How strong is the sibling bond?
Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 20:30

The relationship with your brother or sister is probably the longest bond you will have in your lifetime.

Research shows sibling interactions have a vital role in teaching kids valuable social and life skills, and in shaping personality and behaviour.

But siblings also sometimes get stuck into each other.

Parents may see this rivalry as part and parcel of growing pains, however there is a growing body of research showing early sibling aggression is linked with serious ongoing learning and mental health problems.

Are such disputes unavoidable, and do tensions always persist into adulthood?

This week Insight asks: When is competition and conflict between siblings a good thing, and how can favouritism affect this.

We also look at how this plays out in families from cultures with a hierarchical or gender preference. Have you ever experienced sibling rivalry?

Presenter: Anton Enus

Co-Producers: Hannah Meagher  Anna Watanabe  Amanda Xiberras 

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, or posting on our Facebook page.

Watch: "Birth Order"

Most of us know the stereotypes: the responsible first-born child; the rebellious youngest; the spoilt only child. This Insight episode from 2011 explores whether birth order shapes your personality. Click here to watch the show.


ANTON ENUS:  Let's meet Anna Partridge, you have three beautiful kids Anna, Zoe, Lachy and Maddie. Let's have a look at what they are up to. 


REPORTER:  Can you remember the last time the three of you had a bit of a fight - a disagreement? 

ZOE:  Um. Oh. 


REPORTER:  What happened? 

MADDIE:  It was last night and Joey pulled Lachy's leg really hard and then Lachy screamed in  my ear. 

REPORTER:  And then what happened? 

MADDIE:  And - and then it just turned into something else. 

LACHY:  Into a big fight... 

MADDIE:  About nothing. I yelled at Lachy. 

ZOE: And I just stayed put. 

LACHY:  You stormed off. 

MADDIE:  Yeah, you stormed off. 

ZOE:  Yeah, because I was on my computer and I wanted some quiet space. 

LACHY:  On the computer! 

MADDIE:  She stormed off because she... 

ZOE:  No, I didn't. 

MADDIE:  Yes, you did. 

REPORTER:  One morning, and you and Lachy were fighting over some balls. 

LACHY:  Yep. 

MADDIE:  Yep. No. They were connected to... 

LACHY:  Yeah, and Zoe - Zoe was shouting at me, saying, "They are my balls." And I said, "No, they are mine." 

REPORTER:  Is that how you remember it Zoe? 

ZOE:  No, I don't remember that. 

MADDIE:  Zoe said she had - you have two balls and she has four. 

REPORTER:  Is that not fair? 

LACHY:  No. Why not 

MADDIE:   Zoe was four and Lachy has two. 

REPORTER:  They should get three each? 

MADDIE:  Yeah. 


ANTON ENUS:  Aren't they great! Let me ask you first of all Anna - that looked quite good-natured. Do they bicker a lot?  

ANNA PARTRIDGE: They fight a lot. They are... 

ANTON ENUS:  In a typical day, how often would they do that?  

ANNA PARTRIDGE: It varies. In the holidays they fight more and they might fight maybe six or seven times a day, maybe more. They fight quite a lot. 

ANTON ENUS:  And would it get beyond what we are seeing there?  

ANNA PARTRIDGE: It can do. It can do. I mean, they can shout and scream and they - they are never physical, which is great. So, they - but they can definitely get more escalated than that! But I don't see it as a bad thing, you know, they are siblings, they are only four years between all three of them, and so they are in each other's space all the time. They always want to be on the same swing or they want the TV remote together, or - you know, they are always in each other's space. They constantly fight. 

ANTON ENUS:  Does it worry you, though, where it could lead? 

ANNA PARTRIDGE: No. It doesn't. They are so in the moment and it just really becomes part of their day. They don't actually see it as a problem and neither do I. I think kids, they fight over territory or over something. It is almost an animal instinct that they could sort of come across when they are fighting, that it's part of their territory that they are fighting about. 

ANTON ENUS:  Just part of the normal territory of kids isn’t it? 


ANTON ENUS:  Let's say hello to Aurora and Samara, who have joined us here tonight as well - two sisters who are eight years old, and if you look carefully you will see that they are actually twins. Who is the older one? You are? OK. I can see that. You look two minutes older! So would you say you guys fight or you argue or bicker? You do? Often?  What kinds of things would you argue about?  

CELIA HARRISON:  What you could you think? Games? Everything. Say everything. Everything - basically everything. 

ANTON ENUS:  Celia, of course is the mum, in case you haven't guessed! To what degree does it get more sort of boisterous? 

CELIA HARRISON:  I think that as they are getting older and they mix in different social groups particularly as school and Samara particularly has found a bit more of her voice, that she's more confrontational towards Aurora, whereas Aurora was always a little bit more dominant. So, often it can - something simple like a game can end up in argument about who will be which character and the game never gets played because they are so busy arguing about who is going to be that - it never actually gets - then it's the intervention that you have to sort of - you have the intervene and - you know, stop it because it's - it's not going anywhere, it's not actually about the game, it's about - just an aspect of it.  

ANTON ENUS:  Jen, you are nine years younger than your sister Melanie who is sitting right next to her. How would you describe her to us?  

JEN PAULL:  I would describe her as a role model to me. So, definite mentor, straight-A student. I grew up basically wanting everything that she had. So - yeah.  

ANTON ENUS:  By comparison, how would you then describe your own self growing up?  

