Do your children have a good sibling relationship? Or are they more likely to fight than enjoy each other’s company?
Whatever siblings’ age differences, personality traits, or gender, the fact is that the quality of their sibling bonds can matter a great deal. Research has shown that sibling relationships often play a major role in how we will interact in other relationships with friends, romantic partners, and others later in life.
Parents can play a key role in helping nurture a good sibling relationship and reduce sibling rivalry and conflict. By encouraging activities that foster teamwork, setting kids up to have fun together, and giving kids the tools to work out conflicts in a constructive and respectful manner, parents can help siblings develop a good relationship that will carry them through the rest of their lives. Here’s how.
- Do not compare your children to each other. First and foremost, try not to say things like, “Why can’t you listen as well as your brother does?” or “Your sister doesn’t talk back to me.” Comparing your children to each other is a sure-fire way to stoke the fires of sibling rivalry and build resentment.
- Try to suss out what’s behind the sibling conflicts. Do your kids tend to squabble when one is trying to get the other’s attention? Are they competing for your time and attention? Do they fight more when they are tired or bored? Once you see a pattern that might explain this behavior, try to address those issues to minimize sibling squabbles. For instance, you can try spending one-on-one time with each child or try to help your child find better, non-antagonizing ways to get a sibling’s attention.
- Teach them to appreciate their differences. Do you have one child who loves to sit and read quietly and another who likes nothing better than loud games and constant activities? When children have very different interests and temperaments, conflicts can naturally occur.
The important thing is to teach kids how to respect those differences, and how to keep an eye on what’s really important: Loving each other. So if one child wants to choose a family activity that incorporates a lot of action while another child wants to do something quiet and low-key, for example, parents can set up a system where they can work together to plan how to take turns or find other common interests that can be fun for both siblings.
- Have them work on chores or a project as a team. One of the ways companies build a sense of teamwork and cooperation among their staff is by having employees engage in exercises and activities that encourage working together. Parents can do something similar with their children, either by having kids work together on a project or by assisting each other with chores.
Come up with a project, such as painting a spare room or cleaning out the garage, and have kids work together to get it done. You can also have kids take on chores that are best for their age and abilities, such as sweeping or helping prepare dinner, and have them race against the grownups in the house to see who gets their chores done faster. (Making the kids one team and the grownups another can encourage kids to work together toward a common goal -- beating mom and dad.)
- Encourage good listening skills. The ability to really listen to what someone is saying is an important skill for kids to develop, and one that helps them learn to empathize with others and see things from someone else’s point of view. Make it a point to have siblings listen and try really hard to understand each other’s opinions and thoughts.
- Teach them to respect each other. Listening is one way to show respect for each other, and respect is essential to building good relationships, whether it’s between friends, partners, or siblings. Remind kids that they should treat others the way they want to be treated, with kindness and concern for their feelings. Respect can include talking to each other using a nice or at least not unpleasant tone of voice, even when disagreeing; not putting down a sibling’s opinions; and being mindful of someone else’s space and belongings (not going into a sibling’s room without permission or touching their things, for instance).
- Show them how to disagree respectfully. People who love each other can disagree sometimes -- that’s just a fact of life. But it’s how we handle those disagreements that matter. Teach your children that they may not always see eye to eye on things, but that they must not call each other names, let arguments affect their positive interactions, and most of all, engage in physical fighting.
- Have fun together as a family. Families who have fun together will be less likely to have conflict. Try to choose games and activities that can be enjoyed by the whole family, such as riding bikes or watching a great new movie for kids.
- Emphasize what family bonds really mean. Explain to your children and remind them periodically that family, and especially siblings, can be the kind of unshakable love and support that cannot easily be matched. Remind your children that while they may often prefer the company of friends over a brother or sister now, they will become more important to each other as they grow up. While they may not completely understand the importance of sibling relationships yet, this is a message that is worth repeating, and one that they will eventually grow to realize as they get older.