Sibling Relationships Can Survive and Thrive

Life as a sibling can be difficult!

Do you remember how it was to manage your own sibling relationships ?

Do you remember what it was like to grow up with your own brothers and sisters?

It may have been a walk in the park, or perhaps it was a battlefield in the mud! Either way, home was where you learned about life, how to negotiate relationships , and to find your place in the mix.

Now take a moment to put yourself into the shoes of you child who has a brother or sister that is quirky, odd, or flat out incomprehensible.

For many brothers and sisters of out-of-the box children, the reality is that life at home with and managing those sibling relationships is disruptive and stressful.

They frequently display stress as feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, or withdrawal. Science has shown us that children can experience depression. They yearn for peace and quiet, and can be saddened that they don’t have what they perceive to be a “normal” family. Now, we know that there’s no such thing as “normal”, but they don’t!

Life at home is chaotic!

They can feel resentful and jealous of the amount of time mom or dad spends dealing with their brother or sister.

Think about how much more time your out-of-the box child takes… then, think about how many times you ask your lower maintenance child to help out. It's no wonder other children report feeling like caretakers.

Other concerns that ranked as stressful in sibling relationships included never know what’s going to happen in terms of explosive outbursts and odd behaviors, and worrying about their sibling who is different.

Help Is On the Way

Just like learning to deal with a difficult adult, you’ve got to teach your child how to deal with their brother or sister and manage that sibling relationship. Your strategies include:

Education

Empathy

Listening

Retreat

Education

Educate them about your special family dynamic. This does not mean air all of the laundry! Depending on your child’s maturity, ages, and the circumstance of the other child, Share what’s appropriate.

They already know SOMETHING, they just don’t have the right words.

In our family, the conversation sounds like this: “Everyone is wired differently, just like electronics. Your sister/brother has different wiring. There’s nothing wrong with her/him. Everyone has challenges, and your challenge is…

We focus on challenges, not sicknesses or “what’s wrong.” In reality, everyone in the family has their own wiring “challenges!”

We also talk a lot about private and public, and what everyone else needs to know or NOT know. Do their friends need to know the details of your sibling relationship?

In this age of shared information, you can’t assume anything! The best phrase to teach your kids to help turn the tables? “Interesting.” It gives no information!

Learn to Identify and Understand Feelings

Kids don’t always know the labels that go with feelings; they just know how they feel. Your child needs help in identifying and understanding their feelings. Using a book such as, The Feelings Book , will give you lots of conversation starters. I use this book at bedtime, when the day is done, and my daughter is ready to share.

Please note: There are no good/bad right/wrong feelings. There are good and bad, right and wrong ways to DEAL with them.

Learn to be a good listener.

Try to understand what life is like for them. Hear what they are NOT telling you as much as what they ARE telling you. Listening to your child doesn’t involve trying to fix the problem, or telling them what to do. Simple acknowledgement and silence are powerful tools.

If it is appropriate, ask them questions. Questions help them to clarify their issues, and it may help them find their own solution.

I Need Quiet!

Everyone needs a place where they can get away, and you probably have one. Help your child to create a peaceful space where they can escape when things get too chaotic.

In our house, the kids shared a room. Realizing the increased stress our older daughter was experiencing, we built a den so that everyone could have their own bedroom. I took special care in helping her create a relaxing room, and taught both of them that they are not allowed to enter the other person’s room without asking permission.

Sharing rooms can be a great thing with all kinds of positive outcomes. It can also be a negative thing, and no one likes to talk about that.

When you have one person who has no respect for the other’s possessions, then you need to take the initiative as the grown-up, and help find a mutually beneficial resolution.

All children will benefit from learning to care for and maintain a clean room . The ones who crave peace and quiet will enjoy the feeling of calm that results from controlled clutter, and the tornado of the family can learn that everything has a home!

Sometimes these lesssons need to be learned in separate rooms.

One-on-One Time

Take time to spend time with them one-on-one. Your higher needs child uses up a huge amount of time and energy. Your other children see that. They may feel that they can’t talk to you because you’re too exhausted.

They need you as much as your high needs child does.

If you feel that your child isn't getting enough meaningful time with an adult, other family members can be a great surrogate! It will give them a chance to develop relationships with aunts, uncles and grandparents!

Brothers and sisters have many challenges and things to work out with each other in their own sibling relationship. Learn what you can do to help create healthy sibling relationships for everyone in your home. Then, support and encourage your children using those tools so that they may use the successes at home to forage healthy, balanced relationships outside of the home.

Remember, home is where your story begins.