The Importance of the Sibling Relationship

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Siblings need to have a good relationship because they are the only people in the world who grow up with you and can be lifelong friends and support. 

They can keep secrets about you that no one else knows, and they can understand your jokes better than anyone else. 

Being a sibling also means having someone tell your most private thoughts and feelings and know that it will go no further. Having close bonds with your siblings is crucial to living happy, healthy lives.  

What is a good sibling relationship?

Having a good sibling relationship isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it’s hurt feelings and big fights. A good sibling relationship all boils down to one thing – respect. 

Respect is the glue that keeps relationships strong. In a good sibling relationship, siblings understand that they have different thoughts and opinions, good and bad days, but communication is critical. 

When brothers or sisters frustrate each other, it helps to talk it out. Each person needs to speak in facts and only express their feelings.  Using When/I feel statements are an excellent way to teach kids to communicate with their feelings and viewpoints without being accusatory of the other person.  

For example, “When you call me a baby, I feel disrespected.” 

A good sibling relationship has a balance of closeness and independence. As a parent, you can help foster this by never comparing your children to each other, teaching your children how to communicate, and then letting them practice during disagreements. Only step in when things get out of control. 

What is a bad sibling relationship?

A bad sibling relationship is characterized by constant fighting, not being there for each other, and being selfish.  And this can extend from childhood into adulthood, where the children grow up and never talk to each other.   

Fighting and arguing will happen in any relationship, especially one that is as close as siblings. Still, it is essential to learn how to resolve those conflicts to make a stronger relationship. 

If a child has a bad sibling relationship, it’s up to the siblings and the parents to fix it. 

While we cannot solve all our children’s problems, parents should step in and help repair sibling relationships during childhood. 

As a parent, you can help foster a good relationship by teaching your children listening skills and conflict resolution skills like negotiating and brainstorming.

When children are very young, you may need to give them the words to say.  You can help your child put their feelings into words. 

The parent can tell the child, “You can say, “When you don’t let me play games with you, I feel lonely and less loved.” 

Now, this should not be used to tell the child what to say but to help them navigate their emotions and communicate those feelings effectively while de-escalating the fight. 

Why do we take our siblings for granted?

We take our siblings for granted because we are just not used to putting in the effort to make it work. After all, they have always been there, and our parents have helped us work out any significant issues we had.  

All relationships take work to maintain, and sibling relationships are no different. You have to know how to help each other grow and resolve conflicts in healthy ways.  

With our siblings, even if we were mad at them, we would still be in the same house, eating meals together, riding to school together, and so on. 

This is where many siblings start slipping away from each other in adulthood. They have taken each other for granted that they never learned how to keep their relationship strong. 

You can help your children not take each other for granted by this simple dinner conversation prompt, “Tell me something good someone at the table did today.”  

It helps reconnect and helps your child to value their sibling even if they are on bad terms. If they are arguing, you may have to push a little or explain how one sibling helped the other during your turn. 

How does the birth of a sibling affect a child emotionally?

The impact of having a new baby is significant on the family dynamic. For many children, the birth of a sibling is a very special event, but that doesn’t mean there will not be challenges.

A child can be affected emotionally in a good way or a bad way when a new sibling is brought home from the hospital. For most children, it can be a mixture of feelings. 

At first, a new baby is exciting and fun, but within a few days or a week, the reality of how much care the new baby needs can spur jealousy and anger from the older siblings.  

As the baby gains more independence and can play, the older sibling will enjoy them more. 

Why are older siblings mean to younger ones?

Older siblings can feel so many complicated feelings with their younger siblings that it comes out as anger a lot of the time.  

It’s a pretty typical situation that the older sibling is doing something and the little one wants to be included. The older sibling gets angry and loses their cool because they cannot play at the same mental and emotional level as their sibling. 

Other reasons could include: 

  • added responsibility of helping with a younger sibling
  • loss of one on one time with parents
  • loss of some independence
  • difference between ability, play, and thought process due to age difference
  • pestering behavior

For each of these, the parent can help the older child to accept the younger sibling.  One way is making time in the day or in the week for independent play away from siblings.  

Parents also need to make sure that they spend some one-on-one time with each child as often as possible. For some families, maybe a few minutes a week or a long day once a month.  

It’s also helpful to remind the older sibling that they weren’t ready to play big kid games when they were that age. Sometimes it may be easier to play games that are easier for the younger sibling to participate in.  

If your child is struggling with the extra responsibility, take a mental inventory and make sure you are not leaning too much on the older sibling for help. Make sure to praise them when they help willingly.  

If you notice you have been asking for a little too much help from the older sibling, apologize to them and tell them that while you appreciate all the help they have been giving. Still, their baby brother or sister is not their responsibility, and you are sorry you have asked for so much help lately. 

Benefits of sibling relationships

Having sibling relationships has so many benefits from having someone to rely on in life, having a playmate, keeping each other sane, sharing secrets, and more. 

