Siblings are the best friends, helpers, and advisors of everyone’s life. In childhood, there can be some quarrels with each other. What if these quarrels occur frequently? This might make you feel despairing — after all, if they fight six times a day, how can you help them create positive interactions? Why not simply adopt the goal of helping your children have as many positive interactions as you can?
- Notice and promote the activities that get your children playing together. Research on improving sibling relationships shows that children have better relationships when they share activities that they both enjoy. It can be tough to identify those activities, especially if there’s an age or interest gap. But if you pay attention, you can usually suggest something that will interest both children. For instance, if she wants to play store, and he wants to play an astronaut, why not have a store on the moon? Or maybe both enjoy the play kitchen, or doing art together, or making forts. Try to encourage at least one shared activity every day.
- Don’t interrupt happy play. You probably remember the old adage: “Never wake a sleeping baby.” My corollary is “Don’t interrupt a happily playing child.” So when siblings are playing together well, don’t take it for granted. Support them in whatever they need to keep playing, and don’t interrupt unless it’s unavoidable.
- Start “special time” for your children. Designate a daily ten-minute block of time for two children to spend together. This is especially helpful if your children are widely spaced in age, or one is less interested in playing together than the other one because it structures time together into the regular routine and maintains the connection.
- Include in your bedtime routine a chance for your children to always say “goodnight” and “I love you” to each other. Some families also have the older child read to the younger one before bed, which is a lovely opportunity for bonding.
- Instead of pitting your children against each other, find ongoing ways to unite them in the same mission. “Can you work together so you’re both ready to leave the house at 8 a.m.? That will give us time to go the long way to school, so we can see the bulldozers at the construction site again. Yes? What a team!”
- Promote the idea of the sibling team by creating family activities in which your children work together. For instance, give them a huge sheet of paper to draw on together. Ask them to write a letter to grandma together. Design a scavenger hunt where the kids help each other, rather than compete against each other. When you roughhouse, always team children against grownups.
- Put your kids in charge of a project together. For instance, maybe they’ll wash the car together to earn the money you would have spent at the car wash. Or maybe they’re in charge of the decorations for Father’s Day or planning a fun family outing. Let the children work together to do the planning, with you only peripherally involved to ensure safety and maximum fun.
- Start a family kindness journal. Tie sheets of paper together with a ribbon, or just add sheets of paper to a binder. Label it “Our Family Kindness Journal,” and let the kids decorate it. You might begin with a quote about kindness, such as the Dalai Lama’s: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Then, notice acts of kindness between your children, and write them in the journal, with the date.
“Brody helped Katelyn with her fort when it kept falling down.”
“Carlos shared the cookie he brought home from school with Michael.”
As you talk about the incident, celebrate that kindness has a way of warming the hearts of both people — the giver and the receiver. Soon, your children will be noticing the small kindnesses between them and asking you to record them. Before you know it, they’ll be inspired to more acts of kindness toward each other.
- Help kids work out problems without making anyone wrong. Conflict is part of every human relationship, and children are still learning how to manage their strong emotions. So you can expect your children to fight with each other. Our job as parents is to resist taking sides, which increases sibling rivalry. Instead, teach kids healthy conflict-resolution skills, like listening, expressing their own needs without attacking the other person, and looking for win-win solutions.
And of course, the most important factor in helping your children get along is for you to forge a strong relationship with each child. When each child knows in his bones that no matter what his sibling gets, there is more than enough for him, sibling love has a chance to bloom. There is always more love.