Pfuender siblings how you spend it

Siblings forever: specifics of sibling relationships

Siblings and their relationships to one another can be very different. What are the special features of this unique bond, how parents and children can influence the sibling relationship and how the sibling constellation can affect it.

Learn how you can positively influence the relationship between your children. Photo: iStock, pojoslaw, Thinkstock

Do you remember when your brother or sister was born? Depending on how old you were as the oldest child when the new family member was introduced, you will remember the feelings you had towards this little creature or you can hear it from stories. So you may have shed crocodile tears and begged to sit on your mother's lap, exactly where you have always been allowed to be and where the new sibling is now. It's just not easy to take one's place as the focus of the family siblings to have to resign. Only gradually do we learn to appreciate the uniqueness of this unique relationship.

Siblings: The special thing about the relationship

siblings are not only very close spatially but also emotionally. They have a special bond with one another. This intimacy cannot be compared to any other social relationship. siblings often feel obliged to one another and express this through their helpful, solidary and caring behavior. At the same time, this relationship can be ambivalent: affection and rejection, love and hate often coexist in a fraternal relationship. A well-known quote by the writer Kurt Tucholsky illustrates this ambivalent relationship: “Indians are either on the warpath or smoke the pipe of peace. Siblings can do both. "

In terms of time, the sibling relationship is often the longest in a person's life, because while the circle of friends changes and one separates from partners, the relationship between siblings lasts for a lifetime. But what has to happen in order to develop a negative or positive relationship with one's siblings and how is the relationship between siblings formed and influenced?

How parents can influence the sibling relationship

Research has shown that parents make a decisive contribution to whether the relationship between siblings develops positively. Influencing the sibling relationship begins as soon as the second child is on the way. It is important to sensitively teach the first-born child the imminent arrival of his sibling.

You can do this by ...

  • Let the first-born child participate in the development of the baby. Show him children's books that document the course of pregnancy in a child-friendly manner.
  • Show your firstborn baby photos of themselves to show them that they lived through the same time.
  • Allow your first child (if possible) to have contact with a family with a newborn. They experience that babies need a lot of attention and can slowly get used to the new situation.
  • do not promise that your child will soon have a play partner, because newborns cannot yet play, which is why the older child is all the more disappointed.
  • Design and furnish the baby room together with your first child.
  • Ask your firstborn whether and which of his toys he wants to give to the baby.

Further information can be found on this handout and here.


After the birth of the second child, it is up to the parents to ensure that the needs of all children are not neglected. This means that parents should see and appreciate the individuality of each child and should refrain from making comparisons between siblings. Because if one of the children experiences an exemplary portrayal, the siblings feel devalued, which in turn has a negative impact on the sibling relationship: It encourages envy and creates aggression and resentment.

It is exemplary if you, as parents, want to give all children the same treatment. "Nevertheless, everyday life shows that there are differences and you should admit them," says youth psychologist Elke Huber * on the lecture "Siblings - a bond for life".

The behavior of the parents is also important. "If the behavior of the parents is more shaped by competition, peering out or devaluing each other, it shouldn't come as a surprise when siblings show exactly this behavior," explains the psychologist. According to Huber, parents provide orientation for children, they show them which behaviors are allowed for certain feelings, such as anger, and where the limits lie in dealing with one another. It is also important when parents give their children freedom to interact with one another. They should be able to quarrel calmly in order to learn how to resolve conflicts among themselves.

Reading tip!

* Elke Huber is a child and adolescent psychotherapist and SOS counseling center employee for children, adolescents and parents

How siblings influence the relationship to one another

Two and a half year old Lina is playing in the sandpit, while her sister, who is almost two years older, climbs on the slide and laughs down the slide. Lina sees how much fun her older sister is having and wants to try sliding too. Because siblings offer a learning field for the most diverse areas of life and personality, explains Huber. She also points out that with the help of siblings, social contacts can be practiced more easily: siblings learn to share with one another, to deal with unpleasant feelings (anger, sadness, jealousy, hatred), to resolve conflicts and to make compromises. The development of self-esteem and personality is also very strongly influenced by siblings. Quarrels and sibling rivalries promote the child's personal development and emotional growth process, confirms Christina Schirl-Russegger, head of the advice center of the Linz Children's Fund in the association newspaper of the same name in April 2006.