When positive relationships develop between siblings, they can have long-lasting effects on physical and emotional health. Positive relationships can have a big effect on a child’s ability to learn and develop interpersonal skills.

Having someone to rely on in life

Having a sibling is like having a best friend. They are always there to listen, give advice, help, and build up each other. 

Children who have this person in their lives will learn how to problem-solve and handle problems with confidence and in a healthy way. 

These are skills that they can take into their adult life and help them with conflict resolution and interpersonal relationships in adulthood. 

And when a problem is too big for them to handle on their own, they can always turn to their siblings to help them if they have a strong relationship. 

It is an amazing feeling to know that your children will always have each other’s backs and someone to rely on even after you are gone. 

Siblings help keep each other sane

Siblings often go through many of the same life experiences at the same time. Having that common ground and sharing these experiences can help them work through any trauma or other negative experiences so that their mental health does not suffer. 

Younger siblings have another point person to go to when dealing with some of the trials and tribulations of growing up like friendship fights, broken hearts, talking to a crush, and more.  

While their parents went through the same things as a child, they have a different perspective on it because of the time and maturity. 

Things that seem like not a big deal to parents because of their life experience can feel like a major life event to a child. 

Going to an older sibling who went through a similar experience only a few years ago can offer both the wisdom of how they solved it and commiserate with what a big deal feels like. 

Having an ever present playmate

Growing up with a sibling means you always have a buddy to play with. It can help a child battle the loneliness of childhood. A playmate can also be a valuable role model that shows children what is cool and what isn’t.  

Siblings are a child’s first friends. ‘

Whether they are riding bikes together, playing ball in the park, or reading books, siblings provide a connection beyond most other relationships in life as long as the relationship is healthy and good. 

Being able to share secrets 

I can remember many nights laying in my top bunk listening to my little sister spill all her secrets to me. It helped us create a strong bond. 

Sharing these secrets to a sibling is a nonjudgmental place to get advice and just unload all the world’s problems on. 

Types of sibling relationships & how they differ

Siblings come in many different types from full-blooded, half-siblings, step-siblings, and adopted siblings.  

Other than the actual definition difference of these siblings, bonding can also be affected by the type of sibling.  It may take longer for step-siblings or adopted siblings to become thick as thieves. 

Full-Blooded Brothers & Sisters 

A full-blooded sibling is also called a biological sibling. These siblings share the similar genetic make-up of both parents. Full-blooded siblings are more likely to live with their siblings from birth.  

While this type of sibling has the least obstacles in becoming well bonded, it is not guaranteed that they will bond easily or well.  Things like attitude, personality, and values can put a wedge between siblings inhibiting bonding. 

Half-brothers or sisters

A half-sibling is a child who shares only one parent with their sibling. It could be mom or dad. These children can have different relationships with their siblings depending on custody arrangements. 

Sometimes there is more resentment in these relationships because the older sibling can feel like the parent is moving on and leaving them behind.  

It is vital to help these children foster a strong relationship by showing them equal love and care even if one child does not live in your home full time.

Step Brothers or Sisters

Step-siblings are children whose relationship begins when their parents get married. There is no biological relation between these siblings. They may be co-parented together from birth, or they may not have a relationship at all. 

Blending a family can be so difficult to create bonds, but it is well worth the time to help the children gain new siblings with deep relationships.  

Sometimes it takes some family counseling to help move past negative experiences before the new family was created.  

Treating all the children fairly and equitably is one way a parent can help the step-siblings develop good relationships. Family activities are another way to get the new step-siblings to be friends. 

Adopted Brothers or Sisters

Some families choose to grow their families through adoption. While there are times that it is difficult, it can be very rewarding when they are all together.  But getting to the point where everyone is bonded and having deep, lasting relationships can be challenging. 

Many children in foster care come to their new homes with their own emotional baggage from trauma, and being thrown into a new family with new rules, expectations, routines, and relationships can be overwhelming at the least. 

But with patient parents who take the time to help children build sibling relationships, these siblings can be as close as biological siblings, and sometimes even closer.

How to Maintain Sibling Relationships

Suppose your child already has a great relationship with their sibling. In that case, you probably want to know how to maintain that sibling relationship through childhood changes.  

The biggest help I could offer is to not compare your children to each other. Don’t set up a relationship where your children are nemesis. Instead, help them to become allies and collaborators.  

You can help them by setting some ground rules on respect. Dealing with arguments can help them develop interpersonal relationship skills. Also, it will help them maintain a healthy relationship with their sibling and future long-term relationships. 

Encourage activities they can do together as they grow and move into different seasons of life.  

Your tween probably doesn’t want to volunteer to spend time with her 4-year-old brother.  You can encourage her to teach him something in her zone of genius that could be a great way to build their relationships. 

How do you strengthen a sibling relationship?