JEN PAULL:  Um. I was a bit of a rebel compared to her. So, she was very straight-edged, very play by the rules, and I would do anything to break the rules.  

ANTON ENUS:  Melanie, what about you? How did you see it?  

MELANIE COLWELL:  Yeah, I was extremely - you know, teacher's pet, straight As, quite straitlaced, and Jenny was extremely rebellious. But I probably envied her in many ways because I was - I was extremely straitlaced but also quite fearful of the consequences and respected authority and that sort of thing. And Jenny was so sort of free-spirited and confident - I was quiet envious of that aspect of her personality.  

ANTON ENUS:  Did Jen understand the rules the same way you did?   

MELANIE COLWELL:  It is funny. I never - you know, take homework, for example, the thought of not doing homework never even crossed my mind. You know, the - you know. You just do homework, that's what you do. Whereas Jen came along nine years later and she would just question everything, "Well, why? Why should I do this and why should I do that?" I never even thought to question it.  

JEN PAULL:  I would try to get around every single rule I could. If we had to do homework I'd want to know why we were doing homework, like what would we use this for later. People couldn't explain that to me – I just broke the rules! 

ANTON ENUS:  Was that part of the reaction to the way Mel was?  

JEN PAULL:  I think so. I think she was pretty perfect and I saw her as the favourite, even though - I'm not sure if she was. But I always tried to - tried to become the favourite in a different way. 

ANTON ENUSPretty perfect is the way Jen describes you. Is that way you knew she looked upon you?  

MELANIE COLWELL:  I know she thought that I was straitlaced and boring. I don't - I don't think that she necessarily considered me perfect. 

ANTON ENUS:  What about Nick and Tom sitting right next to you. Did you connect in a different way when you were growing up? 

NICK INATEY:  Yeah. Look, I think we did. A lot of that would have to do with the fact we are only two, two-and-a-half years apart. So it is a bit different to you two there. We hung out with each other a lot, we saw each other a lot, we were at school at the same time, which always is a bit weird, when one does something the other one is going the find out, etcetera. Tom and I, I think, Tom would probably agree with me, that we're different and similar, like we're not - even though we are so close together in age, we are not the two that are going to go out in the backyard and beat one or the other in sport. 

TOM INATEY:  Absolutely. 

NICK INATEY:  He is hopeless at it!  

TOM INATEY:  It’s very true! We have very different interests, but there are a number of things that we do share. Like we have a very keen sense of humour and it is a very similar sense of humour. We can joke and guarantee you know the other will get it and laugh with us. When it comes to things more like sport or cultural pursuits, the more normal interests, we are worlds apart, absolute worlds apart. 

ANTON ENUS:  Interests are different but your sense of competition, how would you describe that?  

NICK INATEY:  It is there. 

TOM INATEY:  It is there, yeah! 

ANTON ENUS:  Growing up?  

NICK INATEY:  Oh. Yeah, look, it probably was. I think the competition's become a little bit more accentuated within a healthy boundary, of course. 


NICK INATEY:  Probably while we were in university or maybe towards – when Tom was finishing school. 

TOM INATEY:  It's not necessarily overt competition. We're not going OK, well, Nick got this... 

ANTON ENUS:  You didn't really want to win? 

TOM INATEY:  I wanted to win! But we were never openly in competition with each other. We were just - in the back of our heads, if Nick got something, OK, Nick achieved that, let's see if I can beat that. And I would try, as much as I could, to beat that and I would like to think I was successful. 

NICK INATEY:  I would agree with that. Invariably you probably did. 

ANTON ENUS:  So what would happen if one would come home with some award? How would the other react? 

TOM INATEY:  Well, I would congratulate them and go, oh, got to beat him. 

ANTON ENUS:  What words do you think you would have used?  

NICK INATEY:  Oh, words that probably couldn't be repeated on the TV show! All within - all within a realm of being proud of him, you know, there is one example at university where he was on a first name basis with the Vice Chancellor and I think also the chancellor - I can't remember. It shouldn't have bothered me. Really at the end of the day it didn't. My way of congratulated him for an award that I won - I said you are such a Dick. Things like that. 

ANTON ENUS:  All meant in jest, of course.  

NICK INATEY:  Yeah. I don't actually - I don't probably mean what I say! 

ANTON ENUS:  We heard you told one of our producers something about the Thomas Rainbow.  

NICK INATEY:  That goes - that's deeply embedded and it is fact. He is the favoured child. 

TOM INATEY:  No, I am not! 

NICK INATEY:  In the household and wider family at large. 

TOM INATEY:  Probably important to know the context of the Thomas Rainbow. It comes from the show Everybody Loves Raymond in reference to Robert saying there’s the Raymond Rainbow. And it comes from a time in our lives when I was in Year 11 to early university. 

NICK INATEY:  Year one. 

TOM INATEY:   Most goals that I set or most things I wanted, I managed to achieve somehow. And to Nick, it seemed like there was a rainbow effect and dad kind of encouraged that along, by poking fun at it in time to time. 

ANTON ENUS:  Did that continue into your adult life?  

NICK INATEY:  Absolutely. I think so. We still refer to it. 

ANTON ENUS:  What about Jen and Mel? Did you have a sense of one being the favourite or not?  

