Though a lot of emphasis is placed on sibling rivalry, relationships between siblings are far more complex than petty fighting. Studies show that brothers and sisters share with one another a spectrum of behaviors and emotions, ranging from love to hate, sometimes changing in even a matter of minutes. Fortunately, all of these interactions between siblings can be positive for the social development of the children.
Laurie Kramer of the University of Illinois sifted through an abundance child development research and found that while most research focused on disagreements between siblings, it failed to take into account that rivalry is but one small part of a larger familial dynamic. After looking at the bigger picture, she found that most siblings’ relationships are better described as “ambivalent,” liberally switching between positive and negative feelings. Because brothers and sisters spend so much time with each other, they have ample opportunity to form complicated bonds, and ultimately will have to sort out social issues that arise.
Culling from the research, Kramer identified several categories of interactions between siblings that help to develop their social skills. Here are the skills your children are learning from one another both in good times and in bad:
- Positive Engagement
- Shared Experiences that Build Support
- Social and Emotional Understanding; Perspective Taking
- Emotion Regulation
- Behavioral Control
- Forming Neutral or Positive Attributions
- Conflict Management/Problem Solving
- Evaluating Parental Differential Treatment Practices
Parents can breathe a sigh of relief; whether their children are playing or arguing with each other, all of these actions are a normal part of the childhood experience. If anything gets too out of hand, however, it is important for parents to model appropriate behavior so that their children can learn responsible conflict management and better handle similar situations that will inevitably arise in the future. Even though the actions of siblings who bicker one day and hug the next may seem inexplicable, it all helps to culminate in the children becoming well-rounded, socially adjusted adults.