In the tapestry of life, few threads are as enduring and intricate as the bonds between siblings. These relationships, shaped by shared experiences, childhood squabbles and mutual support often form the cornerstone of our emotional well-being. To delve deeper into the science behind sibling love and its profound impact on mental health, we turn to Jenna Hermans, a certified high-performance coach, renowned parenting expert and author of Chaos to Calm: 5 Ways Busy Parents Can Break Free From Overwhelm. With her insights and expertise, we explore the psychological mechanisms at play, the celebration of sibling bonds and strategies for nurturing these relationships in the digital age.
The Power of Sibling Bonds: Unpacking The Psychology
Jenna Hermans, a mother of four and a veteran in the realm of family dynamics, underscores the significance of sibling connections. “Having a strong support system is crucial for human well-being,” she asserts. “We’re wired to connect and to want to belong. It’s why every teenager wants to ‘fit in’ and why it feels good when my local coffee shop owner says, ‘Hey, Jenna!’ and remembers my regular order.”
As parents, she explains, we rely on a robust network to navigate the challenges of raising children, making siblings a vital part of this support system. “As a parent, it becomes even more important to have a strong connection to others. Parents need a ton of support raising humans, and having aunts and uncles active in their lives not only give the child another trusted adult to vent to, have fun with, and learn from, but also provides necessary help to a parent in case of emergency, or just for a mom to perhaps get her hair done while her child is at her aunt or uncle’s house.”
So, how do strong sibling relationships contribute to an individual’s overall mental and emotional well-being? The unique depth of sibling relationships is often unrivalled. Jenna emphasises that siblings possess an uncanny ability to understand one another without words, offering unparalleled comfort and emotional support.
“Having (and celebrating!) a strong sibling bond is beautiful. Not many other people know you like your sibling; it takes years to get to a similar level of closeness with a friend. Your brother or sister can take one look at you and know how you’re feeling without needing to ask. What a comfort and aid to calm that is to be so fully understood by another human!”
The Celebration of Sibling Bonds
Jenna Hermans also sheds light on cultural traditions like Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj, which celebrate the protection and care siblings offer. She believes these traditions play a pivotal role in nurturing a sense of belonging and a reliable social support network. “The celebration of siblings is a beautiful tradition because we never want to take our gifts for granted,” she notes. “It is in the appreciation of the gifts in our lives, in this case, a sibling, that we truly feel gratitude and fulfilment in our hearts.”
Navigating Sibling Rivalry with Respect
Sibling rivalry, a common phenomenon, can pose challenges within families. Jenna shares her strategies for fostering a supportive environment. “I have four kids in my home and what I do in my home to combat sibling rivalry is to make sure everyone in our family knows we are on the same team. At dinner, I love to play a game where everyone shares about their day, and I teach my kids to hold a psychologically-safe space for each other and offer kind and helpful feedback. We have rules about respect in our house just as they do in school or a workplace,” she asserts.
While disagreements are inevitable, she emphasises the importance of enforcing respect. Siblings can use each other’s achievements as inspiration rather than a source of jealousy, promoting harmony and emotional enrichment. “I don’t make my children agree when they are in conflict, in fact, our debates have led to extraordinary conversations and learning. But I do enforce respect. And I think that cuts down on rivalry. If one child is jealous of another, I remind them they can use the example of their sibling for inspiration. If they can do it, so can you.”
Sibling Connections Through Life’s Challenges
As life goes on, strong sibling bonds offer a unique form of solace and resilience. “A close sibling can remind you what you’ve already been through in life and have survived. Because of experiencing so much of their lives together, especially the years of childhood and adolescence, they often have seen each other through some of the toughest times. Siblings have seen each other through the best and worst of times and when still connected as adults, can support each other through any new roller coaster,” highlights Jenna. Their enduring connection strengthens their ability to weather life’s storms together.
Strengthening Bonds Through Activities
When asked whether there are there any specific activities or practices that siblings can engage in together to strengthen their emotional bonds and promote each other’s mental well-being, Jenna shared, “Three of my four kids worked at a children’s day camp together this past summer, and I think letting your kids help each other enforces they are a team. Sometimes a child won’t listen to a parent but will listen to their brother or sister, since a sibling is more like a peer. As adults, quality time together aids in the emotional bond between siblings.”
The Impact Of Physical Distance
In an era of physical distance, maintaining emotional connections between siblings can be challenging. Jenna acknowledges this reality and suggests practical solutions. “I think physical distance, which is so common in modern life versus our ancestors who stayed in their villages, is a challenge, especially if the siblings have different communication styles. Maybe one isn’t a big phone user, for example. When living so far apart, having a game plan all siblings agree on to stay close is helpful. A yearly trip that is non-negotiable, for example, a weekly text check in, or, in one of my client’s cases, a monthly ‘sister chat’ on zoom.”
She recommends creating a communication plan that suits all siblings, such as annual reunions, weekly text check-ins or regular video calls. These strategies help bridge the physical gap and keep emotional ties strong.
Reconnecting with Estranged Siblings
Finally, Jenna offers insights into reconnecting with estranged siblings, acknowledging the complexity of such situations. She underscores the importance of setting expectations, taking accountability, and approaching reconciliation with positive intentions.
“Reconnecting with estranged siblings is noble and I hope it will work out! I’d say set expectations that you will try to reconnect, and you will do your best to be accountable for anything you might have done to lead to the estrangement, but you can’t make someone want to reconnect if they aren’t ready (for whatever reason). I think accountability and positive intentions go a long way. Most people don’t want to remain enemies with a family member,” she observes. “It’s a courageous thing to do to rise above the past to create a more positive and connected future.”