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The Dynamics of Sibling Relationships

Some time back, I read a chapter in Nurture Shock on “The Sibling Effect” where Bronson and Merryman highlighted the importance of allowing your first child to have friends before giving him a sibling. Most people make the mistake of thinking that having siblings helps a child to develop social skills that can then be applied to friends outside the family circle. The reality is that having friends gives the child the social skills to treat his sibling better. This is because friends don’t need to stick around if you treat them poorly so your child learns that if he wants to have friends to play with, he has to play nice. A sibling, on the other hand, can never escape because he lives in the same house so if a sibling is a child’s first friend, the message he learns is that he can be as mean as he likes and his “friend” will always be there.

When Hercules grew older, I wondered about the sibling effect on the younger child who, unlike his older brother, is born into the family with a sibling. He never gets the chance to make friends and learn the friendship rule. So what happens there? Well, I witnessed it in action today when my boys attended the birthday lunch of their god-sister where two separate incidences occurred.

Incident 1

Hercules was watching a program on the iPod while we were waiting for the food to arrive. When Aristotle wanted to watch the iPod with him, Hercules refused to share. But when his god-brother wanted to share the iPod with him, Hercules had no problem at all. He even surrendered the iPod to his god-brother completely and allowed his god-brother to choose what he wanted to do with the iPod! That would never have happened if it had been Aristotle.

Incident 2

After lunch, Hercules was eating a chocolate egg that I had broken up into pieces. When Aristotle wanted to take one piece, Hercules screamed blue murder. But when his god-brother wanted some chocolate, he was allowed to help himself to as much as he wanted. Anyone who knows Hercules will be aware that he is extremely possessive of his food. He almost never shares anything that he likes to eat.

Why is this so?

Well, I know for certain that it isn’t that he has no love for his brother. Hercules and Aristotle have an intense relationship. They love to play together but they also fight a lot. They get angry at each other very easily but they also make up really quickly. Sometimes I see them pummeling each other at the back of the car and howling to me about the injuries the other has caused but before I can even play adjudicator, they’re the best of friends again. I once lamented to a male cousin of mine about this love-hate relationship they have and my cousin (who has two brothers) assured me it was all perfectly normal.

Is it because his god-brother doesn’t live with him? Would he be so generous if his god-brother was around all the time? It brought to mind another incident a long time ago when Aristotle was still crawling and we had to help look after a friend’s daughter for a day. When our friend’s daughter arrived in the morning, Aristotle was ecstatic. He was so delighted to have a friend to play with. Everything went well until after the afternoon nap. When Aristotle woke up, he saw green. His friend was sitting in his highchair – the same one he hates sitting in – eating food he doesn’t like anyway and being fed by his “Ah Mah” (grandmother). At that time he was still very young and I was his favourite person. Nevertheless, he didn’t like it one little bit to see this new person moving in on his territory.

Whatever the real reason is, at least I now know a couple of things… Evidently, Hercules can share when he wants to and he knows the rules of social conduct when it comes to his friends. Unfortunately, he also knows that he can take advantage of his familial relationships because his brother is stuck with him through good and bad.

Sometimes I think we underestimate our children. Just when I thought Hercules was socially oblivious, he does something like this to show me how wrong I am.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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