Sibling relationships


Grow-up, get out of the house and that annoying sibling is out of your life! Well, unfortunately your bro and sis has a much bigger influence in your life than you think.

Sibling relationships is the longest lasting relationship one experiences in their lives. Childhood experiences with siblings hold a long-term importance in the formation of subsequent relationships well into adulthood. It has been found that siblings play an influential role in participation in deviant behaviour.

That is because participation in pretend-play with other children is associated with later understanding of mind and emotion, and correlates with the verbal intelligence of the child.

 So why does sibling rivalry happen?

Based on Psychoanalytic theory, sibling conflict stems from the rivalry for parents’ affection and approval. The relationships within the family has a strong influence on sibling relationships

  • Children are sensitive to differential treatment from a young age. Differential parent-child relationships are linked with more hostile and conflicted sibling relationships, with higher levels of aggression, difficult behaviour, and conduct disorder in the ‘unfavoured’ sibling
  • The quality of relationship between parents e.g hostile relations between parents are linked to negative relations between siblings (role modeling)
  • The quality of the relationship between mother and firstborn affects the relationship between second-born and mother
  • Children with secure attachment to parents are more likely to have positive prosocial relationships with their siblings.
  • Alternatively, sibling relationships may develop supportively when the parents are distant or uninvolved

 If your sibling hates you now, will they hate you forever?


The good news is sibling rivalry is reported less for older adults, though some persist into old age. So as you grow into adult hood, the relationship will become increasingly dynamic. Hostility or closeness may change depending on life events


For siblings who are close and affectionate, a family crises may lead to an increase in supportive behaviour from that siblings. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for siblings who aren’t close


How do you manage difficult sibling relationships


Set boundaries

– learn when to remove yourself from a situation that is doing more harm and good

– be assertive in standing up for your own needs and don’t feel guilty for saying no

– be prepared for any undesirable responses from your sibling, learn to stand your ground regardless

– create a safe space to work through any complicated emotions


Social support from family and friends

-family members or friends who understand your situation can help you talk through and process a situation. When appropriate, they could help to provide alternative viewpoints or assist you in setting boundaries with your sibling


Find the right timing for new opportunities

-major life transitions like leaving home, getting married, or dealing with death provide opportunities for siblings to rekindle lost relationships

-learn to recognise old patterns of behaviour and fixed ways of thinking: e.g. the way you view yourself and your role in a situation/ the way you view your sibling may be contributing towards your feelings of frustration and annoyance toward them. You may be relying on outdated views and information about your sibling that is no longer accurate


Reappraise the situation

Learning to view the behaviour through new lens can put things into perspective, consider asking yourself questions like “Is this the real reason for their behaviour? Are there alternative explanations?” Put yourself in their shoes for once



-learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings in a manner that won’t further escalate the situation

-learn to listen to what your sibling is really saying. It can help you to build empathy towards them



Snowling, M. J. (2011). Editorial: What’s behind sibling rivalry: checks and balances in the sibling relationship. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(6), 629–630. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02415.x

Maciejewska, B., Skrzypek, K., & Stadnicka-Dmitriew, Z. (Eds.). (2014). Siblings : Envy and rivalry, coexistence and concern. Taylor & Francis Group. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/jcu/reader.action?docID=1687567&ppg=6

Hindle, D., & Sherwin-White, S. (Eds.). (2014). Sibling matters : A psychoanalytic, developmental, and systemic approach. Taylor & Francis Group.




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