They’ve got 70 years: Sibling Relationships
May 11, 2010 · Posted in Adult Children, Communication, Parenting, Preschoolers, Relationships · Permalink

310px-SiblingRivalryCan you imagine a better feeling than watching your children enjoy each other?  From your preschooler making your baby erupt in giggles, or your two teenagers laughing and conspiring, to your grown boys joking and wrestling with relish. Nothing like it. Unfortunately, in addition to those times, and maybe even more common is your preschooler “accidentally” bumping in to the baby, teenagers bickering, or older bothers letting the other down. It is this intense combination of deep connection and deeply ambivalent feelings that characterize sibling relationships.

Think back to your own relationships with sisters and brothers if you have them.  Were they static? Is the way  you got along in elementary school the same way you relate now? Themes may be the same, but the actual relationships have probably gone through many twists and turns with loyalty and protectiveness as well as envy or guilt.

So why do people ask the question “Do your kids get along?” or “Are they close?”.  Our culture tends to frame things in back and white, rather than nuance. Inherent in that mindset is that there is one way or one answer, a close sibling or a bad relationship. Unfortunately, this thinking leads to parents feeling like they have either succeeded or failed. So let’s remember that most siblings have about seventy years to have a relationship. It will be full of everything: competition and adoration, hurt and comfort. Keeping that in mind, here are some things that these important relationships teach our children no matter how old they are.

Sibling relationships and rivalry are an opportunity to practice:

  • Handling the coexistence of positive and negative emotions.
  • Turning jealousy into admiration.
  • Learning about sharing.
  • Problem solving.
  • Experiencing protective instincts.
  • Healthy competition.
  • Empathy.

Here are some helpful ideas that help parents support closeness and not further inflame natural jealousy:

  • Divide and Conquer: spend time alone with each child or divide family time with each parent and a kid.
  • Fair doesn’t always mean equal.
  • The Buddha says: The cure for jealousy is celebration.
  • Be aware of pigeon holing.
  • You are not the judge and the jury.
  • Teach your children to use “I” messages.
  • Avoid micro-managing.
  • Keep dialogue open about sibling rivalry.
  • You as the enemy – a common bond.
  • Don’t allow abuse.

Sibling relationships have and always will be complex.  The question is not whether your children have conflict – all do – but rather how you respond to the issues.  This is an opportunity for you as a parent to examine the place of your own sibling relationships in your reaction to your children.

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