I sometimes think about the fact that one day my partner and I will be gone, but my children will have each other. As their mother, I want to help them form close and lasting relationships with one another. I want them to encourage, trust, support, and enjoy one another as they get older. All siblings will argue and irritate each other from time to time. I think it comes with the territory of being siblings and living together. However, I want to help my boys learn how to work through those conflicts and develop their friendship over time.
It is not lost on me that as their parent, I have the opportunity and responsibility to create spaces in which my children can learn how to be in a relationship with one another. Our home can be a place where they learn how to love, respect, and treat each other.
I don’t think I'm the only parent who hopes my children form strong relationships with their siblings. I think you might hope for that too, which is why you clicked on this article. I've done some initial groundwork to get you and I started by putting together a list of ways you can help your children bond with their siblings and develop healthy long-lasting relationships.
Help your children learn how to identify feelings and express them in healthy ways. Children who understand how they feel and how to express those emotions are better able to work through conflict and communicate with their siblings. Feeling Charades is a fun and simple activity that helps individuals build these skills.Feeling Charades
- Each player writes down three emotions on strips of paper (one emotion per piece of paper). Place the pieces of paper in a bowl or basket.
- Take turns having each player select a strip of paper from the cup and act out that feeling for their team to guess.
- If the team guesses correctly they receive a point.
- The first team to get 10 points wins.
2. Teach Conflict Resolution
It is a normal part of life for children to experience conflict with their siblings. Although sometimes it may feel like your children are always at each other's throats and on your last nerve. It's okay, you can say it out loud, I won't judge you. Your kids are going to fight with each other. The key is that you want them to learn how to work through conflict in a respectful and healthy way.
You can do this by helping your children learn to actively listen. Many times when someone is telling us something, we are just listening with the intent to respond, whether that is to give our opinion, advice, or rebuttal. Active listening is when we seek to hear and truly understand what the other person is communicating.
Another skill that helps conflict resolution is being able to calm yourself down. Children will learn by seeing you model how to calm down. For example, when you feel yourself getting angry, you could say “I’m feeling angry, so I’m going to take some deep belly breaths to calm myself.” Let your child see when you need to take a moment before responding to them or a stressful situation. Next, help your children identify specific ways to calm themselves when they get upset.
Below are some ideas to start the brainstorming session.
- Belly Breathing Technique
- Remove themselves from the situation to have some alone time in their room or another part of the home.
- Go for a walk
- Listen to music
You can also get involved in the conflict to assist your children in working through the argument. Help each child express their emotions and thoughts, seek to understand each others' points of view, and then agree on a resolution.
Another approach to try is empowering your children to handle a conflict themselves. You can tell them that you trust they can resolve their issues, because they are both smart and capable. If they continue to struggle with the conflict, you could ask them to each identify a solution. Then ask the other child if that solution would work for them. For example, you might say “Lucas, what do you think we could do?” “Nathan, does that seem like it would work for you?” Help them talk through possible solutions until they reach middle ground.
Siblings need a coach, not a referee because you are all on the same team.
3. Form Family Traditions
Creating traditions together helps to strengthen family identity. A strong family identity helps develop a sense of belonging between family members. When children believe and feel as though they belong to the family, they are more likely to be connected to their siblings.
Belonging also helps children develop a sense of security. When a child feels securely attached to their family, there is less need to compete with siblings for attention and love. Involve each household member in brainstorming new traditions that are important to them and everyone will enjoy.
Family Tradition Ideas
- Baking together around the holidays
- Annual camping trip
- Monthly game nights
- Read bedtime stories
- Annual talent show
- Set up small containers for each family member, where you can leave them little encouraging notes
- Volunteer together once a month
- Saturday morning walks
- Annual local festival
- Breakfast for dinner on Sunday nights
When a child feels securely attached to their family, there is less need to compete with siblings for attention and love.
4. Foster Taking Turns
Learning to take turns with others is typically an easier concept to understand than sharing because a child can see that it is reciprocal. Forcing a child to share can also backfire because a child isn’t necessarily learning to be generous. Instead, they may become resentful, only share to placate their parents, learn that they can take toys from other kids whenever they want them, and have more meltdowns.
We also want to create safe spaces for a child’s special possessions. It is okay for a child to have special items that they do not want to share with their siblings. Help them understand that they need to put those items away on a certain shelf, in their room, or a specific box instead of leaving them in the family common space. Then teach their siblings to respect that boundary.
Your children won’t learn these things overnight. Developing skills like taking turns will take time and repetition. Sometimes it feels like I have gone over the lesson of taking turns with my children until I’m blue in the face. I have to remind myself that a lot of parenting is consistently planting seeds and watering them for quite some time before I’ll see the resulting growth. I guess that’s why they say patience is a virtue.
Here are some ways you can help your children learn to take turns:
- Board Games
- Cook together and assign roles
- Throwing or kicking a ball back and forth
- Use a sand timer or a timer on your phone that has a visual count during activities. It helps young children if they can see exactly how long they have to wait, because time and numbers may feel arbitrary to them.
Forcing a child to share can also backfire because a child isn’t necessarily learning to be generous.
5. Create Individual Spaces for Each Child
Provide a place for each child to go when they need some space and alone time. This could be their room or a reading corner. Wherever it is, teach the other children not to bother them while they are having their quiet time.
When a child feels overwhelmed by their sibling and unable to take a break, it leads to constant conflict and frustration. You can help prevent these conflicts or diffuse them by encouraging alone time.
6. Teach and Protect Boundaries
Teach your children how to set boundaries and how to respect their siblings’ boundaries. This means protecting each child’s personal belongings, their physical space, as well as emotional space.
