Ministry of Education, Guyana

How to Foster Positive Sibling Relationships

It’s normal for parents to feel overwhelmed by family dynamics when we find ourselves refereeing the latest he said-she said debate. How did this argument start, anyway? And why did it end in tears?

While sibling conflict feels exhausting in the moment, it can help kids in the long run. When kids work through uncomfortable feelings and difficult problems with their siblings, they learn how to manage emotions and conflict out in the world. When parents help kids with these skills and support each child equally, kids have a training ground to cope with the ups and downs of childhood.

There are many benefits of positive sibling relationships, including support, friendship, and connection. Research shows that sibling relationships can increase sympathy, which can foster other prosocial behaviors like helping and sharing. In fostering the sibling relationship, parents teach young children to show empathy and compassion for others.

Here are a few ways we can help our little ones reap the benefits of their sibling relationships and turn arguments into lifelong lessons:

Check your emotions when the kids argue. It’s natural to feel heated emotions when your kids are in the throes of yet another argument over a toy. You might feel compelled to rid the house of the toy in question or send everyone to separate corners. Tread carefully. Young children watch their parents for cues when it comes to managing conflict and coping with big emotions. If you are quick to take away the toys and use time-outs, your kids will internalize the message that negative emotions are bad and problems are solved by hiding out (in separate corners).

This is a good time to model the power of deep breathing (in for four, hold for four, out for four). Use “I feel” statements to begin the problem-solving process or to give yourself a few moments to process the situation before you proceed. Example: “I feel upset by the yelling in our house right now. I need to think clearly to help your guys. Let’s take three deep breaths together and then try to solve the problem.”

Encourage siblings to nurture one another. Each day before school, I whisper to my daughter, “Take good care of your brother today.” I then turn around and whisper for my son to keep an eye on his sister. When we teach our kids that they always have each other for help, support, or just to have fun, they get the message that their relationship is grounded in unconditional love.

When one sibling is hurt, encourage another to check on her. When one needs help with a task, encourage the others to jump in and get the job done. When they argue over something, help them verbalize their feelings using “I feel” statements so they can listen to and empathize with one another.

Create sibling special time. We talk a lot about the importance of parent-child special time, but sibling special time is a great way to ensure that your kids have the time and space they need to build a strong bond.

Figure out a block of time each week when the kids can play without interruption or instruction. Let them take over the play area and make a mess. Encourage them to merge their ideas and create something new together. Then step back and let them figure it out.

Promote family activities that put your kids in charge of the fun. Siblings compete with one another at times. It happens. A great way to move away from competition within the family is to create fun family activities. Obstacle courses and scavenger hunts are always popular options, but be sure to put your kids in charge. When kids work together to formulate a list for a walking scavenger hunt, for example, they learn that teaming up and listening to one another’s ideas results in great fun for the whole family.

Get siblings in on the nighttime routine. Kids love their nighttime routines, and often the youngest kids have the most items on their evening wish lists. Encouraging siblings to read one story together, sing each other a song, or give hugs and high fives before bed creates a special bond before they drift off to sleep. It also teaches our kids that they can turn to one another for support if they ever feel unsettled at night.

Cheer each other on. Kids will compare themselves to one another at times. In some cases, they try to learn for each other; in other cases, they try to figure out how they stack up. Celebrate the diversity of strengths within the family. This is the lesson our children need to hear: We all have different strengths, and when we combine our talents we can make a difference in this world.

Teach your kids to cheer each other on, offer to help each other, ask each other for help, and recognize each other’s strengths.When siblings learn from an early age that they aren’t in competition with each other and that they have the power to help each other thrive, their relationship thrives.


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