Siblings spend more time with each other than with either parent alone. In fact, the sibling relationship is likely the longest relationship of all personal relationships. Communication professors Kimberly Jacobs and Alan Sillars report in the “Journal of Family Communication” that siblings who support each other are more likely to adjust to disruptions in the family structure in a positive manner. Siblings who regularly communicate provide each other support as allies given their uniquely shared experiences.
Because sibling disagreements are inevitable, such experiences are instrumental in developing effective communication skills. Siblings need to learn how to negotiate and compromise on their own, and parents must resist the urge to intervene. Age differences often lead to arguments over privacy, and older siblings may accuse their younger sibling of invading their personal space. Sibling trust is directly related to sibling communication over personal boundaries and personal items; the older sibling is instrumental in this process.
Siblings imitate each other, and younger siblings especially imitate their older ones. In fact, older siblings have a profound influence on the development of language and overall cognitive growth in the younger sibling. Communication may occur through parental interaction with the older sibling. For example, when an older sister is punished for breaking curfew, the younger sibling implicitly receives information about age-appropriate behaviors.
Communication always occurs within a context. The shared experiences of siblings provide a seemingly endless array of environments to encounter communication styles. For example, when an older sibling has a history of deviant behavior, younger siblings may witness parent-child arguments. Or if a family visits an older sibling at college, the younger child may experience positive interactions. Over time, the varied experiences accumulate, creating shared communication patterns -- unique to the siblings.
Siblings and stepsiblings share at least one common element: parents. When siblings are engaged in positive conversation about their parents or conspiring to circumvent a rule, they are actively communicating. Older siblings often impart -- even if implicitly -- strategies to negotiate parental boundaries. The younger sibling is constantly learning problem-solving skills and appropriate behavior by witnessing punishment and praise bestowed on the older brother or sister.
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Verbal Versus Nonverbal Communication
- Journal of Family Communication: Sibling Support During Post-Divorce Adjustment: An Idiographic Analysis of Support Forms, Functions and Relationship Types
- Child Development: Who Said You Could Wear My Sweater? What Adolescent Siblings Fight About and How It Affects Their Relationship
- Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Neighborhood Disadvantage Moderates Associations of Parenting and Older Sibling Problem Attitudes and Behavior with Conduct Disorders in African American Children
- University of California, San Diego: Younger Siblings Get Snapshot of College Life as Part of Inaugural Siblings Weekend
- Ohio State University: Older Children not Smarter Than Their Younger Sibs, Study Finds
- Family Transitions; Edited by Philip A. Cowan and E. Mavis Hetherington
- The Routledge Handbook of Family Communication; Edited by Anita L. Vangelisti
- University of California, Berkeley: Siblings: How to Help them Be Friends Forever
Dana Bagwell has worked in the research-and-development field for more than a decade. His work has covered gerontology, cognitive assessments, health education interventions, social science theory and research methods. Bagwell has also contributed to several scholarly publications, including "Experimental Aging Research" and "Clinical Interventions in Aging." He has a bachelor's degree in psychology and is completing his doctorate in health policy.
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