JEN PAULL:  I kind of saw Mel as the favourite because she didn't break the rules, she didn't get in trouble, she wasn't told off all the time, whereas I was told off daily - most of the day. So yeah, I felt like she was the favourite. She was allowed to do thing and it seemed like anything that I did - I would get told off. 

MELANIE COLWELL:  Yeah. Well - yeah, I don't think that was necessarily a favourite, but - yeah, I was certainly more the academic sort of - probably the easier of the two. 

JEN PAULL:  Yeah. 

MELANIE COLWELL:  But having said that, Jen was so much younger and - you know, the youngest child always gets away with more. 

NICK INATEY:  Absolutely! 

ANTON ENUS:  Nick and Tom, you still have a kind of friendly rivalry now. Who is more successful now? Who is smarter, who is the greater achievement in adulthood?  

NICK INATEY:  Probably... 

ANTON ENUS:  Who flies business class?  

NICK INATEY:  I do that more than Tom does. He did that first but I have him covered there now! 

TOM INATEY:  Nick is smarter. 

NICK INATEY:  There we go! 

TOM INATEY:  Academically. Other forms of smart we will see! I think we have both been successful in our own different ways.

ANTON ENUS:  One of the things you told our producers of course is the one area you don't complete is in dating or chasing girls. 

TOM INATEY:  Absolutely. I’m not interested. 

ANTON ENUS:  What is the story there? 

TOM INATEY:  I am more interested in boys! And Nick’s not. As simple as that. 

NICK INATEY:  Pretty easy. 

ANTON ENUS:  Let's meet another pair of siblings, Anthea and David. Anthea, what was it like growing up with your brother David?  

ANTHEA HAMMON:  David was a great tormenter all through certainly my childhood and into teenage years, and - look, I was pretty happy when at 15 he left and went to university and moved out. I thought, yes, I have got my life back! It was a wonderful day for me. Dave is three years older than me so as the big brother, I think he sort of took it in his stride that it was his job to torment the life out of me whenever he could. 

ANTON ENUS:  What kinds of things would you get up to?  

DAVID HAMMON:  Just general teasing, name calling, not being very nice, you know, just stuff that big brothers do. 

ANTON ENUS:  And what reaction did he get from you Anthea?  

ANTHEA HAMMON:  Normally tears. I wasn't very good at having good comebacks and - you know, even to this day I don't feel like I have developed that skill set. So it would normally involve tears and running to mum and dad. They would... 

ANTON ENUS:  I bet you loved that. 

DAVID HAMMON:  She reacted the best which is - I have got four sisters, and - so, Anthea would react the best, which was probably why she got a bit more treatment than the others. 

ANTON ENUS:  And then one day David moved out to go to university. That was a big day for you right?  

ANTHEA HAMMON:  Yeah. I was happy about it. We then didn't speak for the better part of 10 years to be honest. 

DAVID HAMMON:  10 years. 

ANTHEA HAMMON:  I don't need to have a relationship with him if I am going to be treated like that. He felt the same. Yeah. We just sort of avoided each other really. 

ANTON ENUS:  Mel, you were nine when news of Jen's arrival came about. It sounds like that's exactly what you wanted? 

MELANIE COLWELL:  Yes. Definitely. I wanted a sibling and had pretty much given up on the hope of ever having a sibling. Then was working on getting a dog - that was what I really wanted. That was how my parents toll me. They said, "You know how you want a dog?" I thought yes, they are doing it. They said you will have a brother or a sister. So I was really hoping for a sister cause I was a very girly girl. I loved my dolls and things like that. I thought - you know, having a little doll of my own would be fantastic! 

ANTON ENUS:  So she was kind of like a living Barbie doll wasn’t she?  

MELANIE COLWELL:  Definitely. Yes. 

ANTON ENUS:  Did you dress her up?  

MELANIE COLWELL:  Yes, I did. In little fairy costumes and plonked her in the backyard and took photos. 

ANTON ENUS:  Then she was on to you because what we discovered about Jen is that she wasn't that into Barbie dolls and then when you were about four or five, what happened?  

JEN PAULL:  I remember this. I specifically went from my room into your room to rip all the heads off her Barbie dolls and leave them there, just because I felt like it because I didn't like Barbies as pinks or anything. I liked trucks and wearing jeans. So yeah, we were different early on. 

MELANIE COLWELL:  She decided from an early age that she hated Barbie and hated pink and dresses, I think just - you know, to devastate me because it did devastate me.

ANTON ENUS:  Amie, you have two young kids. Tell us about them. What are they like? 

AMIE COX:  So, William is seven. He's the serious, very plays by the rules kind of guy. And Alex is the little actor, the little dancing, acting out of control - um, you know, he is just - he is delicious! 

ANTON ENUS:  Different?  

AMIE COX:  Very. William is easier. Alex is harder, but Alex is very similar to me, so we get along. 

ANTON ENUS:  So, I reckon most parents would balk at the idea of choosing a favourite. But I want to put you on the spot now, if you had to choose a favourite, could you name one. 

AMIE COX:  Alex. 

ANTON ENUS:  Well, OK. Take some time to think about it Amie! 

AMIE COX:  People have already - you can't say that! I wouldn't - if you said choose one to live and die, I wouldn't be able to. Like, I love them equally. But Alex has a smell that he's had since he was born. I sniff him all the time!  And that's - there's some sort of smell connection. And he sniffs me all the time. And - there's just a pheromone there. 

