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This is one of a series of Lesson-6 articles
on how to parent (nurture) minor kids effectively over two decades while
filling your own needs well enough. This article proposes options for managing relations between siblings in typical biological,
and step families.
article assumes you're familiar with...
Perspective on Sibling Relationships
Sibling comes from the Middle English word sibb, which referred to
"brotherly love." Sibling now refers to two or more people who have at
least one parent in common.
To parent effectively, family adults need to understand the factors that
affect how young siblings relate and behave. The overarching factor is where
their multi-generational ("extended") family fits on the continuum between
very healthy (functional, or high
nurturance) and very unhealthy
(dysfunctional, or low nurturance).
A related factor is the type of family siblings grow up in - e.g.
intact biofamily; divorced, absent-parent, same-gender, and/or mixed-race
parents; matriarchal or patriarchal family structure, poor or wealthy
parents, etc. Each of these types causes unique childhood environments and
Unlike other relationships,
typical biological sibs share the same ancestors,
parents, genes, and last name. Depending on their age difference, they usually
share many childhood experiences, customs, and rituals, and are taught
common values by their adults.
Birth order: There can be a significant environmental difference between the oldest
child, son, or daughter and younger siblings. The parents were new at
nurturing, and may not yet have stabilized their own relationship. They're
more knowledgeable for the second and third kids, and may give them more
balanced nurturing than their first-born. Even so, each child's unique
personality and the parent's evolving situation socially and financially
guarantee that nurturing will differ between one sibling and the next - except,
perhaps, for twins.
Grandparents may treat their first grandson or granddaughter with special attention.
Seniors' influence on grandkids' development can range from nurturing to
toxic (psychologically damaging).
age difference between siblings can significantly affect the degree of
bonding between them. For example, if parents have a baby when their first
child is in high school, the bond between the kids may be weaker than
if they were only a few years apart.
Siblings' gender may cause minor to major stress in some extended
families. Many cultural traditions still favor sons over daughters, which
can promote rivalries, hurt, resentment, and divisive
us-vs.-them alliances within and between related homes.
Favoritism may occur regardless of gender if a parent or grandparent
develops a special bond with one child ("she's Daddy's little girl"). A
related "family ranking" factor is whether each sibling was a
mutually-wanted conception (preferred) vs. "an accident." The latter can
promote shame, guilt, and regret that may weaken the parent-child bond and
taint the child's self-image.
step, adopted, and foster siblings are often significantly more complex and conflictual than between
average biosibs. This is also true of half-brothers and half-sisters, who
share only one bioparent with their sibling/s.
These are some key family-system and environmental factors which affect
sibling relationships. Despite these factors, every young child depends on
their adults to reliably fill common developmental needs.
Parenting Problems with Siblings
There are common challenges for multi-child family adults and kids. They
range from normal to excessive.
Problems become excessive when they cause too much stress too often, in
rivalry - siblings compete for adult
attention and approval.
aggression - one sibling bullies,
manipulates, or abuses another.
boundary violations - one sibling intrudes
on another's space and/or takes their possessions.
one sibling disrespects, dislikes, resents,
fears, and/or scorns another.
exclusion and rejection - one sibling
ignores or "keeps secrets" from another
"fairness" - one sibling feels another gets
more parental freedoms and permissions.
blaming - one sibling complains another's
actions "make them" act out ("It's not my fault!")
alliances - two or more sibs may "gang up"
on a brother or sister.
"fighting" - sibs may constantly argue over
many things - loudly.
These stressors are
concurrent with minor kids' normal testing to see if they're safe, what rank
they have in the family, how much power they have, and who's in charge.
Is there a "best way" to manage a mix of these common sibling stressors and
keep the family's
stable and high?
Every family adult evolves their own unique parenting
values, style, and goals,
so there is no "right way" to manage
problems with and between biological, adopted, foster, and step siblings. There are
steps adults can take to help minor kids toward responsible young
adulthood. Most steps also apply to adult siblings.
Adopt a long-range view, and evolve a thoughtful family
so you all know what you're trying to achieve. Otherwise, the title of
David Campbell's useful book will apply "If
You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End up Somewhere
family adult take responsibility for helping each other assess and
reduce psychological wounds
This is essential to evolve a high-nurturance family and guard
vulnerable minor kids from
inheriting the lethal [wounds + unawareness]
work together to sharpen your communication effectiveness with
each other and with
minor kids. As you do, intentionally help your
kids learn to think, communicate, and problem-solve effectively
Work together to evolve an effective style of
child-discipline to teach, rather than
All your adults
give priority to understanding your kids'
developmental needs, and strategize how to monitor and fill them as the
kids mature. Balance filling kids' needs with your own.
All your adults
study and discuss how to analyze
and resolve typical
relationship problems. Pay special attention to these three
common stressors. Then
model these skills and teach them to your kids.
Help all family adults and kids learn how to
complete unfinished grief,
and evolve an effective family "good grief"
If siblings exhibit
above-normal rivalry, see these options.
If one sibling "dislikes"
another, see this.
If one sib violates the
boundaries of another sib, see these
If a sibling is dubbed a "problem child," see these
If a child is a half-sibling, see this
If one or more siblings may
be addicted, see this.
If one or more siblings is a
bully, see this.
If you're foster and/or
adoptive family adults, see and discuss this.
If your kids are
in a multi-home
special needs to fill, and are
more prone to relationship problems with each other than typical
intact-biofamily siblings. In addition to the options above, study
If you think you don't need to, try this
quiz and review these stepfamily Q&A