You can teach boundaries by establishing that it is okay for children to say no and that their siblings should honor each others' "no". Teach your young children that their body belongs to them, and on the flip side they have to ask their siblings before hugging or touching them.
Another important boundary skill is self-advocacy. Give your child the words to say when someone is doing something they do not like. (E.g. "Stop please." "I don't like that." "I'll let you play with it when I'm done." I could write a whole article about teaching children how to set healthy boundaries, so stayed tuned for that.
It is healthy for a child to learn to say "no". Later on in life, we want them to be able to stand up for themself, in a workplace, for example.
7. Avoid Comparison
Comparing your children to one another can foster resentment and sibling rivalry. Even if you as the parent think the comparisons are harmless, such as “you’re the outgoing one and your brother is the quiet one” these statements can have negative consequences.
Comparing your children can impact the way you view them, how they view themselves, their academic performance, and how they interact with others.
When my second child was born, I found myself comparing his development to that of his brothers. He is interacting sooner with us than his brother did. He is eating a lot more than his brother did at this age. While this might seem innocent enough, I’m already evaluating his strengths, weaknesses, and overall development using his brother as the baseline. If I continue down this path, my younger son will learn from a young age that his older brother is who he should strive to be, because I will have sent messages that I compare his skills and progress to that of his brother’s.
8. Call Out the Positives
We can get in the habit as parents of mainly addressing negative behaviors and don’t always acknowledge positive behaviors. When you see your children treating each other with kindness and respect, celebrate it. Ideally, you want to make at least as big a deal when your kids do something right versus when they do something wrong.
I find myself getting stuck in this cycle with my toddler from time to time, and have to work to make sure I’m calling out the positive behaviors I see. I get so used to correcting his behavior, that I forget to tell him when he is doing something helpful or kind.
9. Invest in the Parent-Child Relationship
Spend intentional one-on-one time with each of your children. When your child feels connected to you and safe in your relationship, there is not a need to constantly compete with siblings for your attention. This gets harder when you have more children, so you will have to get creative in how you organize your time. You might have to get help from another family member, so that you can have actual alone time with each child.
- Go for a walk
- Read a book
- Get snow cones
- Play video games
- Have a tea party
- Go to a basketball, soccer, or baseball game
- Play music
- Go to the park
- Do your child’s favorite activity together
When your child feels connected to you and safe in your relationship, there is not a need to constantly compete with siblings for your attention.
10. Encourage Siblings to Cheer Each Other On
It is impactful for children to feel supported by their siblings. It can boost a child’s self-esteem and strengthen their sibling bond. Encourage your children to support each other in their interests. You can do this by taking your children to see each other’s games, concerts, or performances and cheering on the participating child.
Be mindful that each child is allowed to cultivate their own interests and activities without dominating family time. You want siblings to support each other at their activities, but no child is going to want to go to their siblings baseball tournaments or dance competitions two weekends a month all year.
11. Identify and Intervene in Negative Patterns
Look at your children’s behaviors as communication strategies, and think through the following questions.
- What are they trying to communicate?
- What do they need?
- How might they be feeling?
- Are they trying to connect?
Maybe one child takes a toy from their older sibling because they want their brother’s attention. When you notice repeated conflict popping up, look for what your children might be trying to communicate. Help them find words to communicate their need, want, or emotion in a positive way so they can be more successful.
12. Engage in Fun Family Activities
Involve your children in planning fun activities you can do together as a family. These could turn into traditions in the long run or they can just be fun things you do from time to time. The key is to spend time together as a family that is fun for everyone. It also creates more buy-in from your children when they help with the decision-making and planning.
- Library Outing
- Picnic at the Park
- Campout in the Living Room
- Movie Night
- Dance Party
As your children get older, encourage them to spend time together without you. Below are some ideas you could throw out there as suggestions.
- Cook a meal
- Work out (swimming, running, hiking, rock climbing, playing basketball/tennis/sand volleyball, go to the batting cages)
- Attend a game or concert
- Play music together
13. Model Healthy Communication
Your children will learn communication skills by watching you communicate and interact with others. If you don’t speak respectfully to your child or your partner, you can’t really expect your children to speak respectfully to one another.
One good communication skill to use is an I feel statement. When you are handling a conflict try to use the phrase “I feel…” instead of “you always…” or “you never…”. This helps you take ownership of your own feelings and also steers you away from blaming the other person or focusing on their behavior.
14. Protect Family Time
Spending quality time together as a family can get more difficult as your children get older and they spend more time with friends and develop interests outside of the home. You have to be intentional about planning time to be together as a family. Plan activities that you can all enjoy doing together.
There are times it feels like we are all just trying to make it from one day to the next or really from just bath time to bedtime. I have to make sure I seek out intentional moments with each of my children as well as my partner in order to reconnect with them.
15. Establish Family Rules
As your children get older you can involve them in brainstorming and discussing family rules regarding how you treat each other that everyone in the household follows. As the parent, it is especially important to try to model how to follow those rules and also hold each child accountable to those rules.
If Respect Each Other and Be Kind are your two family rules, you could use the following prompts when talking to your children.
- What does being respectful mean?
- What does respect look like?
- How would you know if your brother respects you?
- What can the rest of the family do to treat you with respect?
- What does it look like to not be respectful?
- Tell me what it means to be kind.
- What are ways you can be kind to your sister and dad?
- How can we be kind to you?
You don’t need to do all these things perfectly for your children to have loving and strong relationships with their siblings. What matters the most is that your children know that you love and support each of them and that you model for them how to handle conflicts and be accountable when you make mistakes.
At Ellie and Becca, we make nursing dresses that are a lot like you, beautiful, strong, and adaptable. Mama, your children are lucky to have you in their corner helping them build lifelong friendships with their siblings. You got this!