If you have more than one child, sibling rivalry may be inevitable, but there’s a lot you can do to reduce conflicts and help your children build healthy relationships.
Fostering Good Sibling Relationships from the Start
If you’re expecting to add a new baby to the family, you can start working on positive sibling relationships even before the baby’s arrival. Learn more about what you can do before and after your baby’s arrival in our previous blog post, Preparing Older Siblings for a New Baby.
Try Not to Compare
Each of your children are different and special in their own way and have their own strengths and weaknesses. One child may be more responsible and keep their clean room while another is messy. One may be higher strung while the other is easy going. While it may be tempting to remark on those differences, kids can be sensitive to comparisons and can feel you love one child more than the other. Let each know what makes them special without comparing them to their siblings.
Don’t Take Sides
When your children get in an argument, try not to jump to one child’s defense or intervene to punish or blame. Instead, give your children a chance to work things out on their own. However, always intervene if you sense the fight is about to get physical or violent.
If you see your kids need help, try first to break down the situation by describing what you see. Help them to identify their feelings and to help them figure out a solution.
For example, if your children began fighting over some toys, come sit with them. You might say, “Drew was playing with the cars. Sam came over and took the blue truck. Drew didn’t like having the truck taken away so Drew grabbed it back. Sam started crying because he wanted the truck too and felt so sad and angry he began kicking the toys.” Give your kids a chance to think about what happened and see if they can work out a solution. If they can’t seem to work one out, try making a suggestion.
Recognize Good Behavior and Kind Acts
When your children play nicely or do kind things for one another, make sure to let them know you appreciate their behavior. You’ll always get better results by complimenting and rewarding the behavior you like to see than when calling out bad behavior.
Be Fair and Consistent to Prevent Sibling Rivalry
Depending on your kids age, you may be hearing “that’s not fair” more often than not. Keeping things “fair” can be simple for some things. For example, if a child asks for an ice cream treat after school, it’s easy to keep things fair by letting all your children have a treat.
However, it is impossible to be completely fair at all times. Your kids have different personalities and you will find you have to adjust your parenting based on their individual needs.
Age will also affect how you parent your children, and when you can’t be fair, it helps to be consistent. Older siblings will naturally have more privileges and more responsibilities than their younger siblings. It’s important to explain these differences to your kids and to be consistent as younger siblings get older. For example, if your oldest kid got to have their first sleepover at age 8, you can explain to younger siblings they must wait until they are 8 years old as well.
Hold Regular Family Meetings
One way to create open communication and help your children share their feelings and needs is to hold regular family meetings. Act as the discussion leader and set some ground rules, like allowing each person to speak uninterrupted or without criticism.
It’s helpful to start the meeting by acknowledging each child’s accomplishments or positive acts or efforts, such as acknowledging good listening during a store trip or a kind act to one another.
Let each person talk about their thoughts, feelings, goals, or needs. You also can talk about what is working or not working as a family and brainstorm solutions together. You may be surprised what creative solutions your children come up with, and they are more likely to stick with it if its an idea they came up with.