Influences on Sibling Relationships (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Family Size

There are differences in growing up in a small family (one or two children) as opposed to a large family (over four children). The larger the family, the greater is the number of relationships for a child to experience, which can be enriching or frustrating or both. Discipline in large families is more rule oriented, less individualized and there is more corporal punishment (Wagner, Schubert, and Schubert, 1985). Children in small families have fewer experiences in relationships but do have more individual time with their parents. According to some studies, they also have slightly higher test scores, more schooling, and achieve more academically and in their occupation than children from large families (Blake, 1989; Hauser and Sewell, 1985).

Parent-Child Relationships

The quality of the relationship between each child and parent and between parents affects the sibling relationships. Parents who are constructively responsive to their children foster good feelings and cooperative behavior among their children (Furman, 1995; Bryant and Crockenberg, 1980). In homes where fathers are affectionate and helpful there are more positive sibling interactions. On the other hand, conflict between mother and each child is associated with increased sibling conflicts (Volling and Belsky, J. 1992). The child's temperament, sex, health, or hereditary traits also affect sibling relationships. Parents sometimes understand one child better than another. The child's temperament gender, health, or hereditary traits affect this relationship. When children perceive parental partiality, it increases feelings of competition, conflict, and jealousy among siblings. Most children believe that their parent has a favorite child, which may not be true (Zervas and Sherman, 1994).

Sibling rivalry is a normal emotion growing out of the need to share biological and affectional ties of the two most important people in a child's world, his or her parents. When a baby comes along, a child's world changes greatly. The child or children in the family need to know about this ahead of time and be given special attention. The new baby does take time and energy from the parents and the other child or children do not receive the same kind of attention from parents, relatives, and friends as before. The author at age three-and-one-half said to a relative fussing over her new baby sister, "Aunt Olive, you can go home now and you don't need to come back again!"

A child development student told the following story about herself as a baby.

Her five-year-old brother asked their mother to bring his new baby sister to kindergarten for "show and tell time." Holding her, he told the class what a good baby she was and how cute she was. He then proceeded to say to his classmates: ''I'm looking for a good home for her."

This dethronement may best be understood by the following illustration:

The husband said to his wife, "Darling, I love you so much that I am going to bring home another wife. You will have someone to love and have fun with. You can share your clothes and jewels and let her drive your sports car. I won't love you any less, I'll just open up my heart and love you both the same. "

Through expressions of sibling rivalry, children are reacting to the denial or felt denial of their needs for dependence and the affection of their parents. To punish children for these acts of jealousy tends to confirm their feelings of loss and resentment. When parents try to treat each child as an individual and avoid making sibling comparisons, they reduce sibling rivalry. These actions also support each child's self-image. Parents can also do much to foster good sibling relationships by their responses to sibling conflicts. In children's arguments, parents should listen to both children, but never take sides. Parents should support children and help them find an acceptable solution. It is helpful when adults model good conflict resolution skills around children. Even though parental intervention may have a more equitable outcome, children do not experience how to resolve conflicts for themselves. Of course, violence should be prevented.

The roles that parents consciously or unconsciously assign to each child affect the qualities of the sibling relationship. This includes the degrees of warmth-closeness, status/power, cooperation or conflict, and rivalry each sibling feels. Is the older sibling given frequent and considerable responsibilities in caring for the younger ones or just an occasional role? Is the younger child given certain responsibilities or helped to develop talents that are different from the older siblings? Do parents label one child the troublemaker, another child the responsible one, and yet another one the baby? Children will tend to fulfill the role assigned to them.

Parenting Tips to Reduce Sibling Rivalry

  1. Consistent, positive, and developmentally appropriate rules
  2. Nurture each child as a valued individual and spending individual time daily
  3. Avoid sibling comparisons
  4. Avoid taking sides in sibling conflicts but support them in resolving their disputes
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