Tips to Encourage Sibling Relationships

Sweet Little Boy Kisses His Baby Sister in a Rustic Ranch Setting at the Pumpkin Patch.

So often when I write about siblings, it’s about how to best manage the bickering and the fighting or how to get them to stop grabbing toys from each other. Happily, this post is about ways to encourage their relationships!

  • Teach social skills in general – If your children have difficulty taking turns or grabbing toys from each other, avoid putting pressure on their individual relationship by saying things like, “you need to take turns with your brother.” Rather teach them about turn taking in general and let the skill trickle down to their relationship. Keep your language on the behavior, “when you want a turn, you need to ask first.” For creative ways to teach social skill, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2014/08/15/12-ways-to-coach-good-behaviors/.
  • Encourage listening to others – If your children have difficulty listening to each other, it can be helpful to reinforce their words to each other. This would be saying “did you hear her?  She said, ‘stop that!’ What does that mean to you.” or, “I heard him say that he doesn’t like being poked. That means you should stop.” For creative ways to teach listening, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/02/18/teach-them-to-listen/.
  • Coach positive ways to handle conflicts – When there is a conflict, help children to brainstorm solutions and weigh their options.  Teach them to empathize with the other.
  • Find low pressure activities they can share – If they enjoy working on puzzles together, doings arts and crafts or kicking a ball back and forth, encourage it often.
  • Plan for time together and time apart – It’s fine to give them breaks from each other as well.  It can be helpful for kids to have time during the day that they can play alone in their rooms, or have an activity that doesn’t have to be shared.
  • Allow sleepovers – We allow sleepovers as often as they’d like.  When the girls moved from toddler beds to big kids beds, we got them each a trundle so they could easily have sleepovers with each other.
  • Encourage them to help each other and highlight when they do – In my family, we talk often about helping each other. It became a given that when someone asks for help, you help as much as you can. We highlight and appreciate when family members are helpful.
  • Avoid pitting them in competition – I am a firm believer in teaching kids to manage competition, and am fine with siblings playing board games and backyard sports.  Bigger sports competition should be with peers. Also avoid daily doses of competition such as, “let’s see who can get dressed first. Ready, go!” Rather, pit them in a cooperative effort, “let’s see if you can help each other get dressed before me.”
  • Offer cooperative efforts – This can be cooking together or building pillow forts. There are cooperative effort board games like Snails Pace Race or Colorama. There are a few good idea books titled Everybody Wins by MacGregor and Cooperative Games and Sports by Orlick.
  • Have at least one joint chore – Cooperative efforts carry over to chores as well. Across ages, it can be helpful to for children to share responsibilities. For young children, this can be helping with pet care. For older children, this can be cleaning a shared bathroom weekly.
  • Avoid comparisions – Avoid direct comparisons, “why can’t you be more like your sister?” and indirect, “your sister is always on time!” Comparisons are a seed of sibling rivalry. For other hints about rivalry, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2014/05/15/a-few-hints-to-avoid-sibling-rivalry/. There’s also a great parenting book titled Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.
  • Discipline individually – As best you can, avoid discipline for one child spilling over onto siblings. If one child is throwing sand at the playground say, “if you throw sand, you will have to come out of the sandbox,” rather than, “if you throw sand, we are all going home.”
  • Praise individually – Avoid praising one child to curb their sibling’s behavior. Don’t say, “look how neatly your brother keeps his room!” rather say, “your room is a mess. Go clean it please.”
  • Make a sibling photo album – It’s nice for kids to have their own photo albums as well as a shared sibling album. This one is tough as it’s hard enough to keep family photos organized, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Tell stories about their good times – It can be helpful to remind them of their good times often. We tell a lot of stories about how Alicen welcomed Claire home from the hospital, and funny stories from when they were in preschool and early grade school.
  • Model and speak positively about your own sibling relationships – When you speak about your own siblings, either growing up together or getting along now, you are modeling how to speak and feel about siblings. Yes, some conflict is normal in life, and it’s fine to share but avoid being negative, name calling and complaining.
  • Use positive discipline – Positive discipline models giving empathy and positive intent to others. It gives children examples of how to best work through conflicts. To read more about positive discipline, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/?s=steps. You can also listen to our online audio workshops at http://parentingplaygroups.com/MemberResources/index.php/welcome/.
Join me for an in-depth discussion of Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry on Sept. 9 from 7:00-9:00pm. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.

A Few Hints to Avoid Sibling Rivalry

Two little boys and father planting seedlings in vegetable garde

While these may seem like small points, using comparisons and labels and praise between siblings can cause bad feelings.

