There are a host of books about brothers and sisters for parents. When the topic of brothers and sisters is raised, the operative response is “sibling rivalry.” Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s, authors of the bestseller Siblings Without Rivalry, discuss the focus groups they ran and the questionnaires they compiled. They discovered (not much of a surprise!) that sibling rivalry was the number-one leading concern of parents.
Parents, they wrote, were often overwhelmed and at a loss at how to “help their children live together so they could live too.”
And in my book about brothers and sisters, The Sibling Connection: How Brothers and Sisters Shape Our Lives, I offer help for parents who want to curb the fighting/rivalry between their children.
However, I argue, that the sibling relationship is deep and layered. It is potentially life’s longest-lasting family relationship and rarely static. It changes over time. Siblings outlive their parents on average by twenty to thirty years. What may be a contentious, competitive relationship with our brothers and sisters can become a close, important one as we age.
Our siblings can be the only intimate connections that seems to last. Friends and neighbors may move away, former coworkers are often forgotten, marriages end in divorce, but our brothers and sisters remain our brothers and sisters. We can’t shake them, no matter how hard we try.
Childhood is the time when siblings spend the most time together under the same roof. Parents are an important factor in how their children get along. Parents can help their children foster close, supportive relationships by:
- Allow children to settle their quarrels. Research has shown that the more parents intervene. the more siblings fight. When parents send their children to separate rooms, for example, they don’t learn how to make deals, to compromise. Quarreling can be quite healthy.
- Avoid the tendency to label one child as the “good” kid and another “bad.” The “bad” child always gets blamed for trouble, while the “good” child gets away with murder. This sets up a lot of anger for the “bad” child toward both his/her sibling(s) and parents.
- Honor the different temperaments of children. Temperamental differences can fuel fighting, particularly if at least one child is highly active or impulsive. It’s not unusual for parents to have trouble differentiating between who children are and how they behave. Often it is the difference in temperament that is especially annoying or particularly appealing. Yet few parents can admit that they may like one child more than another at any given time.
- Recognize that what affects one child usually affects the others. And what affects parents is usually passed on to their children, though, most likely in different ways.
Childhood is a practice ground for future relationships with one another and with others. Brothers and sisters learn to love, share, negotiate, start and end fights, hurt others, save face. Parents have tools at their disposal to encourage healthy connections that last.