Siblings in a Dependent Relationship: What You Need to Know

Siblings who are in a dependent relationship suffer when they're separated and find it difficult to be autonomous. Learn more.
Siblings in a Dependent Relationship: What You Need to Know
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 17 February, 2023

Siblings are the greatest gift and the best legacy we can give our children. These figures become teachers, friends, and confidants who accompany them in their growth. By their side, they learn to relate, share, negotiate, and establish bonds with their peers. However, when this connection is excessive, there may be cases of siblings with a dependent relationship. This is when it’s important to intervene.

All parents want their children to develop a relationship of trust, cordiality, and complicity between them. To achieve this, they try to encourage sibling bonding and spending time together. Generally, parental complaints arise because of sibling rivalry or constant conflicts between their children, but in some homes, the problem is just the opposite. Is it possible that too close a bond between siblings can become detrimental? We’ll explore this issue below.

Sibling bonding is natural and positive

First and foremost, it should be emphasized that a good sibling relationship is natural and positive. After all, they know each other like no one else, understand each other’s essence, and have been together since the beginning of their lives.

Even those who tend to quarrel can find, at many times, a pleasant refuge in each other. The problem never lies in your children choosing each other to share their time, but in the fact that they need each other in order to function.

Children laughing in the back seat of a car.
It’s logical and wonderful that your children feel safe, have fun, and enjoy spending time together. The problem is when being together becomes a necessity for both or one of them.

How to detect siblings with a dependent relationship?

You may wonder how you can distinguish between these two realities. In this regard, it’s key to identify whether your children choose each other or need each other. And, to do so, you can look at some of the following points:

  • They spend all their free time with each other.
  • When they have to separate, they suffer and experience great difficulties in getting by in each other’s absence.
  • They share the same activities, the same hobbies, and even the same friends, so they have no individuality.
  • They have difficulty making decisions on their own. Before expressing their tastes, opinions, or desires, they consult their sibling and tend to accommodate according to their answers.
  • They need the other sibling to perform basic activities such as playing, socializing, sleeping, or being in class. Without their presence, they become withdrawn, inhibited, and fearful.

Keys for parents of siblings with a dependent relationship

If you suspect that your children have a dependent relationship, don’t worry. There are some measures you can take so that this doesn’t affect their development. The main thing is to promote the autonomy of each child. To do this, you should provide opportunities for them to develop their own individuality.

It’s not about separating them by force or preventing them from sharing time or activities. You simply have to encourage the creation of spaces in which they can develop on their own without resorting to their sibling. Here are some interesting suggestions in this regard.

Carry out different extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities are an ideal environment to enhance your children’s individuality and avoid dependence. This will allow them to explore their own tastes and develop artistically, intellectually, or creatively according to their different preferences. In addition, they’ll be open to new environments and social groups to participate in without depending on their sibling.

Opting for separate classes

If your children are twins, you’ve probably faced the dilemma of whether or not to separate them into different classes. Generally, schools advocate for separation, and it’s true that this allows the children to have their own space in which to develop their own friendships. However, this is a very personal decision that each family must make according to their circumstances.

Twin girls dressed alike and posing the same way.
The most important thing is to ensure that both children have the personal skills and resources necessary to develop independently in life. Even more so when it comes to twins.

Spending time alone with each child

It can be good for parents to spend quality time with each of their children separately. Of course, family activities are good, but planning some solo outings with each child can reinforce your bond and help strengthen their own identity.

Promote choice and autonomy

Sometimes both children are dependent on their sibling but in other cases, it’s only one who feels this need, while the other is more autonomous and self-reliant. This happens especially when the age difference is significant and the older sibling has acted as an attachment and security figure for the younger one.

If this is your situation, try to encourage the more attached sibling to make their own decisions, express their likes, or make suggestions without the influence of the other. For example, invite them to speak first, ask them what their opinion is, and allow them to take the lead in certain family matters and decisions.

Pay attention to the individual development of each child

It’s key to ensure that they have strong self-esteem, high emotional intelligence, and good social skills. This way, you’ll know that if they choose their siblings, they’ll do it for pleasure and not out of necessity. Tending to the individual development of each of your children is the best way to prevent sibling dependency.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Maldonado, C., & Carrillo, S. (2002). El vínculo de apego entre hermanos. Un estudio exploratorio con niños colombianos de estrato bajo. Suma Psicológica9(1), 107-132.
  • Segal, N. L., & Russell, J. M. (1992). Twins in the classroom: School policy issues and recommendations. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation3(1), 69-84.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.