Can Parents Really Affect the Bond Between Siblings?
Many parents wonder how to strengthen the bond between siblings. It’s an important concern, especially because bouts of sibling rivalry during childhood can make parents wonder whether there is hope for a successful adult relationship between brothers and sisters.
And many parents pursue a concentrated effort to get their kids to be friends, from scheduling activities to help siblings get along, to persistently observing the dynamic between them.
But we hate to break it to those hopeful parents: there’s actually very little you can do to ensure your kids turn out to be friends later in life. The lifelong sibling relationship is dependent on such a complex combination of factors – most important of which are the underlying personalities of the children themselves, which you have virtually no control over – that it’s almost impossible for parents to do anything to guarantee an end result.
In addition to the children’s personalities, their bond can be impacted by other factors such as their memories of their childhood (which could include family dynamics, but also experiences at school or with friends), household environment, parenting styles, and practical factors in adulthood, such as geographical or professional strains. You don’t have to look far to find anecdotal evidence of children who did every single activity together, and were groomed to be best friends by their parents, and yet grow up to have virtually no relationship as adults. And of course, the opposite is also common: the kids whose parents didn’t really try hard to make them like each other, and maybe even resented each other as children, but grow up to be close friends.
Although the quest to ensure siblings will grow up to be friends is a potentially futile one, that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t try their best to pave the road to lifelong sibling friendships. There are, in fact, some things that parents can do at home to ensure that they are, at the very least, not perpetuating any resentment or competition between siblings that might leave a long term strain on the relationship.
It’s important for parents to avoid making comparisons between children. While this may seem like an obvious point, it applies equally to scenarios outside the home, such as at school or among extended family, where such comparisons get tossed around casually. Try to avoid situations where children are hearing themselves compared physically, academically, personality-wise to other kids, but especially their siblings. It doesn’t matter who talked first, plays football better, took to Mandarin classes faster, or has more friends.
Similarly, it’s really important to avoid labelling kids as “the smart one,” “the creative one,” or “the popular one,” whether overtly or subtly. These labels are extremely powerful; they have lifelong impact in terms of self-awareness and self-esteem. And in the instance where a child feels unfairly labeled, these family labels can make a child feel constrained or misunderstood later in life, leading them to seek out the company of people who don’t box them into a prescribed role.
Spend quality one-on-one time with each child
In order to avoid a situation where children are constantly competing for time and attention from their parents, it’s best to ensure that each child gets their fair share of quality alone time with parents.
Let them have a relationship independent of you
One of the most powerful ways to ensure kids end up being friends as adults is actually to butt out. It’s important to let them develop their own relationship, independent of a parental figure (/meddler). It’s best to stay out of their fights (assuming the fights don’t put anyone in physical harm), and never take sides (unless one has done something bordering on morally reprehensible). Where there’s no real consequences to the disagreement (e.g., an i-pad tussle, a room-cleaning negotiation), stay out of it, and let them practice resolving their differences.
Model good conflict resolution
Children learn their conflict resolution habits from their favorite role models: their parents! One of the best tools you can give kids is the ability to learn and bounce back from conflict with each other. Armed with good conflict resolution habits, they’ll be able to face whatever real-life arguments crop up after the drama of sharing toys. And don’t underestimate the impact of being raised in a household where kindness and compassion towards each other is rewarded.