How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings?

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How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Do you have any siblings? If yes, do you ever fight? OK, silly question; what do you and your siblings fight about when you have conflicts?

Has the pandemic made you grow closer with your brothers and sisters — or intensified the strife? Do you think that sibling rivalry is a fact of life? Or are there effective ways to reduce it?

In “The Psychology Behind Sibling Rivalry,” Jessica Grose reminds parents that you can’t avoid sibling fighting; you can only hope to contain it:

My 4- and 8-year-old are closer now than they were before the pandemic — I hear the sounds of giggling wafting from their bedroom several times a night. But the more time my girls spend together, the more they fight, too.

The most common battlegrounds for my kids are perceived injustices and jockeying for position. The most absurd instance of the latter was when we were waiting to get flu shots this past fall. The girls got into a brawl over who received the first shot. My older daughter “won” that argument, but it was only as she was walking toward the pharmacist’s door that she realized a shot was not actually a prize.

On days when we are trapped in the house together and their screaming matches reach operatic levels, their dad and I worry we did something horribly wrong as parents to encourage this volume of strife. But according to Jeanine Vivona, a professor of psychology at the College of New Jersey who has studied sibling rivalry, “competition with siblings is just a fact of life. And we, as people with siblings and people with children, can just try to manage it as best we can.”

Ms. Grose presents five suggestions to parents from the experts to handle squabbling sibs. Here are excerpts from three:

Figure out what sets them off. “Pay attention to what tends to happen before conflict breaks out,” said Sally Beville Hunter, a clinical associate professor in child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. If your kids fight every time they play video games, for example, make sure you’re in earshot when they sit down to play. Listen for the particular words or tones of voice they are using that are combative, and try to intervene before it escalates.

Help them learn to resolve conflict. Once tempers have settled, try to sit your kids down and discuss the problem “without blaming or accusing,” Feinberg advised. Give each kid a chance to talk, uninterrupted, and have them try to come up with solutions to the problem themselves. By the time kids are elementary-school age, they can “evaluate which of those solutions are win-win solutions and which ones are most likely to work and satisfy each other over time,” he said. They should also learn to revisit problems when solutions are no longer working.

Praise them in public and punish them in private. If your kids are being kind to each other, “praise really loudly all over the place,” Hunter said. For example, “I love that you let your sister go first!” But if you’re criticizing them, try to do it outside of the other child’s earshot, because she may use it as ammunition. Our older daughter will take every opportunity to boss her little sister around (“Remember, Mom said you couldn’t jump off the couch!”), so I took this bit of advice to heart.

Try to find moments where everyone can come together. Your kids’ temperaments and personalities may be similar, or they may not. They may both love dance, or one loves dance and the other just wants to play chess. One might be rigid, and the other is a free spirit. “Try to find common activities that allow everyone to be flexible, and to feel connected,” Vivona said.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • How well do you get along with your siblings? What do you bond over? What do you do that gets on each others’ nerves? Do you agree that sibling rivalry is inevitable?

  • If you are an only child, do you wish you had brothers and sisters, or do you like being on your own? Do you have other family members or friends who fill that role? What kinds of conflicts do you experience in close relationships?

  • The article says that according to observational studies, sibling conflict may happen up to eight times an hour. How often do you fight with your brothers and sisters? How big a problem is sibling strife in your home? Has the level of conflict changed over your lives?

  • Ms. Grose says her daughters are closer now than they were before the pandemic, but they fight more too. Does that ring true for you? How has the pandemic affected your relationships with your siblings?

  • How do your parents respond to your conflicts? Do they help to resolve these situations? Or do they make them worse? What do you think of Ms. Grose’s advice to parents? Which strategies and approaches do you think they should use?

  • The author encourages parents to help their children to “come up with solutions to the problem themselves.” How good are you and your siblings at resolving conflicts on your own? What other strategies would you recommend to other parents and teenagers who might be experiencing sibling rivalries?

  • What’s one thing you can do to help improve relationships with your siblings?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.