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MWMG Pediatrics

Family Values

sibling-loveBy Elaine Stone

Sibling rivalry is as natural as breathing, but sibling love takes parental guidance and attention. Some personalities are naturally more caring and loving, while some are born competitive and headstrong. Given the inborn nature of each child, it’s in each child’s interest for parents to nurture a love for siblings.

A study released in the August issue of the Journal of Family Psychology underscored the importance of healthy sibling relationships. Brigham Young University professor Laura Padilla-Walker is the lead author on the research, which also sorts out the influence of siblings and the influence of parents within families. "Even after you account for parents' influence, siblings do matter in unique ways," said Padilla-Walker, who teaches at BYU's School of Family Life. "They give kids something that parents don't."

Padilla-Walker's research stems from BYU's Flourishing Families Project. The study included 395 families with more than one child, at least one of whom was an adolescent between 10 and 14 years old. The researchers gathered a wealth of information about each family's dynamic. They followed up one year later. Statistical analyses showed that having a sister protected adolescents from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful. It didn't matter whether the sister was younger or older, or how far apart the siblings were in age.

Brothers also mattered. The study found that having a loving sibling of either gender promoted good deeds, such as helping a neighbor or watching out for other kids at school. In fact, loving siblings fostered charitable attitudes more than loving parents did. The relationship between sibling affection and good deeds was twice as strong as that between parenting and good deeds.

"For parents of younger kids, the message is to encourage sibling affection," said Padilla-Walker. "Once they get to adolescence, it's going to be a big protective factor."

Parents who promote sibling love are gifting their children with a healthy relationship. What are some secret weapons parents can use to promote the “love” between their children?

Secret Weapon  #1 – Parent with the “Team” approach. A family is a team, and teamwork means cooperation, consideration, and care. No one has to go it alone. Tell your children, “We are in this together.” Teach them to be cheerleaders for each other. Teach by example, but also with words. Prompt children to encourage each another if someone’s having a bad day or facing a big test. Children can learn to be huge supporters of their siblings. Clue them into the needs of their siblings. “Your sister, Madison, needs some loving this evening, as she had a hard day at school,” or “Your brother, Jaxson, had a very fussy day, so can you sing him a song?” Use the terms “brother or sister” every day. It is a unique relationship. Encourage siblings to be an ally for each other.

Secret Weapon  #2 – Plan and carry out lots of “together time.” Give siblings plenty of time to play together by periodically excluding play dates with neighbors and friends. Eat meals together. Have game nights. Read together before bed. Take day trips for fun and team building. Make sure not all vacations include friends or other families. Although outsiders can be fun to have over, nothing can substitute for time alone with the family.

Secret Weapon #3 – Promote equality in the household. Parents must carefully handle this weapon. There can be no prima donnas. Everyone is of equal importance. There will be obvious places where some children excel, and they should receive kudos for those. But evenly distribute family time and monetary rewards so that no one feels slighted. The family should not attend Tommy’s soccer matches every weekend if that robs the other children of time for their activities. Children will catch on quickly if Child A gets all the time and attention, even if “A” has unique abilities. Parents must nurture each child’s talents without hurtful comparisons.

Secret Weapon  #4 – Promote individuality within the team. Give each child the space to be a unique personality. No two people are exactly alike. Even though siblings share traits, each should be able to express their talents and leanings. Even if children share a room, give each child some “owned” space, such as a desk, a corner or a bed. Make it easy for each child to have his or her own friends. When brothers and sisters share friends, instant competition can spring up.

Every person needs a friend to call his or her own. Aid children in finding their own self interests/activities. Give them ample opportunities to try new things. Celebrate differences. They will learn to love each other for their unique contributions to the family.

Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania.  Write: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sibling Relationships Help to Develop Social Skills

Siblings effectively teach each another how to act around other children, how to play and how to fit in with peers, say Laurie Kramer, a professor of Applied Family Studies in the Dept. of Human and Community Development at Illinois University and Katherine J. Conger of the University of California at Davis.

Siblings act as "agents of socialization, said Kramer in ScienceDaily, from "What We Learn From our Sisters and Brothers: For Better or for Worse," in the December 2009 New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.

Kramer believes parents instill the initial social skills for sibling interaction, but siblings then tweak those skills as they develop relationships with their brothers or sisters.

"That's why it's important for parents to encourage siblings to be engaged with one another and develop a relationship where there is mutual respect, cooperation and the ability to manage problems," Kramer said.

 Promote sibling sensitivity.

By Dr. William Sears, Parenting


It's hard to hit someone who loves you. Talk about what it means to be a big sister. Tell your daughter that because she's so big her baby brother looks up to her as someone very important. If you have an older brother or sister yourself (and you get along well), point out what a good friend her aunt and uncle is to you.

Here are some tricks we used to promote a caring attitude among siblings:

* Sib as comforter. When one of our younger children was hurt, we would have an older sibling act as "doctor." You might say, "Dr. Erin, would you hold baby Matthew's leg while I put a bandage on it?" Or, "Erin, would you put the bandage on Matthew's cut?" Praise her doctor-like compassion by offering, "See, he feels so much better when you hold him and talk nice to him."

 * Sib as minister. If one of the younger children was sick, we would try what we called "laying on of hands." The older sib would put her hand on the head of the younger child and pray for him and say comforting words.

 * Sib as teacher. "Since you're so big and know how to hit a ball (or furnish your dollhouse, or stack blocks, or whatever her favorite activity is), would you show your baby brother how to do it?" Take all these opportunities to give her frequent, uplifting comments, such as: "Because you're so big …" or "Because you're so smart …"

 * Sib in charge. Put her "in charge" of the baby while you do tasks around the house. Simply say, "Would you watch your baby brother carefully while mommy finishes my work?" In this way, you convey to her that you trust her to act like a caring sister. Of course, always keep a watchful eye on them.

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Pouches' Community Corner

Pouches Visits the Past


If Pouches' experience at History Camp is any indication, your son or daughter will enjoy joining Washington Heritage Museums and the George Washington Foundation for History Camp in Fredericksburg. The week-long day camp will be held June 25-29, from 9:00 a.m. to noon each day.

Young historians discover American history with hands-on experiences as they walk in the footsteps where the history of Fredericksburg, and a budding America, was created. The camp complements the history taught in classrooms with activities such as soap making, code breaking, colonial crafts, penmanship and much more.