The quarantine is affecting every aspect of our daily lives — there is simply nothing that is untouched by its needly tentacles. In the beginning, all of this together time with family almost felt like a blessing in disguise, but more often I'm wondering how the quarantine might affect sibling relationships, because my kids hate each other right now.
At this moment, caregivers all over the country are in a battle of wits with their children, and children are also struggling with each other as we all navigate this new normal. Many children may be normally well-suited to play contentedly with their siblings, but this extreme situation is pressing even the most passive kids to the maximum levels of their patience with one another. It has parents questioning the potential long-term effects on sibling relationships after all this quarantining is said and done? We all understand that the world will likely never be the same again, but what does that mean for the bonds between our children? Will they be stronger, as if they've been forged in fire? Or will the heat eventually cause the bond to snap?
Psychologist Dr. Sherrie Campbell, author of Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members And Loving Yourself In the Aftermath, tells Romper that how the quarantine might affect sibling relationships will largely be based on the personalities of the children themselves. "Quarantine is either going to make siblings closer and more compatible and friendly because they will be the only social outlet, or they’re going to cause more conflict and annoyance between the siblings," she says. This has certainly been the case in my house. My oldest child is very easy going, but he loves video games and intense periods of solitude — and his sister? She does not. She's in his face quite frequently, begging for a Minecraft or Roblox partner, wanting to play stuffed animal wars, and generally acting as his personal nuisance.
But some days, he seems to appreciate her efforts, and joins in on things like board games and making cookies. Campbell says that this sort of shifting nature is normal. "Siblings may fluctuate through both of these situations as we’re on quarantine — maybe there are days that they will get along and there will be days that they absolutely don’t." One day it's a screaming match to get them to play nicely, and the next, they're ganging up on me and my husband to get us all to play Euchre. There's a weird balance happening, and I do wonder how it will continue to play out over their childhoods.
I worry because the fact that this experience is happening during their formative years is no small matter, says psychologist Alli Kert, Ph.D. She tells Romper, "Spending a prolonged period of isolation with one another (as so many siblings are doing during this pandemic), establishes an occasion to create additional memories together, develop a stronger understanding of one another's perspectives, and connect with one another during what can be an extremely stressful and confusing time." She argues that given this, there is an opportunity for strange cooperation (like the aforementioned Euchre bartering) that could be beneficial. "The nature of the quarantine and it's inherent limits on in-person interactions has the potential to increase sibling motivation to engage in compromise, flexibility, and problem-solving," she says.
Campbell agrees. "Certainly the hope is that something like this would bring them closer, that they would get to know each other more deeply and maybe view themselves differently where they could be doing home school together and being more teammates then competitors." Even, or perhaps especially, as they join forces to convince the parents to give in and get off their phones.
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, psychologist, author of Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members And Loving Yourself In the Aftermath
Alli Kert, Ph.D., psychologist