Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Siblings (Youth)

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite—derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth—or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Description: A sibling relationship is where two individuals are raised in the same family unit. Many factors can shape this relationship, including the age between the two, home life and environment, parenting, personality traits, intelligence and maturity levels, health and physicality, opportunities for growth and other individual formative experiences (good and bad) and more. The sibling relationship also evolves (or devolves) with age and time. In this case, we’re looking at a sibling relationship between younger children.

Relationship Dynamics:
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.

Loyalty to one another (putting the family bond first)
Caring about the sibling’s happiness and trying to do things to lift them up (small gifts, sharing toys or treats, doing what they want to do, letting the other choose)
Playing together (games, make believe, building things)
Spending time together (talking, being in the same room but doing different things, etc.)
Sharing interests or joining the same clubs, activities, or leagues
Asking for help or an opinion
Talking about things that happened that day, good and bad
Giving advice or offering ideas when they other is struggling
Including the sibling when playing with friends
Sticking up for the sibling
Wanting to do the same things as the sibling
Having no secrets
Agreeing to cover up for the other to keep them out of trouble
Telling the sibling when they are good at something
Asking to borrow something
Refusing to lend something (out of spite or payback for a slight)
Taking things and lying about it
Tattling to get the sibling in trouble
Lying to parents so the sibling gets in trouble
Excluding a brother or sister when with friends
Encouraging friends to be rude or mean to a sibling when angry
Doing things to trigger the sibling’s fears and thinking it’s funny
Breaking promises
Hiding things so they don’t have to be shared with a brother or sister
Setting the other up so they get caught doing something they shouldn’t
Breaking things that belong to the sibling
Physical altercations
“Reminding” parents or caregivers of rules or limitations that apply to the sibling
Invading the other’s privacy
Extorting a brother or sister to not tell on them

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
A need for privacy when the siblings share a room
A sibling who likes to be alone who has a brother or sister who wants to do everything together
One child having a guilty conscience so they struggle to keep their sibling’s secrets from parents or teachers
Sibling rivalry and birth order struggles (one has more freedom than the other, high parental expectations despite the age gap, etc.)
Wanting to do something alone (a sport, to go on a sleepover) or have something special when the sibling (or parents) want to see everything shared or done together
Both wanting the same thing when only one can have it
Wanting to be loyal to a sibling but also wanting parental approval

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Trusting and manipulative, adventurous and timid, inhibited and rebellious, introverted and extroverted, mature and irresponsible

Negative Outcomes of Friction
Arguments and fights
Revealing secrets in anger and losing the other’s trust
Parents who take sides, creating distrust and a sense of inequity between siblings
Siblings that are split up because of a divorce
Taking a fight too far and injuring the other
Being punished or limited (grounded) by parents because the sibling tattled

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Having parents or guardians who are neglectful or abusive
A close proximity to danger
A mutual enemy (a bully, a third sibling, a neighbor’s kid, etc.)
A shared mistake that must be covered up
Needing help or protection
Having a mutual goal
When good behavior leads to rewards
If passing on knowledge is important (one teaching the other)

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Healthy sibling relationships teach children about trust which will help them form bonds moving forward
Children who have a sibling will learn how to get along with others and work through problems
The value of privacy and understanding the difference between self and others will give children the formative knowledge they need to set boundaries
This relationship allows each to explore emotions safely because sibling transgressions and hurt feelings are more easily forgiven
Differences between siblings, especially in the case where one is experiencing a hardship the other does not, helps empathy develop
A less-than-ideal sibling relationship can help an individual develop emotional armor early which will help protect them from life’s hurts (a double-edged sword as this often means an unresolved wound)

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Alienation, A Quest for Knowledge, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Family, Freedom, Friendship, Hope, Innocence, Instability, Isolation, Journeys, Love, Obstacles, Passage of Time, Rebellion, Rite of Passage, Sacrifice, Teamwork, Unity

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.

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Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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