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Tips on Respectful Relationships Among Siblings

by Lauren Mills, studioD

Forming respectful relationships among siblings is beneficial at any age or stage of life. Because sibling relationships last a lifetime they develop or change over time in both positive and negative ways. Conflict or competition among siblings, often called “sibling rivalry,” is common, however siblings also play a role as a support structure during difficult times. In “Child Development Perspectives,” author Martha Cox states that sibling relationships play a vital role in individuals’ behavior and those relationships affect them throughout their lives.

Young Siblings

When parents make an effort to show love, affection and undivided attention to each child in the family it helps to increase respectful relationships among siblings when they are very young. Parents can also teach conflict resolution skills by modeling compassion and calm communication with others, even in times of discord. Sibling conflict between young children is often caused by competition for attention from parents and caregivers. According to “Solutions in Parenting,” every child has a deep biological need for a connection with parents or primary caregivers.

Teen Years

Teenagers are going through a time in their personal development when they are discovering themselves as individuals and forming their unique identity. Conflicts with siblings during this time often center on issues of fairness or privacy, such as who is doing more chores or entering a room without permission. A 2012 University of Missouri study concluded that teens who fought with their siblings over fairness issues were more depressed, while teens who fought with their siblings about personal space were more anxious and had lower self-esteem. Help teens foster respectful sibling relationships by encouraging them to talk to each other calmly about boundaries and by problem solving, such as taking turns getting to watch a television show every other night. Parents should avoid making direct comparisons between siblings. By focusing on your teen as an individual with unique strengths and talents it fosters his ability to form positive relationships with his siblings.

Siblings in Adulthood

While adult siblings may not live together or be in close daily contact, relationships with siblings often remain an important and consistent part of family life. Research published in the “Journal of Marriage and Family” reports that the average adult has contact with a sibling once or twice a month for 60 or 70 years after leaving home. A common conflict stems from increased responsibilities in caring for aging family members. Communication and empathy are key factors in maintaining respectful relationships during this time. By communicating calmly about what responsibilities they can realistically tackle and by negotiating a fair compromise, adult siblings can work through trying times in a positive and respectful manner. A simple method is to put yourself in your sibling’s shoes and understand his point of view when disagreements arise.

Life Long Bonds

Respect among siblings can lead to life-long fulfilling relationships between brothers and sisters. Parents begin the process of developing respectful relationships by encouraging and modeling positive behavior for their children and by giving them the love and attention they need. Adults continue such respectful relationships by listening to their siblings, learning how to compromise and by developing empathy toward the needs of their brothers or sisters.

About the Author

Lauren Mills, L.C.S.W. is a licensed psychotherapist and mental health writer with a private practice based in New York City. She has extensive experience providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, adults and families. She holds a Masters of Science in clinical social work from Columbia University.

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