Navigating Sibling Relationships

Although often overlooked, sibling relationships are some of the most lasting of one’s life. In most family structures, siblings grow up in the same environment with similar experiences and therefore memories. These similarities give this relationship a unique aspect in terms of the bond. Sibling relationships are important for both affecting and being affected by family dynamics. With this, these relationships also have their own impact on later life outcomes.

How Siblings Affect Development

Siblings affect each other’s development in many realms, including social skills and social-emotional development.  Research on birth order, however, does not seem to yield evidence that backs up the many stereotypes. It comes down to the idea that having a positive sibling relationship will have positive impacts on development. To achieve a positive relationship, each sibling has to learn to respect each other and their similarities and differences (Psychology Today).

Research at Columbia University shows how having high conflict in a sibling relationship can lead to more problem behaviors in an individual throughout life, including criminal behavior. It is also found that a positive parent-child relationship can predict a positive sibling relationship, which demonstrates the permeation of all relative relationships in constructing family dynamics (Ahn, 2019)

As previously mentioned, siblings share many intimate experiences, and that history can strengthen a bond that can help achieve true connection with each other. With this, hardships can be seen as easier when having a deep, trustworthy relationship that is supportive to help one through life (Psychology Today).

Sibling Rivalry

According to Psychology Today, sibling rivalry is completely normal for children to go through. However, this rivalry can become detrimental to development in the case of parents having a clear favorite child. Unfair treatment from parents can be detected by children at less than a year old, which  can lead to aggression between siblings, along with many other negative outcomes, such as depression and low self-esteem. There are a few other ways, suggested by, to help reduce the likelihood of a rivalry turning sour and negatively affecting a child’s life. These include:

  • Be aware of actions that may be interpreted as favoritism: Focus on giving each sibling attention, while also being aware of their strengths. If a parent used to play football and one of their children now plays football, but the other plays basketball, the parent might tend to converse more passionately with the football player. It would be more constructive to talk to each child about their practices and why they like their sport.
  • Focus on encouragement on effort instead of outcome: Emphasizing effort over performance can help feelings of equality. When one child gets more praise from parents over better grades in school, the child with lower grades may become frustrated and take it out in the form of resentment of the other sibling. Comment on how you saw a child studying or how the child completed their homework on time all week to increase their focus on the work, not the grade.
  • Set standards and rules for behavior that are consistent across children: Setting clear rules for all children sets the tone that all expectations are the same across the board. While teasing between siblings is normal, it’s helpful for all children to know where the line is drawn for all. Make it clear to all children that physical violence is not tolerated in the household from anyone. 

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

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Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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