Sibling Relationships (page 2)
As they grow up, most children spend more time interacting directly with their brothers and sisters than they do with their parents or other caregivers, and relationships with siblings tend to be the most long-lasting and stable relationships we have in our lives (Dunn, 1993; Kim, McHale, Osgood, & Crouter, 2006; Parke & Buriel, 2006). Within the sibling subsystem, children have rich opportunities to practice communication, sharing, play, and other social skills that help them make friends and interact with other children outside the family. Of course sibling rivalry and conflict is also common in families, and the conflicts children have with their brothers and sisters are often more emotionally intense than the ones they have with their friends and other people. Still, even these experiences help children learn how to resolve conflict and manage their emotions.
Older siblings play important roles in families when they help care for younger brothers and sisters. Especially when there is a large age difference, the older siblings will often watch younger brothers and sisters after school, fix meals for them, and help them with schoolwork. When siblings argue, it's usually the older sibling who offers a plan to resolve the dispute (Ross, Ross, Stein, & Trabasso, 2006). Older siblings also provide emotional comfort and can coach their younger brothers and sisters through difficult times. When children feel troubled or socially isolated, it can be very helpful to have an older brother or sister at home to lean on. Research shows that when children report having a close relationship with a favorite sibling, they are somewhat buffered from the negative effects of the social isolation or other problems they may experience outside the family (Kim, McHale, Crouter, & Osgood, 2007; Parke & Buriel, 2006).
Of course it can go the other way too: Older siblings can be negative influences when they draw their younger brothers or sisters into inappropriate behaviors such as alcohol use, drug use, crime, or early sexual behavior. And research also shows that when conflicts arise between teenagers and their parents, the younger children get swept up in the system and have more conflicts with their parents also (Shanahan, McHale, Osgood, & Crouter,2007).
Do siblings become closer to each other over time? It varies, but girls tend to report more warmth and closeness to their sisters as they grow through childhood and toward adolescence. Relationships between brothers tend to become less close over time (Kim, et al., 2006; Parke & Buriel, 2006). As we mentioned earlier, the sibling subsystem is an important part of most families. Sibling interactions affect the brothers and sisters who are involved, they affect their parents, and they can even affect the marital relationship between parents. If you have brothers or sisters, what have your relationships been like?
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