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Tips: Better Sibling Relationships
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, July 2006

On May 4th, I appeared on the TODAY Show to talk about birth order in families and touched upon one of my favorite subjects (and the subject of one of my books) . . . sibling relationships.

Keeping the Connection
Good adult sibling relationships is first and foremost about communication. We all have our lives to live and it’s sometimes difficult to maintain close bonds when family members live far apart, have different lifestyles and busy schedules. Whether your sister lives across the country or across town, keeping contact via telephone, email and in-person visits are the best ways of maintaining the connection. Being in touch on a regular basis will help your relationship thrive. There is less of a need to play "catch up."

Look at Your Relationship with Sibs Today
But no matter how often you talk or have family get- togethers, there still might be "stuff" lingering from years back or family dynamics that get in the way of maintaining stronger ties. Why not take a closer look at your relationship with your siblings and see if better awareness can improve your connection?

Here are Sanity Savers TIPSTM to shed some light on maintaining stronger and better relationships with your brothers and sisters.

1. What was your model for a sibling relationship? Look at your parents’ relationships with their siblings and other sibling relationships that may have affected you. If your father had a falling out with his brother and did not speak to him 15 years, how might that have affected your relationship with your brothers and sisters (to say nothing about your cousins)? Did your mother have a close relationship with her sister and therefore EXPECTS you and your sister to feel similarly towards each other? Or, did her mother set her up to have a distrusting, jealous relationship with her sister and continues to plant seeds of conflict between the two of you? Knowing how your model for interacting with siblings was formed will give you insight into how you deal with your own brothers and sisters. Maybe it’s time to challenge what you were raised with, do things differently, take another approach or define and design a better model.

2. Are you able to share in your sibling’s accomplishments? When your brother or sister excels in something are you able to acknowledge it with sincerity? How about celebrating with them? Letting go of childhood competitions and rivalries allows your sibling relationships to mature and grow. Honor them as individuals. Deal with what gets in the way of your being able to do that.

3. Can you describe your sibling in terms that are unique to you without parental influence? Have you made an effort to create an adult sibling relationship that reflects the kind of people you are and the nature of a relationship you would like and feel comfortable with at this moment in your lives? Recognizing your "little" sister or "big" brother as individuals who have their own lives, desires, interests, values that may or may not mirror yours, allows for respect and better relationships.

4. Can you focus on having a relationship with your sibling that is not defined as it was when you were children in your parents’ home? We all grow older but some of us don’t grow up and because of that, our view of our sibling does not change. Just as your mother may still talk to you as if you are 12 years old, you may be treating your sibling as you did when you were children. Examine and let go of the destructive patterns you previously engaged in and allow yourself to be open to a different type of interaction and feeling for your sibling. Bring your relationships with your sibling into the present.

To understand more about sibling relationships and birth order especially if you are raising your own children, consider some of these other important factors that can seriously impact relationships among siblings:

Family Size - How many children are in the family and what is their gender (expected and / or desired)? Consider the years between the children, the effects of any miscarriages, and deaths of children before or after each child was born.

Stresses - What were the economic conditions within the family? Consider financial hardships, moves, job loss, mental and physical health/illnesses, caregiver issues or other deaths in the family.

Marital Harmony / Disharmony - Is this a "happy" home or one with lingering tension and anger? At what point was there a separation or divorce, remarriage and the introduction of other, new family members?

Roles / Attitudes / Responsibilities / Characteristics and Needs of Other Children - Are the parents tuned into each child regarding their own needs and relevant sibling issues? Is fairness a value when considering the treatment of siblings? What kind of response and care is given to a sibling who has a disability and how is this child perceived within the family?

Temperament / Parental Expectations - How do temperaments vary, mesh and clash among siblings and parents? Consider the various expectations parents and other relatives and teachers place on each child.

Values - How do parenting styles and involvement differ with each of the children? What are some of the values that are shared by family members and other caregivers?

Rivalries / Competition / Favoritism / Feelings - In what ways are the children encouraged to become their authentic selves, to develop and pursue their unique interests and talents? In what ways are children singled out in the family? What are the dynamics between the siblings and are those behaviors and interactions encouraged or discouraged by the parents?

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