Siblings as Strangers

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on July 16, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

QUESTION: We have two children 7 years apart in age. They do not have much in common and it seems the older they get, the less they like each other. How can I help them see each other as siblings rather than strangers?

ANSWER: It is a challenge to have children who have such age differences.  Kids can easily go their own way causing them to interact less and less. Changing this dynamic takes effort from the parents to create activities and opportunities for bonding. Family relationships form our early experiences of our sense of belonging. It is important to foster that sense in our daily interactions by insisting on kind, and fun ways to communicate. When we feel we belong, and home is a warm and safe place, we set out in life secure in ourselves. That sense of security is at the root of a child’s self-esteem and promotes skills that help with success in life. That is why sibling relationships can be significant for development.

Shared experiences are very important ways to make family memories which include both children together. Family hikes, a day of playing in a natural waterfall, art projects, games and cooking projects, are examples of opportunities to make memories. When making family memories it is important not to always include friends, then the siblings are forced to interact with each other.  

Creating an opportunity for mentoring, where the older sibling teaches and guides the younger one for example, learning to tie knots or solve a problem, can help the older sibling realize that they have an important role. When children have a younger sibling it helps to encourage an active role in soothing an upset toddler or providing kisses for boo boos, and giving hugs at bedtime.  

Most importantly, don’t allow teasing. Teasing is a form of bullying that interferes with helping home be a safe and secure place. When left unchecked, teasing/bullying can drive a wedge in sibling relationships; bullying at home can leave adult siblings distant for life. This is when it is important for the parent to intercede firmly and repeatedly until it stops.  

As parents, we have so much to do just to keep everyone fed, clothed and up and ready when everyone has to get out of the house. Yet, fostering family togetherness and bonding is essential, the effects of which can last a lifetime. It is good that you are identifying a possible problem. I wish you all the best in your efforts.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website and click on “Referrals.”

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