Comparisons can be direct like, “why can’t you be more like your sister?” or indirect, “look how neatly your brother keeps his room!” or, “your sister was on time, but we are always waiting on you.” Any negative comparison makes the child feel badly, and overtime it builds resentment towards the other sibling. If you need to encourage a behavior, the better approach is to state it directly such as, “go clean your room,” or, “I need you to be on time.”

Labels assign children roles. This can be as simple as, “this is our big boy, and this is our baby.” Big boy implies responsibility, baby implies none. The baby label can be problematic on it’s own if used long past the point of the child being a baby. A seven-year-old with the baby label may expect to do less in the way of chores or academics because the thinking is, ‘I’m a baby.’

Labels can also be bigger such as, “this is our student, and this is our athlete.”  What you just said to the first is, “you’re not so coordinated,” and to the second, “you’re not so smart.” It’s better to avoid the labels and open wider opportunities to each. Get your student signed up for something athletic, and get your athlete a tutor.

Praise should be given individually. This means avoid giving one child praise to curb their sibling’s behavior. You want to avoid saying, “wow Johny, look how neatly you keep your room,” and then glaring at his sister. It is fine to praise Johny for his clean room, but your intent should be clean. You should be praising him for what you noticed, NOT to curb his sister. If you need the sister to clean her room, just say it directly to her. When you give praise in a relative way, it is negative for both. Obviously it’s not good to be the one that got knocked, but it’s still not good to be the one that got praised in spite of sibling. There is a need to stay on top, to keep others down which is a seed of sibling rivalry.

To learn more about sibling relationships, managing competition between siblings and the effects of birth order, attend my Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry workshop in the evening on May 22.  For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.

Between Siblings: Fair Is Not Equal

Between siblings: Fair is not equal, fair is everyone has their needs met.

It is okay for your discipline to be different for your three-year-old and your six-year-old for the same behavior. You might have a different expectation for your daughter and your son around a particular behavior. You might have to coach one child more to build specific social skills relative to their sibling and that’s okay. You are raising individual children who likely have very different personalities and paths of development. While I think it’s fine to have all of these differences, your children may complain that, “that’s not fair!” As a parent, I hope you can let go of defining fair as equal.

  • With things – Say you are scooping ice cream into bowls and the youngest one says, “she has more than me!” pointing at her older sister’s bowl. She is comparing and complaining about something relative to her sister. The idea is to answer her in a non-relative way. Push the other bowls aside and gently bring her attention to her bowl saying, “this is your bowl. Do you have enough?” She can then answer yes or no, and you’ll have to deal with that, but you are taking it off the sister’s bowl. If she says, “yes,” you can move on. If she says, “no,” you can let her know that’s what is available, or you can give her more just not relative to her sister’s. If you start to dole out slivers of ice cream in an effort to make it equal, you are putting yourself on a path to endlessly measure out amounts.
  • With time – I remember a Sunday afternoon when Alicen and I spent four undivided hours working together on her Jamestown Island project for school. She was eight years old, and her five year old sister spent the afternoon milling around the house and bored. Following that, I didn’t put pressure on myself to give Claire an equal four undivided hours. I had faith that Claire would have a similar project in the future. Overtime, if things really do seem unbalanced then address it.
  • With love – When a child asks, “who do you love best?” Answer them individually by saying, “I love you because…” and then tell them why you love them. Answer them individually, not relative to their sibling.

If you’d like to learn more, please visit our online workshops at www.parentingbydrrene.com. Related workshops include Birth Order, Managing Competition, Sibling Rivalry and Proactive Discipline.

There is also a great parenting book that fully covers this titled Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.

Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

Two Families Sitting Outside House

First, your own sibling relationships help shape your expectations for how your children might get along. My brother and I got along great growing up. We played together when we were little and hung out fairly often through college. I expect my girls to get along. When they do play and hang out, I count that as it should be. My husband and his siblings didn’t get along so well. His older brother and he fought often and never felt close. His younger sister and he bickered often. When he sees the girls getting along, he is still surprised. He thinks it’s just short of miraculous they enjoy each others’ company.

Second, how you speak to and about your grown siblings models to your children how to speak to and about siblings. Read that again if you need to. When your children are within earshot, speak about your siblings in the nicest way possible. It’s great if it’s honest, and it’s okay if it’s a stretch, or just avoid saying negative things so openly. I speak very openly about growing up with my brother, how much fun we had on family vacations and how it was great to be at the same high school and college for a year. My husband speaks nicely about his sister and avoids speaking much about his brother as it’s still rocky.

Third, you may side more often with one or the other based on birth order or other related variables. I was the youngest in my family, and I find myself occasionally siding with my youngest Claire because her perspective makes sense to me. The goal is to recognize the tendency and be sure it doesn’t become a pattern.

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