ANTON ENUS:  It is quite - quite a chemical reaction? 

AMIE COX:  Very. I wouldn't let people hold him when he was born. I didn't want other people putting their perfume or smell on him. 

ANTON ENUS:  Even your mother in law, I believe?  

AMIE COX:  That's where it all went pretty much down the drain. Yeah. I was very aggressive, like an animal with who touched him. Can't lie! 

ANTON ENUS:  So how do you express this relationship between the two of you?  

AMIE COX:  We have juicy cuddles, juicy hugs. Alex will say, "I need a juicy cuddle." So, when we - I sniff him. You know, like all the in the neck, his hair and - he does the same to me. 

ANTON ENUS:  He loves that kind of tactile approach?  

AMIE COX:  Yeah. He is very huggy. He wants my jumpers, my dressing-gown, wants my smell. Like a dog. We really have a thing with scent. 

ANTON ENUS:  It’s very primal I heard somebody say and that’s a good word actually. 

AMIE COX:  Yeah, very. That is how I am attracted to men as well, by the smell. It isn't a Cologne or a deodorant, it is a – that pheromone, the smell that comes - you know, out of our body. 

ANTON ENUS:  What about William? How is that different?  

AMIE COX:  It’s a different relationship. Still - I love him with all of my heart, but the relationships are completely different. They are 20 months apart but they are nothing alike. 

ANTON ENUS:  So the cuddles are not as juicy? Is that what you are saying?  

AMIE COX:  No and he is not as affectionate as Alex either. If you tried to hug him and touch him heaps health sort of - you know, move away a bit. I'm like that as well, except with Alex. 

ANTON ENUS:  Do you think those responses have something to do with the way you are projecting? 

AMIE COX:  I'm not sure because William will always say, "Alex is so cute", and he is so this and William will say Alex is delicious too. I'm pretty sure William doesn't think that I love him less than Alex. 

ANTON ENUS:  Tom and Nick, we heard about the Thomas Rainbow. Was there a sense of a golden child?  

NICK INATEY:  Look, if I'm being brutally honest, probably not. 

TOM INATEY:  I don't think that they treated us any differently. They raised us the same way. 

ANTON ENUS:   Did they ever say, “You know, you should be a bit more like him or you should be out there kicking a ball.” 

NICK INATEY:  Well you can't because - he is that bad! You cannot go to tell him to be better at sports, it’s just not going to happen. 

TOM INATEY:  They valued us equally but for our different abilities and skills, which was nice. Nice never to feel that I had to live up to Nick's standard, because I was allowed to create my own standard and live my life by that. And I think it was the same for Nick. 

NICK INATEY:  Yeah. Probably. Yeah. 

ANTON ENUS:  Jen and Mel, what kind of household did you grow up? Did Jen - for instance, did you get the pressure to say you really have to be a bit more like your sister, or Mel, like shake it up a bit, you are straitlaced?  

JEN PAULL:  Well, I am in the really sure what Mel was told. But it seemed like I was kind of the bad kid, and that I was kind of implied that I should be more like her, a bit more straight edged, a bit more reserved, quieter. But I didn't really see the same thing happening to her. I didn't see them saying, "You should be more crazy." 

MELANIE COLWELL:  God no! No. Definitely not. It was... If anything, they wanted me to be easier and easier. 


MELANIE COLWELL:  And I think Jen coming along suddenly made me look just like the easiest kid on the planet in comparison. But, yeah, I don't think my parents knew how good they had it until they had Jenny! 

ANTON ENUS:  They can take that! 

JEN PAULL:  A great reminder! 

ANTON ENUS:  Julie, you have studied the sibling rivalry and sibling relationships. I think, as I said earlier, most parents would be reluctant to say they have a favourite. What does your research show?  

PROFESSOR JULIE FITNESS, MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY:  If you ask children or adult children then the response is quite different. So, they will say, yes, there was a favourite, we all knew it. Parents will say, well, I loved my children equally and I treat them as equally as I can, according to their own needs, and their personalities. And sometimes by virtue of just being more similar to a parent, more -talented, more good, more well behaved, more high achieving then they can be an easier person in the family. 

ANTON ENUS:  What is the effect on the other children who are not the favourites?  

PROFESSOR JULIE FITNESS: Well, it to be pernicious. It depends on how functional the family is and how much the parents really try despite their own feelings to create a very respectful and caring environment. But you have families sometimes where a child is scapegoated, where it is very obvious that one child is being blamed for the troubles of the family, and that can leave a legacy of shame and depression throughout life actually. Mmm. 

ANTON ENUS:  Jen, any of those things ring a bell for you?  

JEN PAULL:  Um. At times I did feel like I was a little bit of a burden almost, just because I was so young and I felt like my parents and my sister were getting older and they were kind of done with the troubles and - you know, I was sort of holding my family become a bit, because I was so young and so kind of reckless, and - yeah. 

ANTON ENUS:  So, what would parents do, Julie, to – would they go the great lengths to hide the fact that they might favour one child over another.  

PROFESSOR JULIE FITNESS:  There might be something about a child in the family that just pushes your buttons, maybe they just seem very different from you, they have a different personality, different style. You find it just really hard to relate to that child. That might not be anybody's fault, and that's just something that - it's up to the adults then to really try to deal with that. But the social norm would be you love your children equally, so you wouldn't readily kind of admit to it, I think. 

ANTON ENUS:  Does it make sense to you, Amie?  