As a parent, how do you help your children have strong sibling relationships?   There are lots of fun things you can do to encourage healthy sibling relationships. 

For younger kids, you may let them play together cooperatively or do some cooperative art that takes everyone working together to make.  

Another fun relationship builder for older children is sibling movie night. Mom and Dad get to go to bed early while the siblings have a movie night. Some of my fondest memories are watching movies or playing board games with my siblings unsupervised. 

Encouraging your children to spend time together and be vested in each other’s success will help your children grow a strong friendship and long-lasting relationship with each other.   

How does the sibling bond change later in life?

While most days we would love to keep our children little, the reality is they are growing more independent and closer to adulthood every day.  So how does the sibling bond change later in life? 

Adolescence can be a challenging time for siblings. It is a time when they are gaining more independence and starting to become their own person.  

These two factors make it harder to have a close relationship with their siblings as when they were younger. There are ways to help smooth this transition but pushing too hard can make the older sibling resentful.  

All relationships go through periods of hot and cold times, and sibling relationships are no different.  

While teens yearn to be more independent and spend more time with their friends, it is an excellent time to encourage more family time. Family time should offer more communication like board games, video games, and evenings out to events. 

How does parental favoritism affect adulthood?

If parents show favoritism between their children, they are unlikely to develop a close bond. I believe that parents should treat their children with the same amount of love and respect but in different ways based on their personality and needs. 

When one child is considered the black sheep or problem child and another child is the golden child who can do no wrong, hatred and resentfulness may not be resolved even in adulthood.  

Having open and honest communication with your children can help you stay aware of favoring a child. 

Foster an environment when they can come to you and discuss where they feel wronged or feel like you are making mistakes as a parent. 

 It may be some of the most helpful criticism you get as a parent. Let it help you become a better parent. Try to resist becoming defensive and listen to your child’s concerns. 

Tips to Promote Good Sibling Relationships & Strong Bonds

The best way to build strong sibling relationships is by fostering good communication between siblings. Parents have a lot of influence over how children learn to handle conflict and use communication to build relationships among siblings.

There are 5 main areas that you can help your children develop a long-lasting relationship with each other. 

  • Try not to compare your children to each other
  • Teach them boundaries and how to respect each other early on
  • Have them work together on a common goal
  • Teach them to accept and value each other no matter how different they are   
  • Set a 5 minute Rule of Participation

Try NOT to Compare Your Children

The most challenging thing to do as a parent is to not compare your children. Even if you only do it in your mind, it will still slip through to your actions. 

Avoid statements that make an unfavorable comparison to another sibling. “You are acting just like your brother.”  “You just aren’t as good at math as your sister.”  “The pretty sister and the smart sister!” 

Even positive comparisons can be harmful to your children. A positive comparison could be “Wow look at you, you are riding your bicycle even better than your brother!” 

The way to combat the comparison trap is to see your children as complete people with their own flaws, strengths and passions.  Like different flowers in the same garden, children want to shine for who they are, not for how much better they are than their siblings. 

Teach them boundaries and how to respect each other early on

You can teach your children boundaries by making independent playtime a mandatory part of your day. This is not a time to play quietly together but to spend alone playing with their own ideas and games.  

You also should teach them to respect each other’s feelings and personal space: correct disrespectful behavior and broken boundaries immediately and with both parties. 

Forcing apologies is not a helpful way to get children to have emotional awareness.  Instead, have the disrespected child use their words to describe how they felt can help their sibling develop empathy. This might result in the offending child apologizing naturally. 

Have them work together on a common goal

Children can develop a solid bond through teamwork.  A fun way to get your children to work toward a common goal is to use cooperative games.  These games are where all the players have to work together to win the game.  

You can take that same idea and create an activity that your children need to work together to complete. Sometimes we use this to do a big piece of cooperative art or a marble maze.  

Teach your children to accept and value each other no matter how different they are

You want your children to respect each other’s differences. The more you teach them to accept each other for their differences, the more they will learn to respect each other.  

The first part of this is to create a culture in your home that acknowledges and celebrates each person’s differences. 

5 minute Rule of Participation 

How many times do you hear, “Hey will you play with me?” every day. And how often is the answer from the other sibling no?  

We started requiring giving each other a few minutes of our time for most requests in our house. 

If one child asks her sister if she will play with dolls with her, her sister can say, “I can play with you for a few minutes, but then I am going to do something else.”   

I find that once the siblings start playing together, they play for a lot longer than 5 minutes.  Sometimes they do the five minutes and go back to whatever activity they wanted to do initially.  

This is really helpful if you have one sibling who never wants to spend time with a particular sibling.  

Conclusion: Fostering good sibling relationships is important to everyone in the household and most importantly to your children. 

Taking the time to help your children navigate their relationships with each other will pay dividends in less fighting, better communication, and healthier relationships in adulthood. 

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