Sibling relationships can run the gamut from being the best of friends to the worst of enemies, and often a turbulent combination of the two, over the course of a lifetime. Parenting siblings poses certain challenges, as each child is different. Likewise how you relate to the child and how he relates to his siblings will be different. To manage inevitable conflicts, you must have patience and perspective. As your children learn to deal with their siblings, they learn valuable skills for inter-personal relationships.
The relationship between siblings ultimately develops a child's social interaction with others. He learns how to share, how to negotiate personal relationships, establish boundaries and communicate with his peers. Like any long-term relationship, this comes with natural ups and downs, and kids learn equally from both positive and negative interaction. They can learn how to be compassionate, empathetic and respectful in the context of the family dynamic. Being combative often teaches each child how to resolve conflict within that framework. Therefore, siblings should be encouraged to settle their own differences with little parental intervention, provided it is physically safe to do so.
This early relationship also sets the tone for how siblings will relate to each other long into adulthood; and for good or ill, the earliest and strongest influence on a child is that of a sibling. This is particularly true for younger siblings, who learn how to manage significant milestones in their own life by watching their older sibling's experience them first. The younger sibling may even experience some form of hero-worship and make social decisions, accordingly. Siblings may see their brothers or sisters as more of a peer and less of an authority figure than a parent, and feel safer in confiding insecurities and mistakes.
How your children relate to their siblings can depend on a variety of factors. A child's natural temperament, where they are in their development and even birth order can play a part in how siblings negotiate their relationships. An excitable sibling may get on the nerves of a child with a short fuse. Older children may not have the patience to deal with extremely young siblings. First-born children may exert authority over younger children, who tend to feel competitive, to achieve some equality in the relationship.
Sibling rivalry occurs when children feel their spot in the family is threatened by the attention and love given to another child. The parent or parents may be the entire world to a young child, who may feel insecure if they see love, praise and acceptance given to someone else. This can be compounded, if parents make the mistake of comparing siblings to each other, or establish that fairness always means the exact same treatment. Children are individuals who need to be treated as such, and as they learn parents value them as a separate person, they can feel better about their place in the family unit.