AMIE COX:  I don't think of myself as treating Alex better than I treat William, or saying why can't you be like - like Alex, it is a different – the connection I have with Alex is completely different to the connection that I have with William. They were both Caesarean, both breast-fed, both exact - same dad, same everything - it's his smell. There is nothing that I do differently, they get the same - the same. 

ANTON ENUS:  You said without a moment's hesitation Alex, right, is the one. Yep. Do you think William knows that? 

AMIE COX:  Possibly, I think his father has made sure he told him that I am coming on this show to say mummy will say that she loves Alex more than you, which isn't the case. I don't love one more than I love the other. There is a different bond. Unless some sort of witch doctor that worked with pheromones could tell me what it was - I can't - I can't - I don't know the answers. I was hoping someone her might. 

PROFESSOR JULIE FITNESS: I was going to say, do you think it is easier if a child is more needy of you? I think you tend to gravitate to that child, that needs you and is like an extension of yourself than the one that you feel... 

AMIE COX:  William is the sookier one. So he's the more cry when he goes to school, still, in Grade 2, whereas Alex isn't. There's just - from the moment he was born, and I held him, I didn't want anyone else to touch him. Whereas when William was born, Andrew held him first. Not me. And I was happy to pass him around more. Whereas Alex – I didn't want anyone in that room or him taken by the nurses so I could have a sleep. I had to keep that smell. 


ANTON ENUS:  They speak of the skin on skin moment right at the beginning.  

AMIE COX:  Yeah. I had to - because he was all wrapped up, I had to - as soon as I got back in the room, unwrap him and touch him and look at him to see what he - you know, him - you know nude, I guess. Like fresh. Fresh. So... 

ANTON ENUSLet's say hello to the Almaroof family who have joined us tonight. If you were to say who are your - which one is your parents' favourite? Which one would you say, I’m putting you on the spot?  

LAILA ALMAROOF:  All of them! 

AMENAH ALMAROOF: My eldest brother. 

ANTON ENUS:  Mum Laila, is that true?  

LAILA ALMAROOF:  Yes, it is true! Maybe... 

SHAFEQ ALMAROOF: Thanks mum! I am the favourite. 

ANTON ENUS:  Is that clear to you Shafeq?  

SHAFEQ ALMAROOF: Yes, obviously. Yeah, because we live in a difficult life in Syria, like I have a huge responsibility in my family, because of that I think my mum, he said OK, you can lead and survive. 

ANTON ENUS:  Is that because you are the eldest?  


ANTON ENUS:  You have a particular responsibility?  

SHAFEQ ALMAROOF: Yes. I have like - you know, feeding, financial support, mental support - yeah. 

ANTON ENUS:  Is there a kind of rivalry in your family among your siblings? Do you feel that, that takes place? 

SHAFEQ ALMAROOF: No, no, actually. 

ANTON ENUS:  It is quite different from what we've heard say from these families here.  


ANTON ENUS:  Or from Anthea and David here. 

SHAFEQ ALMAROOF: Yeah. I think - you know, when you try to depend on each other to survive like - you know, you have support. Like, my brother, I can say to my brother there is support there. It isn't like he is different, he can live alone, individual life, but there - you need your brother to survive. And that led to - you know, like full trust, full trust, like I - I like - without any doubt, if I need any help, financially, mentally, my brother is - will stay with me. Like that - the first like... 

ANTON ENUS:  Mum and dad? Do you agree with that?  

LAILA ALMAROOF:  Yes, we agree. 

ANTON ENUS:  OK. Jen and Melanie, would you say there's rivalry in your relationships given that you come from such different places growing up?  

MELANIE COLWELL:  We have been at different life stages. So we haven't got a lot to compete on really. 

ANTON ENUS:  You are quite a successful businesswoman, aren't you, Mel, and you have tried to help Jen in the course of her struggles.  

MELANIE COLWELL:  Yes, definitely. 

ANTON ENUS:  How did that work out?  

MELANIE COLWELL:  Gosh. That is a challenge. 

JEN PAULL:  I am a challenge, aren’t I! 

MELANIE COLWELL:  Jen, it’s funny, right from a young age, has been a real sort of know it all. 


MELANIE COLWELL:  And if I was there saying, I can teach you how to spell better or how to - you know, do better if this test because I'd been there and done that - nope, didn't want to know. 

JEN PAULL:   I would say, OK, you do it once and then I will do it. I will get it right. But most of the time I'd screw it up. 

MELANIE COLWELL:  She would often say, "I already know." Even though I knew she didn't know. 

JEN PAULL:  Oh really? 

ANTON ENUS:  Celia, your girls have left the room now, so we can talk about them. How competitive are they on a day-to-day basis. 

CELIA HARRISON:  They will compete about who has the most cereal in a bowl and they are measuring glasses to make sure someone doesn't have more milk than the other one, and - you know, how much time they spend sitting in the - even on the flight down, you sat in that seat for this amount of time and it must be my turn. Just really simple stuff, but it - and then they will remember it. Days later and come back to it. I go wait on - they will go, no, no, we haven't finished with that yet. We have to go back to it. I am finished! But, you know, it does worry - I have concerns around - how quickly it develops and how long it actually sometimes takes to get over that, and the interventions that I have to have it in, because it just doesn't go anywhere, and it just becomes almost a bit of pushy shovy, because - you know, they are so close and they are so competitive. 

