Siblings and social distancing: Making the most of it
These days, families have hunkered down and kids have settled into a new routine of school at home. Going through the coronavirus pandemic with a brother or sister can be an advantage and a challenge, for both kids and parents.
In the United States, if you look up the word “sibling” you will come across articles about “conflict” and “rivalry.” But in many other cultures, sibling relationships are typically very close -- often stronger than friendships with other children or the bond with parents. Growing up with siblings, playing with them, and even arguing help children learn how to get along with others and be a good friend.
The reality is that being “stuck” in quarantine with one another may be a great opportunity for some siblings. Now that they’re not busy with friends, sports or music lessons, it’s an opportunity to do things together they normally would not. Boredom can make it more likely they’ll find things to do together, especially since a sibling may be the best or only option for playing a game.
On the other hand, emotions may be triggered by being at home all of the time and schooling online can be stressful. These emotions can make conflict more likely for siblings who normally do not get along well, and even those who do.
It’s important for parents to know that this is normal. It’s also expected that things will shift from day to day or even within hours. Parents who grew up with brothers and sisters may find it helpful to remember how much they could love their siblings one moment and be so aggravated with them the next.
Making the most of time together
There are things that parents can do to help siblings get along and actually enjoy their time together.
- Identify activities. Siblings may need help coming up with things they could do together. Helping them identify activities or creating a loose schedule for when they’re going to do things could be helpful.
- Personal time. Like adults, children need a mix of time with others and space to do things on their own. Parents can help each child get that alone time they need as well as family time, which is equally important.
- Help them solve their own problems. When children are arguing, it’s best when parents can avoid the impulse to determine who was right or wrong or recommend how to solve the problem. Instead, kids can benefit from having an adult help them come up with solutions when they are arguing. Teach the children to learn what the other person might be feeling. Suggest talking things through to arrive at a solution that works for both siblings. Parents can help them learn what the other person might be feeling and how talking through things can help both arrive at a solution that works. In that way, you can teach even younger kids to become good negotiators.
- Family rules. Stick to some basic rules for how people in your family should treat one another and share your values with your children. Rules like “we don’t use our hands and feet when we’re upset” or “we don’t call people names” can be taught at an early age.
- Attention seeking. Children might not fight with each other to get more attention from their parents, but it sure can work out that way. During these times at home, we tend to leave kids to themselves and do our own work when things are peaceful. But as parents, we tend to drop things and run in when kids are squabbling. The result is they see the attention they get from that interaction. Instead, next time the kids are playing peacefully with one another, even if it’s only been 10 minutes, try stopping what you’re doing and saying, “Hey, I like the way you’re playing so nicely together,” or just stop by to ask them about their play. A little bit of attention can go a long way.
- Time to talk. If you can, on most days, try to spend 10 to 15 minutes with each child, one-on-one. It can be a quick board game or a chat while you are setting the table together. This can go a long way in giving each child a chance to connect with a parent in a positive way.
We don’t know what lessons we will learn from this unusual time. It is likely, though, that the time kids are spending with their siblings will teach them many important skills for getting along with others and handling boredom. Parents should remember that brothers and sisters may seem like they are in peace and harmony one minute and it is a screaming match the next. But it may also be the time that they look on with the most fondness when they look back on life in quarantine.
About the Author:
Wendy Plante, PhD
Dr. Wendy Plante is a staff psychologist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital/Rhode Island Hospital and director of the SibLink program.
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