Those of us who work with children may sometimes forget how important sibling relationships are to the healthy development of children and adolescents. We tend to focus more on parental relationships, which, while incredibly important, are only part of the family system. However, 82 percent of children live with siblings, and relationships with our siblings may be the longest of our lives.
Brothers and sisters are important for many reasons. First, given their closeness in age, children may be more likely to tell their siblings that they might not have told their parents. These can be typical topics such as friendships, relationships, and school, but can also be more disturbing topics such as abuse, drug use, pregnancy, self-harming behavior, or suicidal thoughts. Second, given that children and adolescents are more likely to trust their siblings, they may also more readily turn to their siblings as a source of support.
This article is critical because we know that one of the biggest risk factors for youth development is suffering in isolation. The ability of young people to express their feelings to someone – a brother, sister, parent or friend – can be of great therapeutic value and can prevent a worsening of depressed mood or anxiety. Finally, siblings can act as mouthpieces for each other before trying things out socially. There is evidence to suggest that healthy sibling relationships promote empathy, prosocial behavior, and academic achievement.