As parents, we often have idealist dreams of the children being best friends or protectors, confidantes and adventures. Many times their birth order and timelines are planned out in effort to enforce how they may get along better. Then sometimes, reality hits and certain siblings are more like oil and water rather than peanut butter and jelly.
Siblings may not enjoy each other’s company for a variety of reasons such as taking away their place as “the baby” or seeing a sibling receive special attention for different strengths. These jealous-inspired situations can leave one sibling feeling inadequate with the situation but they immaturely target their insecure feelings onto their sibling instead of the situation. Children always want to be the shining one in their parents or peers eyes, so when a sibling outshines them, sibling angst can occur and bonding can stall.
When one sibling has created a “negative filter” that changes their perspective of how their sibling acts, speaks, looks, etc- the relationship can become distant, strained, or even hostile. Parents can begin to help clean out the filter so one sibling who may have been feeling left out, hurt, embarrassed, jealous can begin to see more clearly that each sibling has unique strengths and areas of challenges that is worth bonding over.
Let each child shine in their own unique talents. Try not to make multiple siblings do the same activities for convenience sake if one truly isn’t passionate and/or talented at it. An athlete and an artist both forced to play soccer every Saturday morning will create unhealthy competition and increase rivalry rather than bonding.
Teach them how to take turns being each other’s #1 fan. Let the “supporter sibling” create a “Go, Aiden, Go!” banner to hold on the sidelines, or select a bouquet for after sister takes her final bow on stage. Let the supporter sibling choose or create these items and be the one to hand them over to their sibling. This type of activity allows them to find their secure place of supporting and encouraging when they themselves are a spectator rather than in the spotlight.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. When the siblings get a break from each other, ask them, “What is different when McKenzie isn’t here? What do you miss when your baby brother is spending the night at grandmas?” By asking questions, siblings can have the chance to compare and contrast how they feel when sibling is away or present, rather than just take for granted that they will always be around to drive them crazy. Then wrap up with, “What should we do together when your Marco returns?” Planning an activity can help both siblings transition for “re-entry” rather than spark jealousy or irritation.
Support Independent Life as well as Sibling Life. This strategy is helpful for both close in age siblings and also those further spread apart. Making sure there is a healthy balance between spending so much time in similar activities (same schools, shared rooms, sports teams, dance classes, same friends, etc) as spending too much time in separate environments because of age or gender gaps. Parents can intentionally create “shared or separate time” to enforce appropriate development of their child’s self-identity as opposed to sibling identity. Siblings bonding occurs when a child feels both secure in themselves individually as well as their inter-sibling relationship.
Encourage Positive Sharing of Siblings. Parents can ask siblings to take turns highlighting something they saw their sibling excel at, or their favorite characteristic of a sibling. This can be done by drawing pictures, creating computer-made cards, or through conversations. Great moments for this are during vacations, dinnertime, birthday or other milestone celebrations. When one sibling hears or sees in writing that another thinks positively of them, the bond is reinforced and more likely to become reciprocal.
By integrating one or more of the strategies listed above, families can begin to see growth in sibling bonding. All aspects of bonding can deepen or be repaired all any stage of family life, and may need particular priority when big changes happen such as new family addition, divorce, re-marriage, loss, or moving homes or schools. Spending time now supporting your children’s bonding process can reap beneficial bonds for your future family tree.
Annie Jung, M.A., LPCC is a mental health counselor specializing in children, teens, and families. Her private practice is located in Brentwood, CA. She is also a mother of three, and can be found in the nearest carpool lane. firstname.lastname@example.org or www.anniejungcounseling.com