ANTON ENUS:  John Pickering, you are an academic who has studied exactly this area. When should parents start getting worried about their kids' behaviour?  

JOHN PICKERING, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND: Well that’s a good question, Anton. The sibling rivalry and conflict - what we are learning tonight is a very normal thing. In fact, a healthy thing and can be very productive, but it can spill over to that point where it's marked by - you know, physical aggression, hostility, when it is persistent. That's the sort of time where we need to be thinking about getting involved, because I think as has been mentioned earlier, the effects of this conflict can be quite serious if it's not dealt with. The most important thing is that parents can play an active role in helping their children manage their sibling relationships. 

ANTON ENUS:  Do you think that girls ever get really physical with each other?  

CELIA HARRISON:  Do you know, I think for me, yes. You know, it might be pinching, it might be hair pulling, it might be shoving, but to me, even that is escalating more as they get older, and that's what my concerns are around, is that - stopping it before it - you know, progresses to where they have this potential to have - you know, a not close relationship for twins. Everyone goes, "Twins, they should – you know, they get along." 

ANTON ENUS:  Special connection. 

CELIA HARRISON:  Absolutely. My kids still sleep in the same bed, still have a lot of things that they - they can't live together but they hate being without each other. It is finding the happy medium. I am a parent who works full-time, I have bills to pay, I have homework to do, I have a thousand things I have to do, but somewhere in there you have also got to be feeling like you are refereeing what could be 10 arguments a day over - you know, so it's looking at ways of dealing with it as - as a parent, as well as helping them to deal with it, because - you know, you want to make a resolution but it is also a time factor. 

ANTON ENUS:  John, do you draw a line between even robust rough and tumble on the one hand and bullying?  

JOHN PICKERING: That's a very fine line, I think, but there is one. Increasingly the sibling conflict that gets very heated, persistent hostile is being recognised as a legitimate form of bullying. When you get along well with your sibling and the parents are involved in the right way, it can set you up for life, learning how to solve problems, to negotiate, how to deal with disappointment. I think the idea of dealing with the fact that you might not be first, that you need to be second is a life skill. The sibling relationship is a really important one for that. So, there is a line and of course you can see that, I think, particularly physically, when there's hurt involved. But parents need to exercise judgement. 

ANTON ENUS:  Does the judgement include, in your opinion, sometimes just standing back and just letting them sort it out themselves? 

JOHN PICKERING: That in many respects is the gold standard. I think it came up a moment ago that children being able to regulate themselves, to decide what they should or shouldn't do is really important. If perhaps a parents' goal for their children, above anything, could be they could make good, healthy decisions on their own without the parent present, and I think that it's very much the case that parents can help promote that and coach that in children. So, to see more sharing, to see more turn taking, to promote more of the positive behaviours, because the evidence will show that, of course, the early sibling relations can predict how you behalf in romantic relationships, and in the workplace. These are important things for the rest of your life. 

ANTON ENUS:  Anna, your trio were having a dispute over something and your husband and yourself just decided not to intervene and watch what happened. What happened?  

ANNA PARTRIDGE: We let the kids fight for a couple of hours over these... 

ANTON ENUS:  A couple of hours! 

ANNA PARTRIDGE: It went on and on. They would come to us, and we would let them go off again, and they would come to us and we’d let them go off again. Because it was a Saturday morning, we were all at home, we wanted to let it roll and see if they had the skills to be able to resolve their Conflict and they did. So, we then bought them back after and sat all around the kitchen table and said what happened? How did you resolve that conflict? And talked to them on a level that they could understand, that, yes, they took themselves into their room, or they talked it out, or whatever the conflict resolution was, they were really good at picking those skills up. So, I guess that's the thing, is if you move out of the moment, not when they are going at each other, but afterwards and give them the skills to be able to - resilience and problem solving and emotional intelligence and all those things come into play. 

ANTON ENUS:  The problem, John, is that sometimes these things can escalate, and it crosses that line into bullying. How serious can that get and what are the warning signs we should be looking for?  

JOHN PICKERING: Very serious, if sibling conflict can escalate dramatically. To clarify, that's rare, generally speaking. A lot of the sibling relationships are characterised by - yeah, the general typical sort of rough and tumble play or goings on of life. When it does escalate there is no shortage of research that shows persistent long-term conflict among siblings can lead to depression, to anxiety to forms of self-harm. The sibling relationship is one of the longest - possibly the longest you will have in your life. It tends to outlive your parental relationship and romantic partner relationship, and so you have an early pattern of conflict but it can come up again in later life. Unfortunately over things like, for example, disputing parents' estates and things like that. It never ends in that regard and it's certainly something that I think we ought to be taking seriously.

ANTON ENUS:  Stephen, you haven't spoken to your brother since August of 2014. What happened there?  

STEPHEN:  Well, the last time I saw him there was a bunch of police pinning him to the floor outside my bedroom. So he is currently in jail, which actually isn't the first time that's happened. Since - as early as I remember he's been in and out of jail. Most of my memories of him, from when we were younger - because he is 10 years my senior, at least, was him in a prison jumpsuit. After dealing with that for a very long time - I suppose this is the third time now I kind of just went - yeah, I think there is a point where I have to stop letting even my own family kind of hurt me in that way, or hurt my other siblings as well. 

ANTON ENUS:  We heard from Shafeq earlier about his responsibilities within his family. What did you feel was your obligation expected by your family?  

