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Brother, sister…SIBLING!
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October 14, 2011
Siblings are the closest relations in the ranks of all families and in the constraints of a family home, conflict is bound to arise as a result. Bickering, temper tantrums and yelling matches are all common occurrences between siblings who annoy each other to breaking point. Yet, at the same time, siblings are loyal to each other and devoted to protecting each other against strangers or outside influences. This mix of feelings and the natural complexities of the relationship as it grows, strengthens and develops from day one causes a form of confusion in a person's mind.

Research on family communication is significant because family is the first culture humans are exposed to. Sibling relationships are extremely important throughout one's life, and the relationship between two sisters in particular is unique. According to Connidis (1989), adult sibling research has been focused in large part on closeness. Intimacy has received much attention in recent relational research. Many researchers have made connotations between intimate relationships and romantic or sexual relationships (Cross and Gore, 2004). However, given the Reis and Patrick (1996) definition, this study aims at using intimacy to characterize a family relationship. Prager (2000) includes that “Research has shown intimacy to be positively related to levels of love, trust, satisfaction, commitment, and partner understanding in close relationships” (p. 236). In some cases, intimacy is measured through related terminology such as closeness and cohesion. Prager (2000) also suggests that scholars conceptualize intimacy as an interaction or a process. An overview of intimacy research reveals that the phenomenon can be conceptualized through behavior, feelings, and perceptions (Prager, 2000).

Fights among siblings are often considered innocent, but a new research has claimed that certain types of quarrels can affect the quality of their relationships. Researchers at the University of Missouri identified two major types of conflict among adolescent siblings and found that conflicts about personal space have a negative impact on trust and communication between them. "The first conflict area we found includes issues about physical and emotional personal space, such as borrowing items without asking and hanging around when older siblings have friends over," said Nicole Campione-Barr, a psychology professor at the university. "When these issues were present, both younger and older siblings reported less trust and communication. The second conflict area includes equality and fairness issues, such as taking turns and sharing responsibilities. These conflicts had no impact on relationship quality."

What can we do to enhance sibling relations?

Because sibling relationships can be so beneficial in later life, it is important to nourish interactions with siblings in adulthood and among our children.

Between children:

• Parents need to foster and respect the sibling relationships among their children.

• Provide siblings with opportunities to share time and activities, despite differences in age.

• Be sure no “favoritism” (the most common cause of bitter sibling rivalry that can last into later life) is practiced by parents or other extended family.

• Allow siblings to work through their own disagreements therefore building a relationship with each other that is separate from their parents.

• When older siblings begin to leave home, encourage them to maintain contact with their younger siblings and facilitate these interactions with family events.

In adulthood:

• Parents need to facilitate and maintain strong sibling ties with their own sisters and/or brothers in adulthood. These relationships will serve as models of healthy sibling interaction for their children.

• Establishing and maintaining good sibling relations in adulthood often depends on the development of positive relations with sisters and brothers-in-law. Adult siblings need to make an extra effort to establish a mutually respectful and congenial relationship with the spouse of their sibling(s).

• Adult siblings must practice mutual support and cooperation during times of stress or family upheaval. This collaboration will continue into later life and serve as a source of emotional, psychological, and instrumental support.

• Research shows that it is often sisters who maintain contact with siblings and facilitate interaction and communication. Adult siblings, especially brothers, need to take the responsibility of maintaining continued contact with each other.

• Important life events are occasions for siblings to interact. These events serve as opportunities for siblings to strengthen or even repair sibling ties. Giving special attention to these events and providing time to share with siblings is important.

Laugh, cry, hate and love. Sibling relationships are often one of the most treasured bonds in a lifetime and yet they can also prove to be some of the most difficult. Siblings often, whether close in age or not, manage to provoke each other. It is fairly common practice and over time it is something that can be resolved.



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