One of the reasons that I wanted a second child was so that Zippy would have a partner-in-crime at home, someone who would understand his life in a way no one else quite could, and who would share his memories of what Christmas is like in our home, how Momma would suddenly break into a goofy dance in the kitchen, or how Daddy inaugurated them into the world of Star Wars. I wasn’t so delusional as to expect my kids would never fight and that it would be giggles and snuggles 24/7, but I definitely hoped they would like each other.
I imagine all parents hope that if they have more than one child, their kids will not only get along but also have a close relationship that lasts into adulthood. A big fear for many parents is that, rather than developing a close relationship, their children will despise and resent one another and wallop each other on the head with wiffle bats whenever they turn their backs. How a sibling relationship turns out surely depends on many things, but here is an interesting finding from the research.
Point 7: Kids with close friends make good siblings.
This is just fascinating to me: The relationships that firstborns have wth close friends actually predict the quality of their sibling relationships! So rather than kids learning how to be good friends from their siblings, it is really the other way around – kids learn how to treat their siblings by first learning how to get along with their peers. It’s the opposite of what most people believe!
Kids who have close friends before the baby arrives already understand that other kids can be fun, that there is something special that comes out of friendship, and that there is a benefit to treating others kindly. And interestingly, kids who are able to engage in make-believe together with their friends are especially well-prepared to get along with a younger sibling, since shared fantasy play requires many “higher order” social skills. With friends, kids not only learn how to engage in shared activities, but also how to share possessions (which is the #1 thing that siblings fight about, surprise-surprise!). In short, kids learn social skills from close friendships that they can then apply to their sibling relationships.
|Zippy & his best bud shortly before Bee was born|
Research also shows that the quality of a sibling relationship tends to be pretty consistent, at least until the kids move out on their own, so there is good reason to try to get things off on the right foot.
Zippy was really excited about the idea of having a little brother to play with. All the same, lately he is really into teasing Bee. I know he gets along great with his friends at school, so I often find myself reminding him, “You need to treat your brother just like you treat your other friends. Would you do that to your friends at school?” It seems to help…at least for the moment.
Along the lines of helping siblings get along, research suggests that parents would do well do teach their kids how to enjoy each others’ company, rather than just focus discouraging arguments. Yes, conflict is an inevitable part of siblinghood. (No-So-Fun Fact: Studies suggest that young siblings spend an average of 10 minutes every hour arguing. Oh yay! My house is right on track!) But all that bickering can be balanced out by having fun together, too. And when the positive outweighs the negative, it predicts a better relationship later in life.
So a few quick tips to wrap this up:
- If possible, be sure your oldest child has opportunities to develop friendships before becoming a big sibling.
- As your second child becomes more mobile and able to “play,” help the kids to find activities they can enjoy together. Build up the positive and there will be less room for the negative.
- Kids tend to push the limits with their siblings. After all, their siblings aren’t going anywhere! Emphasize that how they treat one another is important and they should treat their sibling as they would a friend.
- Limit exposure to media that shows siblings mistreating each other. Research has actually found that when kids read books that show a lot of teasing or mean behavior, sibling relationships tend to worsen, even if the overall message of the book is a positive one about getting along!
What has your experience been? Have friendships outside the family helped your child be a better sibling?
Stay tuned for the final “point” in this series next Friday!