STEPHEN:  Um. Because I am Asian, there is a kind of hierarchy as well where we have to take care of each other, there is a kind of mentality where blood is thicker than water, and so I am the youngest in my family. There are four of us and at some point, each of us had to kind of deal with that, to an extent. Then I am at that age where I had to kind of do that. And there was a proper kind of decision where - how involved in his legal case I would be. I kind of made that call not to be involved to break the cycle there. 

ANTON ENUS:  He is still your brother, though. What was the thing that made you say, OK, enough is enough.  

STEPHEN:  Without going into the details of the case, it was pretty bad. For anyone else I would not forgive them. Kind of got to the point, where, yeah, he is my brother but I didn't know him for most of my life, in and out of jail for most of my life. Our family was picking up after him, trying to take care of him. It was a hidden shame among us as well, we didn't talk about it, acknowledge it was a bad thing, that it was our family and we did it. A lot of us – other siblings have moved on with our lives and I think for me growing up - I am at this kind of age now especially where it is like - I have to take care of myself. I have a partner, I have to think about her, you know. And so I - it was a selfish decision, admittedly. But I don't regret it. It was something that needed to be done - at least for me. 

ANTON ENUS:  You don't regret it. It was in no sense of - it is your brother, you betrayed him. Is there any sense of that?  

STEPHEN:  I do feel like I betrayed him to an extent if I had to be honest. 

ANTON ENUS:  Julie, is there a difference between the kind of sibling tension we are talking about and that sense of betrayal, compared to, say, a friendship betrayal?  

PROFESSOR JULIE FITNESS:  A sibling betrayal can be even more heard rending and hurtful because of the expectations we have about family. We are expected to unite and to demonstrate loyalty to our family when times are tough, for example, but for brothers and sisters particularly not to stand up for - to commit treason, if you like, to brothers and sisters - the research suggests that that's considered the worst thing, that you would betray your siblings to an outside enemy, if you like. 

ANTON ENUS:  Stephen, did you think your brother betrayed your family? 

STEPHEN:  I don't think he ever meant to hurt our family. I wouldn't call it a betrayal, because - you know what. As bad as what he did - even I am sitting here talking about him - I know that he loves me and I know that he will do anything for me. Which is why to an extent I really do kind of hope that he understands why I don't want to kind of be involved with him. 

ANTON ENUS:  Paul, you broke the rules as well, didn't you? We first met you when you appeared on our program about problem gambling. You gambled away almost a million dollars and to make it worse, it was your brother's money that you gambled away. He didn't speak to you for two years, but then you appeared on the program, and then what happened?  

PAUL FUNG:  I reunited with him a short time afterwards, because we hadn't seen each other for about two, two that have years, because basically it was an act of betrayal. I had the whole trust of himself and my family, with a large sum of money and I basically blew it all. It was a total act of betrayal and selfishness on my behalf. 

ANTON ENUS:  He contacted you. 

PAUL FUNG:  Yeah. He contacted me. I didn't know what to think. The retrospect was - OK, he is going to kill me or he wants to reconcile things and try to make this better. What was going through my mind of 100 miles an hour of what was going to happen. I didn't want to front up because of the fear what I to expect. I did it and it was the most beautiful moment I have had in my life. 

ANTON ENUS:  What did he say to you?  

PAUL FUNG:  He said, "I'm your brother and I love you", which we have never been on that emotional level. As siblings we never-never had has brotherly connection. It was a real touching moment to hear that. I still felt so bad for what I did, because I basically betrayed him and manipulated and did what I did for everybody, but for him to sort of say, "I forgive", was just - you know, giving me that rope again to continue on with what I wanted to do. 

ANTON ENUS:  Stephen, do you see a point in time when you will visit your brother in prison or reconcile in some way?  

STEPHEN:  My sister, who I am really, really close to, she is kind of more leaning towards reconciliation. She's very, very insistent. It seems odd, how cold I am to him, because I'm not like that with other people. I am actually very warm, forgiving, understanding of other people. It seems like with my brother, I kind of reserve that empathy. I have my best friend, who I call brother, and I would do anything for him and we grew upping to and we have been side by side, and - you know, if someone had to ask - would you take your friend or your brother, I would choose my friend every time without hesitation. A lot of people see that as kind of weird and bad. People have to understand that one was there my entire life and the other one wasn’t. 

ANTON ENUS:  Let's go back to Anthea and David, a completely different situation. Of course we heard earlier about your bickering as kids. Today you work together in a successful family business. You resolved your differences. How did you do that? 

DAVID HAMMON:  We had a conversation - we started working together and we realised Anthea is a mechanical engineer and I am an accountant economist and so we had quite a good complimentary skill set. Each one was quite good at what we did. We started to respect each other out of that. But then I had to have the emotional intelligence to one day sit with Anthea and we had a conversation where I just apologised for being such a silly jerk for a long time. That sort of freed us then of all that sort of baggage and everything else that we'd had, and that allowed us to then just have an adult relationship with each other, and just go on and - yeah, run our business successfully, yeah. 

ANTHEA HAMMON:   I think it was important to have the gap that we had, the 10-year gap where we didn't see very much of each other, because during that time we grew into adults and we became experts in our own fields and then when we came back together we could both look at each other and go, "Wow, you are good at what you do and I am OK at what I do", so let's make that work together. 

