Any one with more than one child, or who has brothers or sisters themselves, knows that sibling relationships are complex.
Particularly when growing up, sibling rivalry and fighting can cause much angst in households with multiple children.
My own three are pretty close, playing together and looking out for each other. Yet, this bond also means they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. Most days the petty bickering drives me to despair.
As I now find myself outnumbered 3:1, I often contemplate resorting to a referee’s whistle!
However, I was heartened to read recent findings from a study that strong sibling relationships are actually a protective factor, particularly when it comes to children being exposed to ongoing parental conflict.
Following families over a period of three years, the study commenced when the primary subjects were 12 years old, with measurements taken at yearly intervals.
Researchers found that close sibling relationships helped counteract the psychological risks associated with being exposed to ongoing, unresolved conflict between parents.
Quality sibling relationships were found to reduce the levels of distress experienced by children in these situations, as well as building their overall resilience.
It makes sense that children going through such a difficult shared experience would use each other as a support and sounding board to work through the emotional challenges an unstable home life poses. This helps them process and regulate their emotions in relation to their situation.
Interestingly, the research team also found that age of siblings did not predict the support role played. While one would assume older siblings would take on the primary support role, this wasn’t the case. Researchers hypothesise that siblings may develop more peer-like friendships under such circumstances, opposed to the competitiveness that characterises many sibling relationships.
This research has interesting implications for those supporting children through family disputes such as social workers, psychologists, counsellors etc.
Fostering and strengthening sibling relationships is something support services, schools and health professionals can look at when supporting the mental health of children in situations where there is ongoing domestic conflict.
While my children come from a “broken home” they were not exposed to long-term parental conflict, however any conflict they have experienced is far too much for my liking.
It does bring me some peace of mind to know that the bond they share and the support they provide each other has most likely helped their psychological adjustment.
I hope their sibling bond continues to be a protective factor for the many other inevitable challenges life will throw their way.