Saturday, August 4, 2001

Bond between siblings

WHEN Shelly and Soni were young, they were not only sisters but also best friends. Soni was two years younger to Shelly, but they laughed and played together and almost never fought.

But now they're 16 and 14 years old, respectively, and their mother, Neetu, says the girls' relationship has taken a new twist. "Now they're in competition with each other — even jealous," she says.

This often happens. Though kids share a background of common experiences and circumstances, yet as they age and search for their own niche in the world, they can take their own brothers and sisters to be an obstacle in the path to individuality. Trivial issues suddenly become important in their lives. For eg, who sits in the front seat and who can jump higher.

According to behaviourial psychologists, friction between siblings can appear early. "It starts when both kids are old enough to actively want something the other has— whether it's space, an object or attention," says an expert, Chandra Mohan. " It may begin as early as at the age of two. But there can be difficulties between siblings at an earlier age — it's just not the same as the more intentional friction that occurs after the youngest turns two."

However, some siblings get along remarkably well. They still want privacy when they bring a friend over to play, but their relationships have always been loving and respectful. This kind of healthy relationship between siblings is something that parents can strongly influence.


"There is every reason to expect that siblings will treat each other with respect, understanding and fairness," Chandra Mohan says. "Parental expectations play a role. If parents expect siblings to fight, they are more likely to end up fighting."

So how can you avoid daily brawls between the siblings in your home? Elias says there are a few key things to remember.

Be aware of your expectations for your children.

Do you assume that they will fight and argue? If so, you just might be facilitating that behavior. Let your children know that you expect them to treat each other with respect and they are more likely to do so.

Understand that you are a role model. How do you and your spouse behave toward one another? Remember that children often "do as we do," and parents who do not treat one another with love and respect should expect their children to model that behaviour between each other.

Treat your children fairly.

For example, when an argument does break out punish both children. Why is this important? One child might have instigated the fight, but the other child participated in it. Teach your children to back off when a sibling loses his cool.

When arguments happen, don't believe one child's account over the other. Taking sides in arguments can cause resentment between children and lead to negative and harmful behavior.

Don't compare your children with one another.

Instead concentrate on the strengths of each individual child. Also, avoid using evaluative terms, such as great, excellent, best, to describe the child; it is better to be descriptive." For example, "'Shelly, your drawing uses so many wonderful colors. And look at all those interesting designs! And let's see, Soni, you made a greeting card. What did you use?"

Experts say that sibling bonding cannot be taken for granted. Though love exists, it has to be nurtured and cultivated.

Cultivating the bond

While these tips can help to make your household a more civil place, they won't necessarily create a haven of love and friendship between siblings. In fact, too many children don't have a feeling for what's special about their families and don't feel any special close ties to family members.

Many parents are far too stressed and family life is too hectic and broken up. This should change. The focus has to be on creating a relaxed environment. It will reduce the stress level in the home, making it "an oasis, not a sandstorm." In this relaxed environment, siblings are more able to appreciate one another.

And eventually, the children will realise that they actually like each other. This feeling may transform into the realisation that as siblings, they are linked for eternity by some intangible bond. Although this can appear at around age 11, a more spiritual bond usually doesn't appear until adolescence or early adulthood.

(Tips culled from