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Sibling Relationships In Middle Childhood

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What characterizes sibling relationships? Siblings are often the most long-lasting family relationships, although they are typically the most common source of conflict within the family as well. While siblings can be other children, our relationship with them is not voluntary, like it is with most school yard pals. Sibling's shared genetic and/or environmental experiences separate them from friends and other companions. They are also different from peers due to the varying age and gender differences that can occur.


Conflict between siblings peaks during middle childhood. Fights become more sophisticated due to increased language, cognitive, and social skills. Most siblings fight over personal possessions, privacy, and competition of parental attention. A lot of these conflicts between siblings can be considered normative, meaning it can provide children with beneficial lessons towards managing interactions and solving problems. However, conflicts can be destructive as well.


When conflicts are destructive between siblings, conflicts go unresolved and can resort to physical violence. Destructive conflicts can lead to consequences in the future, including externalizing behaviors like aggression and poor social-emotional skills. Relationships like this are often characterized as conflictual sibling relationships, meaning they are high in conflict and low in warmth. Other sibling relationships include ambivalent (high in warmth and high in conflict) and harmonious (high in warmth and low in conflict).


While siblings can provide a high source of conflict, they also provide children with support and disclosure. Children can often reach to their siblings for emotional support during stressful life events and issues involving managing their relationships with parents and peers. Siblings can also be teachers and caretakers. Often older siblings help their younger ones with homework, teach them new skills, and can play the role of babysitter and actual caretaker when the parent isn't present.

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