry Into Relationships
Brothers and sisters are usually each other’s first playmates, helping one another discover the world and develop social skills. Outside of their parents, they are each other’s greatest supports, and they have a natural love for one another. It all sounds lovely, but all of us who’ve been in quarantine with kids at home know the truth. Sibling rivalry is real!
So far, for my two, their relationship has been pretty positive through the stress of this pandemic. There are disagreements, of course, but they work it out most of the time without parental intervention. My husband and I have spent a lot of time helping them learn to communicate with each other in a way they can both understand. That way, when tough times like this pandemic come, it will hopefully bend and not break their relationship. Outside of a few intense arguments over colored pencil choices, they seem to have really grown closer during this time of quarantine.
“We know from longitudinal studies that if kids start off their relationship with a sibling on a positive note, it’s more likely to continue positively over time,” says Laurie Kramer, a University of Illinois researcher who recently published a study on sibling relationships.
Kramer says variables such as gender and age difference don’t make much of a difference between siblings.
“It’s not all that important whether you’re spaced closer together or farther apart, or if you have a brother or a sister,” Kramer says.
“What’s really much more important are the social behaviors that children learn in their early years that they can use to develop a positive relationship with a sibling. That’s why it’s important for parents to encourage siblings to be engaged with one another and develop a relationship where there is mutual respect, cooperation and the ability to manage problems.”
So how do we instill those problem-solving, relationship-building skills? Experts say there are a few things parents can do.
Feel the love
One of our primary parental roles is to be role models for our children. They not only mimic us, but learn from us. This means if we display anger, competitiveness or dominance with our partner (or to others), our tots are liable to pick up this behavior too. Similarly, the more love, care and affection for each other and for our children that we show, the more our toddlers learn to act this way with each other.
Coach the team
Toddlers are naturally independent and like testing boundaries, which means they’ll compete or battle sometimes. But what doesn’t come naturally to them is knowing how to resolve conflict in a loving or respectful way. Because of this, your littles will need some coaching in how to be more loving. You can do this by demonstrating teamwork. Games and activities that involve the whole family are critical in developing loving sibling relationships. Young kids love playing with their parents, so having all the family cooperating to have fun or to complete an activity is a fantastic way to build love and respect.
Keep the peace
Despite your best efforts, still expect battles and fights to occur! These sibling tiffs can actually be healthy, allowing your kids to learn to express emotions and feelings. Immediately punishing or separating children can lead to suppressed feelings and to harboring anger, which can then erode a loving sibling relationship over time. Instead, try to help them work it out and when everyone is happier, encourage your children to show each other affection and have a hug now that things are better. Experiencing friendship after a battle is an important part in fostering that loving relationship.