Relationships

How to get along with your siblings

Getting along with brothers and sisters takes practice, but the rewards are well worth it

Special to The TribuneAugust 13, 2013 

KANSAS CITY STAR/MCT ILLUSTRATION

Siblings get top billing in our family. I count my brother and sister among my dearest and closest friends. My husband and I enjoy spending time with his sister and her family. My two sons were best buds when they were growing up.

Siblings are a completely random occurrence. Our parents don’t ask who we’d like to have sleeping in the top bunk. And we never get to interview prospective brothers or sisters.

Still, siblings can play a unique role in our lives. They are genetically closer to us than anyone else on the planet. They share experiences that others can never know. They might have similar interests and beliefs.

Unfortunately, sibling relationships can also be devastating. Sometimes one child is favored over another. A sibling can be cruel or abusive. Intense intrasibling competition can make less achieving kids feel like failures. Parents may fail to adequately protect their offspring so that the family unit becomes a source of torment and humiliation.

The initial relationship is shaped by the family of origin. Households that make getting along a top priority are more likely to foster close sibling bonds than those who bicker or degrade each other’s worth. Parents who model sound problem-solving skills pass those patterns on to their kids. And families that have fun together carry on that tradition into the next generation.

Of course, siblings aren’t born best friends. Social skills such as sharing and conflict resolution must be taught alongside table manners, chores and personal cleanliness. Moms and dads pull their hair out when they hear kids yell, “She hit me!” or “He keeps taking my toys!” But those hardfought lessons about how to get along are fundamental to children’s development.

Parents lay the groundwork for siblings’ closeness. Once kids have moved out on their own, the responsibility lies squarely with them. If they want to have a loving relationship with their sibs, they’ll have to put out the effort. If they don’t, they’ll have missed a great opportunity.

WANT TO HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SIBLINGS? TRY THESE SURE-FIRE STEPS

• Value your siblings. Treat your siblings like the special people they are. Giving them a high priority dictates how you’ll behave.

• Keep in touch. Relationships are strengthened by time together and frequent contact. Call each other often. Send cards. Plan times to get together. If you’ve been out of touch for a long time, be the first one to break the silence.

• Accept your differences. You may be completely different. That’s OK. You don’t have to be clones. Cherish each other for your uniqueness and develop your relationship from there.

• Avoid being judgmental. Quit comparing who has more education, makes more money or has a better lifestyle. No one’s keeping score. Each of you is doing your best. Leave it at that.

• Be pleasant. Discuss upbeat topics. Steer clear of areas of disagreement. Act like the loving sibling you hope the other will be.

• Don’t bring up the past. Avoid dredging up painful memories. You can’t change what’s already happened. Instead, create a relationship based on new and constructive behaviors.

• Let go of grudges. Grudges are like a low-grade infection. They can fester for years and contaminate your relationship. If you’re harboring past hurts, bury the hatchet. It’s time to start the healing process and make the best of today. If someone is angry with you, say you’re sorry and that you’d like things to improve. You will have started the healing process. It’s now out of your hands.

• Welcome spouses. Make them feel they’re an integral part of the clan. It’s nearly impossible to have a close relationship with siblings if you disapprove of their mates.

• Accept things as they are. Despite your best efforts, your sibling may choose to remain aloof. Don’t sweat it. Keep the familial door open. Drop a friendly line now and again. Hopefully things will change in the future. Be welcoming if they do.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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