Sometimes siblings are so different from each other that you can’t believe they’re from the same family.
Even if you tried to parent them all the same, it turns out that the formation of one’s personality is less about parenting and more about differentiating one’s self from their siblings.
Let’s take a closer look at ways siblings shape each other far more than parenting does:
1. Their desire to be different from their siblings helps them find their strengths.
Siblings need to find their own unique niche and sense of significance in the family. “Who am I in this family? How can I stand apart from the others?” Siblings watch each other very closely and when one has a clear advantage or strong trait, the other siblings leave that quality and find some other space to occupy in the family.
For example, if your eldest child is very scholarly, the next child may do OK at school, but rather than compete for best grades, they may decide to be more focused on athletic accomplishments as their way of being different from their sibling.
2. They shape each other's conflict style.
Siblings also use different strengths to win fights and get their way. Notice that each will choose one of the three Bs: Brains, Brawn or Bawling.
The eldest child will often use their advanced age and intellect (a.k.a. Brains) to outsmart their younger siblings. They might boss them around hoping that the smaller sibs will acquiesce and they may fall more to logic and reason to win a fight.
These methods of getting one’s way can stay with them as a means of dealing with conflict for the rest of their lives.
Middle children, on the other hand, tend to be the most discouraged of the birth order positions because they get none of the benefits afforded to the eldest, nor the coddling of the baby. They can be highly reactive and more apt to express their upset with physical aggression (Brawn).
And the baby of the family uses their smallness and weakness to their advantage, often luring in the help of parents to fight their battles and watch as their siblings are disciplined for upsetting them (Bawling). These methods of getting one’s way can stay with them as a means of dealing with conflict for the rest of their lives.
3. They teach each other how to share and get along.
Having siblings means always having a playmate around, but learning to play fair and take turns is something children have to develop. After all, if you don’t play nicely, siblings can take their proverbial bat and leave the game.
Siblings can teach each other the nuances of getting along in ways that parents just can’t. How red in the face does your baby brother get before biting you is something you have to learn experientially. If you win at checkers with Mom, she will shake your hand and say “Good game,” but your sibling might flip the board and storm out of the room.
4. They act as your trusted confidante.
With four in ten first marriages ending in divorce in Canada, most of our children will have to face the challenge of divorcing parents and potentially new step-siblings.
Facing adversity together bonds siblings. They have a better ability to support one another because they are both going through the same transition from the same perspective. Likewise, as they navigate the challenges of friendship and school stressors, parents are often totally out of touch with the reality of life for a tween or teen. Thankfully, a similar-aged sibling knows what you’re going through better and can be a trusted confidante and sounding board for advice.
5. They teach you resilience.
If you are an only child, you probably get your own way a lot. If you have siblings, on the other hand, there is the constant thwarting of your own desires because you have to take into consideration everyone else. If one sibling wants to go bike riding and two want to go swimming, what’s a mom to do? Someone is going to be disappointed.
Having to accommodate others wishes and desires is an important life skill. Learning to increase your frustration tolerance and patience are also important skills that siblings inadvertently teach each other by their mere presence in the family.
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