Since siblings spend most of their time together, they can shape each other. The exchange of experiences between siblings takes place on a physical and emotional level. "Siblings communicate in their own language, which first leads non-verbally, through facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, briefly through body language and gradually changes into a common language that is a kind of secret language that is only understandable for siblings," she writes Psychologist Susanne Stähli-Radelfinger in her work “Influence of the sibling constellation on individual personality development” (1998). The subsequent sibling often learns more from its older brother or sister than from its parents. For example, they learn through observation and imitation. This can have advantages: the younger siblings can be encouraged by the older siblings to try out new and unknown things, such as sliding, learning to write and much more.

The sibling constellation also has an impact on personality development. Photo: iStock, monkeybusinessimages, Thinkstock

The sibling relationship is also useful for personal development, as Inés Brock, educationalist, child and adolescent psychotherapist and systemic family therapist writes in her article “The enrichment of family education through siblings”. In order to distinguish themselves from the older siblings, the younger ones form their own identity. According to Brock, this is formed by the simultaneous demarcation and identification with siblings. Because by developing special skills, all children were given the opportunity to largely avoid rival behavior for the appreciation and attention of their parents, Brock continued.

Sibling constellations and their effects

Not all siblings get along equally well or badly. The relationship between siblings differs depending on how many siblings there are, what gender they have and how big the age difference to each other is.

Sibling constellation and distribution of roles

  • The oldest child, regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy, often takes on the role of carer, for example looking after the new sibling or entertaining them through games. By identifying with the mother's role, girls fit into this role more happily than boys.
  • As a rule, the oldest child is brought up more strictly, admonished and punished more often than subsequent children. The eldest often paves the way for the siblings so that they later have it easier than their older siblings in many ways (bedtime, going out, etc.).
  • In the big brother / little sister constellation, the brother often acts as a protector and role model. The constellation big sister / little brother leads the sister to the role of the surrogate mother. With her one finds comfort and protection.
  • The youngest child, regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy, is born into the existing distribution of roles. Often it develops into a "helpless net hook" with a manipulative charm that always pulls the parents on his side. It is not uncommon for the youngest in a family to play the role of rebel, because at some point they rebel against the instructions of older siblings.

You can find more about the sibling constellations here.

Sibling relationship according to Walter Toman with additions

With regard to the age difference, the Austrian psychologist Walter Toman (1920-2003) sets a rule: According to this, a small age difference leads to a stronger sibling bond than with siblings who are separated by a larger age difference. At the same time, the competition is more pronounced with a smaller age difference.

age differencerelationshipTip / info
1-2 yearsThe older child feels greater competition in terms of parental expressions of tenderness, attentions, sympathy and assistance. Complement: The siblings (especially same-sex) tend to compare because they are very similar and have more to do with each other.It is advisable to treat siblings with a small age difference in a similar way, e. B. through small gifts on the sibling's birthday to avoid envy.
3-4 yearsThe older child feels that the exercise of power and control over the parents is impaired, but notices that the parents give him something in return for the services he provides to the younger sibling. Complement: With this age difference, noteworthy conflicts are rather rare. A harmonious relationship can often be observed.A clear ownership structure is an advantage: older children should not be forced to share something with their younger siblings.
4-5 yearsThe older child learns to make use of pair formation (e.g. parents vs. children, girls vs. boys).If siblings form a unit, this strengthens their personality and the relationship to one another.
6 and more yearsWith only two children, there is no full sibling relationship because the younger one is too small to come into conflict with the older one (= quasi-only children). No more strong competition. Complement: The oldest child acts as a parent substitute.Such a large age difference can be a relief for parents, as the oldest child can take on a lot of responsibility in terms of caring for siblings. But don't make your oldest child do it.