ANTON ENUS:  Julie, how important would you say genetics is in terms of sibling closeness?  

PROFESSOR JULIE FITNESS:  There are so many factors involved and every family is very different, but certainly there are dysfunctional families where people have decided, look, I will get the nurturing I need from good friends, not from family, and it might be that you might be estranged from your family forever, you might put ourselves outside the family, or you might be expelled by your family. That's another whole research area and we don't - we underestimate how common that is, how many people are estranged and estranged for many years, sometimes generations. 

ANTON ENUS:  Let's meet Ginger Van Handley. For 25 years Ginger you were the eldest sibling with five brothers and sisters and then suddenly you discovered that you actually had 10 siblings when you tracked down your sister Michelle, who is sitting next to you. How did that happen and - did you immediately relate as sisters? 

GINGER VAN HANDLEY:  Um. So, how it happened was I had decided that I wanted to find the siblings that I knew I had through my bio dad. I did that through social media. 

ANTON ENUS:  You decided to meet her, even though it kind of came out of the blue Michelle. Why did you decide to go ahead with that? 

MICHELLE FOSTER:  To meet up? Um, it happened probably about a week after Ginger found us. Yeah. We just - it was actually Ginger, she - we decided to get to know each other slowly through social media, text, phone calls, and then I basically got a text message saying, "OK. I can't wait any longer."  Let's do it. We met up a week later. Yeah. 

ANTON ENUS:  The day you met up... Was it clear that this was your sister?  

MICHELLE FOSTER: Absolutely. Took my daughter down to the train station to pick her up and she was out waiting out the front and it was just - yep. 

GINGER VAN HANDLEY:  It was pretty comfortable straight away. Yeah. 


GINGER VAN HANDLEY:  There are physical similarities, but there is a lot of - I think - the way we kind of view the world and maybe certain mannerisms, I don't know. Yeah. They are in common. 

ANTON ENUS:  How did it feel from - going from being the eldest of six to being the one right in the middle?  

GINGER VAN HANDLEY:  It was the best! I loved being the oldest, but I think - you want what you don't have. The idea of having an older sister that I could talk to about different things, and - an older brother. I was pretty special, the novelty value was pretty high. Still is. Still is. Yeah. 

ANTON ENUS:  Tom and Nick, we have heard this story about this kind of genetic connection that was being made. We heard from Stephen who said his best friend is more special to him now than his own brother. How does that square with your relationship. Do you have a closeness that is completely different from any other kind of relationship that you have?  

TOM INATEY:  I think so. We're not the kind of brothers that - we will call each other or text each other all the time and share news, what's going on, like we won't go out to the bars and clubs together and hang out. We can go months without talking - at least for my part, I don't feel like I need to be close to Nick for our relationship to be strong. I think it is just strong as it is. Like he was - Nick was there for me when I needed him the most in my life, and - I will always cherish that and love that. I don't think we need to be any closer than we already are. Nick might... 

NICK INATEY:  No, I - no, actually I agree with it. That Tom and I haven't lived in the same house since 2005, when I moved out to two to university, and things like that. There has all been - since that time, some element of distance. We don't live in the same city now, we went to universities in different places. 

ANTON ENUS:  And yet when you came out...  


ANTON ENUS:  He was the first person that you told?  

TOM INATEY:  He was, yeah. I felt at that stage - it is a very uncertain stage, you never know how people are going to react but I knew deep down Nick was going to be behind me the whole time and  I needed that ally, even though in the end I didn't. But I knew that he needed to be the first person. At least in our family - wasn't the first person I told in general, but when confronting the family about it, I needed him on my side. He was there. A hundred per cent. Always has been. 

NICK INATEY:  Yeah. To be really frank, I didn't care whether he was straight or gay!  It is what it is to me. 

ANTON ENUS:  As long as he can kick a football, right?  

NICK INATEY:  I gave up on that years ago!

ANTON ENUS:  Jen and Mel, what about you? How would you describe the kind of connection that happens between sisters? 

MELANIE COLWELL:  We are not the sort of sisters who - you know, go shopping and do coffee and - see each other three types a week and that sort of thing, but having said that, our bond is incredibly strong. Yeah, I don't think we need that relationship either. 

JEN PAULL:  I reckon we stuck together, we were there through thick and thin for each other, no matter what. So, yeah, I think that will last for a long time.

ANTON ENUS:  Shafeq, we know that your family went through terrible times to get here, to live in Australia.  


ANTON ENUS:  How would you describe the importance of that sibling connection?

SHAFEQ ALMAROOF: Actually, I was in Syria in the war zone, and as Iraqi refugees living there, it is very hard to find a job, actually you are not allowed to find a job. With my brother, we decide, okay guys, we need to survive. We need food and we try to compete each other to find - you know, small job and just try to support each other. When I came here to Australia, I see the differences when life is much easier than there. We don't need each other more, and - I see - it was still the same, still keep - like, support each other, because we feel like - we need each other to feel secure and safe. 

ANTON ENUS:  What is your vision for the future? What would you like to achieve. What is your future life going to be like? 

SHAFEQ ALMAROOF: We have a dream. And live in the same lots, like our - next to each other, because we still feel like we need that secure and safe - together. Yeah, we try to achieve that. 

ANTON ENUS:  OK. We will thank everybody for here with us tonight. Let's keep talking on social media, on Twitter and Facebook.