Sibling Relationships in Divorced Families

When parents divorce, brothers and sisters may begin to interact differently. While some siblings become closer at this time, others may argue more and become emotionally distant.

It is difficult to predict how children will respond in any particular family.

The emotional stress that parents feel following divorce may temporarily reduce the amount of attention they are able to give their children. As a result, some children turn to one another for nurturance and support.

Because siblings experience many of the same emotions, they are able to understand each other’s feelings and concerns and to reassure each other.

Other children, however, may engage in more conflict with their siblings. These children may feel confused and angry about the changes that are occurring in their family and they take these negative feelings out on their siblings. Some siblings also engage in more conflict because they are competing for their parents’ attention.

Parents may be able to reduce their children’s rivalry by talking with them, listening to them, and spending some time alone with each child. Parents also need to realize that younger siblings may have an easier time expressing their confusion than their older siblings.

Therefore, parents should be sure to talk to the older siblings even if they do not seem upset. It is also important for parents to encourage children to continue rituals that were established before the divorce so they will have some feelings of continuity and stability.


University of Missouri-Columbia
Sara Gable, State Specialist, Human Development and Family Studies
Kelly Cole, Extension Associate

Copyright 2002 University of Missouri.
Published by University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia.

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