Age Changes in Brother-Sister Relationships

Youngsters react to siblings in a variety of ways. Some of these behaviors come from the child’s age and stage development. Until a child is over two years of age, the child takes brothers and sisters for granted. When she/he turns 1 ˝, however, s/he has difficulty with brothers and sisters just as they do with everyone else. The child has difficulty sharing, waiting their turn or doing anything anybody else’s way.

By the age 3, relationships are better but not consistently so. The three-year-old may tease, break and spoil things, and then cry when others retaliate. Four-year-olds are a nuisance to older brothers and sisters and rough and impatient with others. There is often a great deal of quarreling and physical fighting.

Five seems to be a gentler age. The child may even appear responsible toward younger brothers and sisters, particularly if someone else is present. The five-year-old plays well with older siblings.

By 6, however, things take a turn for the worst. Children want to be "boss" and they may hurt and fight with younger siblings and also tattle on them. Quarreling is also common with older brothers and sister, refusing to listen to them. At seven, relationships improve slightly. They like to play big brother/sister to the younger children in the family, but they bicker with the younger ones as well. They protect and tease simultaneously.

Many 8 year olds are regularly in conflict with their siblings. They are tense and selfish, often quarrelsome about possessions and privileges. Nine year olds may at times be thoughtful and protective of younger ones, but they still resent efforts of older children to boss them and are embarrassed in front of their age mates by the actions of younger siblings.

Ten year olds tend to be at odds with brothers and sisters at least part of the time. This involves name calling and some real physical fighting. If younger children annoy the ten-year-old, the child retaliates. The conflict is less with siblings under five.

Eleven is a poor age to get along with brothers and sisters. They may control their physical actions, but it is clear that they have no tolerance for younger sibs. Their younger brothers and sisters seem to sense these feelings and deliberately try to get a rise out of them. Parents may need to be involved in setting limits. In spite of all this, they display an ardent loyalty on behalf of distressed brothers or sisters.

Twelve-year-olds are critical of their parents’ treatment of younger siblings. They usually feel that the parents are spoiling their brothers and sisters. They enjoy interactions with children under 5, and idolize those over 15, fighting with those in between. At 13, teens spend a lot of energy trying to improve their younger sibs. They try to make them do what thirteen-year-olds can do. They quarrel more over trivial things than big issues. Fighting is in the form of bickering.

Fourteen brings relief! It also brings improvement in the relationship with younger children. They have more times when they can have fun and relax with their siblings. They are, however, distressed because younger children take things without asking.

By 15, attitudes toward brothers and sisters continue to improve. They are pleased with the admiration of the younger one, companionable with those near to them in age and play with those who are older.

Sixteen year olds definitely smooth out their relationships with their brothers and sisters. They are particularly protective of younger ones in the family and may attain an almost adult level of comradeship with the older ones.

Adapted from Child Behavior by Ilg and Ames and from Youth by Gesell, Ilg and Ames
  family : sibling relationships