Sibling Appreciation Day is observed in some countries on 10th April to honour sibling relationships. For many people, their siblings are their first friends and play an important role in how we navigate relationships and learn basic social skills.
Growing up with siblings helps us develop empathy, sympathy, kindness, conflict resolution skills and the ability to share or take turns. It can prevent loneliness and promotes shared meaning, memories and an emotional shared history. Our sibling relationships are often the longest relationships we have in our lives, predating our partners and children.
Siblings connect in various ways. The eldest sibling is often most protective of younger siblings. The elder sibling may also be a role model for younger ones. Siblings who are closer in age are often co-conspirators, who work together to get what they want from parents, keep each other’s secrets and help each other out of trouble. We learn from siblings, turn to them for advice, confide in them and seek their opinions on important life changes and decisions.
There is no ideal age difference between siblings as various factors influence sibling connections. Smaller age gaps may make sibling rivalry more likely, however larger age gaps may mean that siblings have different interests. So, there are advantages and disadvantages to different age gaps. Parents need to consider their socio-economic situation, available resources etc. before deciding on the age gaps that makes the most sense for their lives.
Some sibling rivalry is normal in families; however, there are instances where it gets out of hand and can lead to conflict in the family. Sibling rivalry is common when siblings feel the need to compete for attention of the parents. It becomes a serious cause for concern if parents are not conscious about the role that they are playing in the sibling rivalry – e.g. favoring one child over others, having inconsistent rules, comparing children to each other or promoting unhealthy competition.
Alfred Adler, an Austrian doctor and psychotherapist, is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on how birth order affects our personality. Middle children are believed to feel inferior to older and younger siblings. They have never known what it felt like to be an only child (like their elder sibling) and have their parents’ full attention. Plus, they also often don’t get the same kind of attention of the youngest or baby of the family. It’s believed that they therefore try harder to win their parent’s attention and affection. This is likely to affect their self-esteem and can play out in other relationships as well. Parents can play a role in buffering the middle child syndrome by being mindful that they spend special time with the middle child, by encouraging their individuality and helping them capitalise on their individual strengths as well as offering reassurance and giving them a voice.
Only children will not naturally learn the social skills that children with siblings do, unless parents are extremely mindful of this. As they don’t have to share their parent’s attention (with siblings, at least), they may struggle to share – unless they are specifically taught how to. Only children will tend to be like “little adults” unless there is adequate socialisation with children their age. They tend to share similar characteristics to eldest children, such as being conscientious, having good leadership skills and prizing achievement. Yet, it’s important to understand that there are many different factors that determine a child’s personality.
Sibling relationships may strengthen or weaken with age and time, depending on circumstances. Children who bonded during traumatic experiences (e.g. loss or parental divorce, may tend to maintain stronger bonds). As siblings grow and become more self-aware, they may outgrow sibling relationships that are stressful for them. Life events such as marriage, divorce, relocation, illness or death of parents, etc may all impact on sibling relationships, depending on the circumstances.
If you’re an only child or have strained relationships with siblings, remember to celebrate your non-biological siblings – those friends who have been there for you, are loyal to you and have your back! Remember that you do not have to be blood relatives to feel as if you have brothers and sisters.
Ask any parent what they most wish for their children, and they are likely to wish that their children are always close to their siblings. Some siblings may be closer and others may not– it is a very individual thing. If you have a sibling that has been your friend, that shows up for you when you need them the most, that always has words of wisdom for you, that supports your dreams or has your back, remember to show them love and appreciation.
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