Siblings form early bonds

Parents can encourage kids to develop positive relationships with one another

Parents can encourage kids to develop positive relationships with one another

July 01, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Leslie Schoeck's daily routine includes taking physics classes at Johns Hopkins University, going to the gym and working at Mercy Hospital. But one of her most important daily rituals is calling home to talk with her parents and each of her four siblings.

"I'm 19, a sophomore in college and I still call home every day," says the Hagerstown native. "I want to know what's going on at home."

She also wants to make sure that she continues to be involved in her younger siblings' lives. Just because she is out of the house, it doesn't mean she has to be out of touch, she says.


Leslie's parents, Ted and Teresa Schoeck, are among the scores of parents who strive to encourage their kids to grow as individuals, while helping them to forge positive, involved, sibling relationships.

It's a task perhaps not so easy to accomplish in today's fast-paced, no-time-for-family environment.

"You never are sure you are doing the right thing," Teresa Schoeck says. "That's the honest-to-goodness truth. My husband and I both have the same value system and the same hopes for our children." But, she says, when it comes to raising children who love each other and are involved in each other's lives, "there's no secret answer."

Positive competition

Susan Day, who lives near Downsville, says her children have responded to her expectations.

"I expect them to get along and I always have," she says. As a result, Day's three children, Jennifer and Stephanie Spangler and John Day, say they have close relationships.

"I guess we're closer than other sisters are," says Jennifer Spangler, 13.

Stephanie, 15, says she sees her younger sister as more of an equal than a little sis.

"If I could pick one person in the world I wouldn't want to be beaten by, it would be Jenn," Stephanie says. Their closeness - both in age and in their relationship - brings out a very competitive spirit in both girls, Day says.

"I'm naturally competitive, but with Jennifer it's at another level," Stephanie says, both girls laughing.

While the competitiveness sometimes causes sisterly conflicts, it also inspires them to work harder, they both say.

Jennifer "always pushes me to be better at everything," Stephanie says.

"Sometimes I feel I have to live up to (Stephanie's) standards because she does so well at school. But that's good because it pushes me, too," Jennifer adds.

John Day, the girls' 8-year-old brother, won't be left out of the mix. Even though he is technically the girls' half-brother, the Day and Spangler children really don't see any differences.

"The three of them are a set. They are a family and they always will be," Susan Day says.

Age matters

Leslie Haney, program director with the Exchange Club Parent-Child Center in Hagerstown says building positive sibling relationships starts when there is a pregnancy. When parents realize that their child is going to become a big brother or sister, parents should start talking about a child's new responsibilities.

"Forming that consciousness before the baby is born is critical," she says.

Mary McPherson, program director for the Healthy Families program through the Washington County Health Department, urges parents to remember that children will respond to a new sibling differently depending on age.

"Just like walking and talking, sharing is a developmental stage," she says. "Most children are not able to do that until they are 2 or 3."

Therefore, the first step in helping children to become positive older brothers and sisters is making them feel important and special in their own right, Haney says. When children know that their needs are met, it is easier for them to be excited about having a sibling and helping the parent care for their new brother or sister, she says.

Leslie Schoeck remembers that when her youngest brother was born, it changed the way she felt about being the oldest. "Teddy is almost 10 years younger than me," she says. "I almost feel like a second mom to him. It was the biggest debate at night who would get to hold Teddy" when he was first born, she remembers.

Even at the age of 10, "I knew that they looked up to me and pretty much the standard I set they would be expected to live up to," Leslie Schoeck says. But the responsibility of being a strong role model never fazed her. "I love being the oldest," she says. "I kind of like the responsibility. I like doing everything first, paving the way."

Role models in the making

Amanda Fiery, 12, also feels she has a responsibility to be a positive influence for her brother. She says she tries to be "more responsible and mature in front of him."

"I don't want him to see some of the bad things I do sometimes," she says.

Andrew Fiery, 8, says he also likes to look out for his big sister when he can. Last fall, Amanda had back surgery and Andrew was there to try and make her feel better and to help her, the two say.

The best part of having a sibling is that "you know there's always someone there to look out for you," Amanda says.

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