Parents elect to have a second baby for a vast array of reasons. Some parents have fond memories of growing up with brothers and sisters and want to give their kid the same experience. Other parents may simply not want to raise a lonely only child. Still, others will elect to raise siblings based on cultural or religious convictions. But no matter the reasons, siblings change the family dynamic almost immediately, and many parents simply aren’t prepared for the realities of raising more than one kid.
The parental dream may be seeing their kids grow up to become an inseparable team, working towards shared family goals of love an togetherness. But the reality is that sibling relationships are dynamic and often fraught, despite the effort that parents put into building cohesion. And in fact, the harsh truth is that siblings may hurt each other more than parents can imagine unless they have a shared adversary that forces them to cooperate and thrive.
Harsh Truth #1: Siblings Are Different People With Different Needs
Parents make honest attempts to treat siblings as unique, but many times the considerations of their individuality end at the superficial: kid A likes the color green, while kid B prefers orange. But the problem is that considering a child’s differences should go as deep as routine and parenting style, and not just which superhero they prefer.
Yes, tailoring discipline tactics, bedtimes, and emotional support tactics to individual children make parenting more complicated. But in a very real way, this kind of individual concern for each child can also make parenting much easier. Because while one child may respond to one type of discipline, the same tactic may be unreasonable for the other child and make behavior worse.
That said, it’s important that both children feel as if the treatment they are receiving is fair. Communication goes a long way to making sure everyone knows why there are differences. And as long as parents remain consistent, in the love they show for each child, they’ll avoid the pitfalls of favoritism.
Harsh Truth #2: Parents Normally Favor One Sibling
While it true that parents will want to show equity in the love they give their kids, some parents may develop a favorite. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Awkward? Sure. Bad? Depends on how a parent acts on it.
According to a recent survey, some 23 percent of parents admit to having a favorite child. The reason for that favoritism? Ease of parenting. But again, that could be due to a misalignment of parent tactics to temperament more than anything else.
The child who is generally favorited by parents who admit having a favorite is often the younger child. That makes sense considering younger siblings are often more compliant as older children become more independent. But considering how common it appears to be to have a favorite child, parents should simply take a breath and release the shame. Recognizing favoritism and being honest about the inclination toward inequality may allow parents to redouble efforts to give love to both of their children equally.
Harsh Truth #3: Siblings Will Make Each Other Sick
Parents might suffer a kind of magical thinking that leads them to believe that robust hygiene and quarantine will keep sickness from spreading through the family. That’s pretty cute. But also totally unrealistic.
Siblings will make each other sick. That’s just the way the world works. Parents who want to keep the sickness at bay will make sure that everyone is vaccinated, including the flu shot during flu season.
Harsh Truth #4: Older Siblings Pass on Bad Behaviors and Habits
Children look up to their older siblings. When older siblings are examples of virtue, being a role model for younger brothers and sisters is a very desirable thing for parents. But kids are rarely all good and all bad. That means older siblings might model and pass down some bad behaviors.
Studies show that older siblings can lead younger siblings astray in some significant ways. One study from Brown University, for instance, found that children with siblings that smoke were 25 percent more likely to smoke themselves. Kids who had older brothers and sisters who drank were at a 36 percent higher risk of drinking.
The upshot for parents? Raise the first kid well and perhaps the second will follow.
Harsh Truth #5: Kids Will Prefer the Dog to Their Sibling
Bringing a pet into the home is a fine way to increase energy and joy. But adding an animal into the sibling equation may have unexpected results. But not necessarily bad results.
One recent study from Cambridge University found that siblings felt less conflict and more satisfaction with pet relationships compared to the relationship with their brother or sister. And that makes some sense. Pets are good listeners. They offer unconditional love. And they rarely take your toys without asking.
Harsh Truth #6: Sibling Relationships Are Often Violent
Some parents might expect a certain amount of conflict between siblings, even to the point of pushing and shoving. That’s an unfortunate belief. Because what many parents might not understand is how violent sibling relationships can become if left unchecked.
According to Dr. Mark Feinberg, lead investigator of Penn State University’s Siblings Are Special Project, sibling rivalries can become particularly violent. How violent? In fact, studies have shown that instances of physical abuse in families are more likely to occur between siblings than spouses.
Parents should understand that sibling conflict shouldn’t be the expectation. Siblings who experience high rates of conflict have poor outcomes. Finding a way to make peace between siblings is imperative.
Harsh Truth #7: Younger Sibling Can Start Problems
Any time conflict erupts, it’s tempting to place the blame on the older sibling. There’s a certain logical reasoning for this: they’re older and should know better, after all. But it’s important for parents to remember that younger siblings aren’t simply innocent angels.
Younger siblings can be just as culpable in conflict as older siblings. They have a tendency to know another brother or sisters specific pain points and poke at them mercilessly. It’s true that violence should never be acceptable, but older siblings goaded into action should also be approached with empathy. That means that parents need to listen to all parties involved in the conflict and take a balanced approach to discipline.
Harsh Truth #8: Parents Need To Be the Common Enemy
When conflict does occur, parents can help by encouraging team building between siblings. This might take the form of cooperative games and downplaying competition. But it may also help if parents give their children a common enemy to conspire against.
Guess who that enemy is? That right, mom and dad. But look, if the children are cooperating to pull one over on the parents, at least they are getting along. And that’s one small step to the balanced loving family everyone wants to be a part of.