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There are few images of family life more touching than the sight of young siblings losing their minds happily playing together. Most parents — and people in general who grew up with a sibling — intuitively recognize the depth of that relationship. It’s odd, then, that the amount of research dedicated to sibling relationships pales in comparison to other familial relationships.
Writing for the American Psychological Association (APA) website, Kirsten Weir says “Well into adulthood, siblings keep influencing one another’s mental health and well-being. Warm sibling relationships — those with more affection and intimacy and less conflict — are a source of material and emotional support, with the power to protect against loneliness and depression. But research shows that fraught sibling relations are associated with a host of negative outcomes in adulthood, including depressive symptoms and substance use.”
Siblings can and often do have a significant effect on each other. Older siblings model behavior for their younger brothers and sisters and share a perspective on their family life that no one else shares. In addition, they see the world in a way their parents almost undoubtedly do not. On the flip side, older siblings can negatively affect their younger kin, especially in regard to alcohol and drug use.
It’s also no surprise that sibling relationships typically remain strong into adulthood. Even if brothers and sisters see each other less frequently in person, research reveals that communication becomes more meaningful as they got older.
With all the positives associated with close sibling relationships, parents might wonder if there are ways to encourage their children to build better relationships. After interviewing several experts on the subject, weir compiled the following common-sense advice to do exactly that, including the following.
- Be aware of behavior that might be perceived as favoring one over another.
- Avoid comparing siblings’ behavior or abilities.
- Try not to have them compete with one another.
- Keep justice top of mind — kids have a keen if basic sense of justice, which might require you to explain your actions at times.
There are also proactive steps you can take to foster good relationships.
- Encourage close relationships with other family members and friends — developing the ability to form friendships helps siblings relate to each other.
- Be an active coach — kids need guidance on how to get along and solve conflicts when things go awry.
- Schedule family time where siblings can participate in activities together.
Access Weir’s article here — it includes several links to related articles and online learning programs.