Sibling relationships are one of the most important and long lasting relationships your children will have. What a gift! They vary according to ages of the siblings, the “gap” in ages, the individual developmental and temperament profiles of the kids as well as family culture and larger ethnic culture.
There are, however, some key areas you can focus on to support the relationship of your children.
- Support the individuality of each child. This creates the platform for celebrating your kids’ individual differences! Let them know you expect them to have different ideas and support them equally. This is particularly important later for dealing with siblings wanting to have whatever the other sibling has; they will learn that they are equal but not the same.
- Facilitate communication and problem solving (rather than doing it for them). Support your children stopping, verbalizing their ideas, their emotions, watching the other sibling response and negotiating around how each other feels. Give your kids the experience of sitting in the ‘puddle’ of discomfort when they don’t agree and allow it- they will learn that they move toward their goal faster if they come up with solutions together.
- Let your kids know verbalizing a full range of emotions is acceptable. Positively reinforce the verbal expression of emotion (even if it is heated). Words are far better than pushing, door slamming, taking items out of each other’s hands/rooms, leaving, etc.
- Help your kids learn how to negotiate by offering something that makes it a win-win for them and their sibling. If they want to ‘go first’ this time then have that child problem solve what their sibling can get in return. This puts the focus on each child knowing what is important to the other and problem-solving with the other’s feelings in mind.
- Celebrate in your kids’ individual talents! This is important for each child to feel competent & confident without having to ‘measure up’ to the other. One sibling may be an athlete and the other may be good at story telling or, one child may get homework done fast and the other may be detail oriented and thorough. One sibling may have many social friends and the other may prefer one on one experience with a chosen friend.
A resource: Siblings Without Rivalry; How To Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber & Eileen Mazlish.
Originally published in Maui Family Magazine.