It’s National Sibling Day: Why are We Celebrating?

While most of us have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day circled on our calendars, don’t forget to note today – it’s Sibling Day!

National Sibling Day is a relatively new addition to the U.S. calendar. Why should we recognize these special relationships -- good or bad? Here's why.

Most children spend more time with their siblings over the course of their lives than they spend with anyone else, including their parents.  Although there is much focus on the importance of relationships between children and mothers and fathers, sibling relationships are different from parent-child relationships.

It's important to remember that family relationships are not voluntary; children choose their friends, but not their parents, nor their brothers and sisters. Emotions between siblings tend to run high and change quickly. Conflict between siblings is very common. It occurs in the vast majority of families, sometimes multiple times in a single hour, and is the number one reason for discord between parents and children. 

How parents handle sibling conflict has a big impact on how brothers and sisters feel about each other. When parents intervene to determine “who started it,” siblings are more likely to compete, argue, and resent one another. When parents stop any physical aggression, but then leave children to work out a solution on their own, siblings are more likely to thrive. 

Siblings play a key and unique role in child development and behavior. Children’s first experiences with sharing, negotiating, and resolving conflict often occur when they interact with their brothers and sisters.  During early childhood, siblings are both primary companions and competitors. 

When siblings figure out how to get along with each other, they carry those skills with them throughout their lives.  For example, compared to only children, children who have at least one sibling tend to have more positive social experiences with their peers from kindergarten through their early school years. Teens who report a good relationship with their siblings also tend to have better peer relationships and fewer depressive symptoms later in life.

One area of development where siblings exert a particularly strong influence is in the development of healthy attitudes and behavior.  Siblings are four times more likely to smoke if their older sibling smokes, and are twice as likely to drink alcohol if an older sibling does. This occurs despite the influence parents have on these behaviors.  

Finally, during adulthood, mental health and physical health are related to how people feel about their siblings. Having a close, positive relationship with one’s siblings is a source of satisfaction and support that can last a lifetime.

So what can families do to strengthen this bond?

  • Every child is unique. Avoid the pitfalls of comparing them to one another.
  • Encourage small acts of kindness between each other each day, no matter how small.
  • Understand that disagreements are common. Keep your cool. Encourage siblings to figure out how to share and how to resolve conflict on their own. Avoid the perils of judge and jury. Intervene only if things escalate, and then separate them until they are able to figure out a solution on their own.
  • Be a good role model with your own siblings and friends. Talk to each other, forgive each other, do fun things together if you can, and support them when times are tough. 
  • Acknowledge the moments of sibling harmony whenever they occur and celebrate the next Siblings Day!