Sibling strife… well, it’s perfectly normal. You will notice that your kids’ relationships will ebb and flow from togetherness to staunch opposition across time and developmental levels. Nonetheless, there are some basic principles to support healthy sibling relationships:
- Siblings fight! Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean they won’t grow up to be close. Understand that changes in ‘getting along’ will occur in the context of each sibling’s age, seeking his own individuality as well as learning to cope
- Support Individuality. Each child will have her own interests and strengths; Support individuality and diversity of interests and avoid comparinge. “Your sister has neater handwriting than you” or “why can’t you be more cooperative, like your brother”
- Set Up Opportunities To Have Your Kids Work As A “Team”. You can start by creating games where the kids are “Team ___” i.e. doing a collage together, or creating art together or even doing chores together
- Support Sibling Communication. It is helpful to strengthen non-verbal cues. Often siblings will talk to one another without looking or seeing if their sibling is really on the same page. Specifically, parents can facilitate by slowing down, making statements like “I wonder if your sister noticed what your were doing/heard you/understands your idea?”. Prepare each of them that their sibling may not like their idea… “Why don’t you tell your brother your idea, I’m not sure if will want to do it or not…”
- Emotions Games! I particularly like “Emotions Bingo”. Families can play as a team with the large poster of faces to see when they can get 5 in a row. Each time a person gets an emotion card, each family member talks about a time they felt that emotion. This builds emotional vocabulary and gives practice talking about an array of emotional experiences.
- Teach Specific Strategies For Problem Solving. It is particularly helpful to model that it is perfectly ok when siblings “have different ideas”. Facilitate a variety of strategies to manage it… combine ideas, take turns, try to think about what your brother likes and come up with a new solution, try to persuade your sister, pick something else and come back later. When siblings have better ways of communicating and coping with differences, they become more tolerant and more communicative around different ideas.
The best thing we can do is support our children in building healthy sibling relationships is to express a wide array of their emotions with each other, problem solve together and model these strategies in our everyday interactions with them.
Originally published in Maui Family Magazine.