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The Blessing of Siblings

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Dr. Meg Meeker

When parents hear the word sibling, words like rivalry, argument or competition typically surface. But siblings encompass much more than these negative terms – they can be one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child. Let’s take a moment to focus on the blessings of siblings.

A sibling can be one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child.

Siblings offer lifelong support. One of the best gifts a parent can give a child is another who completely understands life with parents. Their own parents. When our children were older, I often heard them discussing how crazy life with my husband and I could be. In many ways, siblings offer moral support for one another because they know firsthand what it was like growing up with a parent who was, perhaps, too strict, overly anxious or who held high expectations of behavior. A sibling can help another gain insight into their feelings and shared experiences and often realign confused thoughts.

Sibling can help one another gain insight into their feelings and shared experiences.

Siblings offer companionship. Parents of twins have told me that their children seem to have their own language – one that no one else can understand. Since siblings experience life under the same roof, they often form a bond that is stronger than friendship – particularly when the circumstances are painful. While many of the dynamics of sibling relationships that formed in unhealthy environments need to be worked through –  some of these relationships arise stronger in positive ways. Experienced pain draws many children closer together.

Siblings offer commitment. Many adults go through divorce but far fewer siblings go through estrangement. This may be due to the fact that people have fewer expectations of siblings than of spouses and this may be a good thing. We assume that our siblings will love us and be there for us and we don’t feel the need to ask or demand a lot from them. We are comfortable getting what we get and accepting it. In short, it’s easier to accept our sibling’s faults and frailties in more unconditional ways than we do our spouses.

Parents can have a very positive impact on their children’s relationships. Here are five things that parents can do to foster strong sibling friendships.

1. Teach siblings that they are expected to watch out for one another. Rather than constantly focusing on keeping kids from competing with one another, talk about the support that siblings can and should offer one another. Have each child attend athletic games or concerts that the sibling is in. Encourage each child to offer words of encouragement – especially when the other child is having a hard time.

2. Make siblings share. Once upon a time, children shared bedrooms and the idea of each having his own room was an enigma. This is simply not true anymore. Children have become accustomed to believing they should have their own space. To counter this, have your children share a common play space, an electronic device (yes, really) or even a bedroom. Siblings may need to negotiate but this isn’t all bad. Show them how to work out sharing and come to a compromise. You’ll be surprised how well kids can actually do this when you tell them they have to. Many learn to negotiate well early in life.

Making siblings share teaches them how to negotiate and compromise.

3. Make sure that family rules apply to everyone. When children experience shared “grief” if you will, they bond with one another. Sharing the same family rules helps children bond together – especially if they don’t like them. For instance, curfews help children form an alliance because most kids don’t like them but they have to abide by them.

4. Have children celebrate one another. When one child has a birthday, have the other children help plan a simple celebration. Don’t do it all yourself – instead, ask each child to add something special. One can help grocery shop, one can help bake, one can help wrap a gift or two. When you involve everyone in a celebration of another, siblings draw closer to one another.

Involving everyone in family celebrations helps siblings draw closer to one another.

5. Give them shared experiences. When families come together and experience a challenge, they forge strong bonds. The challenge can be very relative – like going camping and pitching a tent. Children who are asked to come together with the family and participate in some type of work (that they are unfamiliar with or that they don’t necessarily like at first) come away from the experience closer.

Raising siblings that get along and want to be with one another when they are grown is the dream of every parent. Siblings can be one of the greatest joys a person can have in life. And with a bit of help (and some luck) most parents can help this happen.

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