Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Sibling Interaction: On Which Side Is Your Sister Buttered?

Tales of early sibling relations at their finest...

Exploration and entertainment often govern the first few years of a child's life. Getting into "trouble" is what little ones do best-especially when their curiosity kicks into overdrive.

It seems that siblings with minimal age gaps bond quite differently than those with a wider spread of years between them. Much in the same way, males and females interact differently-in terms of the degree of rivalry, the amount of affection, and various other idiosyncrasies of childhood conduct.

Babies and young tots carry hefty reputations for comical and mischievous behavior. At ages one and three, respectively, my younger siblings Michael and Susie Keenan put on quite a display of playful sibling mischief.

The mystery remains to this day as to how Michael acquired the tub of margarine. An even bigger mystery, perhaps, is why Susie sat still through the entire ordeal! The kitchen walls exhibited buttery handprints and sloppy streaks, the hallway, smothered in margarine as far as the eye could see. It was EVERYWHERE including all over Susie, from head to toe.

Curly caramel-colored locks were slick with the yellow slop, as Michael continued to massage more and more of the greasy substance into her hair. Did it actually feel good? Did she simply crave attention? Was she too young at age three to know any better?
Susie was, in fact, very passive about the whole experience. She was the older child who did not play the active role; rather, she watched the younger child play and explore.

Sibling interaction works on many levels. Children may go from playful and mischievous to aggressive and antagonistic, to sullen and subdued in only a matter of minutes. A child's mood and behavior is quite easily affected by the moods and behaviors of those around him or her.

Similarly, children who are only slightly older than their siblings may sometimes exhibit more active and aggressive tendencies. Brothers and sisters who are close in age may also form close bonds with each other. These bonds may operate in several different ways, including affection, competition and teasing.

In a family with three boys, the competition and joking aspects become more apparent. For instance, three brothers in a family I know have a lot in common. They enjoy sports, video games and playing outside. As the youngest, Justin put effort into proving himself a contender with his brothers-he imitated them to show that he was just as brave, strong and athletic as they were.

The three and five years between Justin and his older brothers provided ample opportunity for jovial rivalry and playful bantering. Jeremy and Jason most frequently targeted Justin during mealtime. If they weren't "mooing" about his steak or beef, or "clucking" about his chicken dinner, you could bet they were barking at his hotdog. Pork, ham and bacon fell to a fate of excessive "oinking," and pretty much any audible animal onomatopoeia caused poor Justin to drop his silverware in distress. The boys' mother became convinced that her youngest son would be scarred for life, and would become a vegetarian at such a young age.

On the contrary, years and years later Justin is a quick-witted and charismatic young man. Though the early days of torment kept him on his toes, he now refutes his brothers' teasing with some banter of his own.

Brothers and sisters truly do play a significant role in the formation of each other's personalities and behavioral characteristics. Close bonds with siblings become life-long friendships that are strengthened by playful teasing, healthy competition and even funny memories, like butter shampoos!

No comments: