My four kids generally get along pretty well, most of the time… but sometimes it’s more of a love/hate relationship in our family – one minute they are best buddies, the next they are a screaming, flailing, mess of ‘she said’ and ‘he did’ and ‘I hate you’.
Siblings usually spend a lot of time together, and conflict and competition is pretty common, but it’s not all bad news. Siblings also provide each other with emotional support from someone who knows them and loves them, they can be a teacher and role model, and they offer lots of opportunities to learn, practice and refine social skills.
So perhaps all that fighting is not the end of the world after all?
(Even if it does drive us insane sometimes!)
With a connected sibling relationship, and positive guidance from parents, perhaps the bickering is a way for our kids to test boundaries and learn how to manage social situations without fear of rejection?
So how can we help our kids develop a positive relationship with their siblings?
And how can we deal with sibling struggles in a positive way?
I am far from an expert on sibling relationships – I’ve been muddling through this parenting challenge for the past eleven and a half years and still wonder if I am doing ok – but here are some of the things that I feel have helped my kids develop a strong sibling bond, and some of the ways we deal with sibling struggles in our house.
Dealing with Sibling Struggles
You Set the Tone!
This is never more true than when it comes to how our kids interact. We are the role models, we ‘set the tone‘ by the way we talk to our kids, the way we deal with conflicts and the way we make amends for our mistakes. It is no coincidence that when I am working on my own behavior and language, I see and hear the same positive changes in my kids. So when we seem to be going through a particularly bad patch I always try and look at myself first.
Fair does NOT Mean Equal
This is still a work in progress for our family, but we try hard to instill the idea that ‘fair’ does not mean ‘equal’ and that everyone gets what they need when they need it. With many sibling struggles seeming to stem from competition or rivalry and fueled by our kids feeling like their sibling is getting ‘more’ or ‘better’ this has been an important idea to continually reinforce.
One on One Time Golden
When one of my kids (or all of them!) are having a hard time getting a long with their siblings I often discover that that child needs a little one on one time. I don’t find it easy to fit one on one time in, but I’ve discovered even a little bit here and there helps immensely. I’ve written about how we manage one on one time with out kids even when we don’t have any time here.
Enjoy Each Other
Doing things together, as a family, is a great way to build positive relationships and remind our kids how special and how fun it is to have brothers and sisters. We’ve started giving a ‘family event’ as a Christmas gift as a way to encourage this, and also playing ‘kids vs adults’ games is a great way to unite the kids and have them working together as is plenty of time to just ‘muck around’ together and play.
Pick Your Battles
This tired old parenting advice is actually pretty spot on for sibling arguments. I try pretty hard to let my kids sort it out themselves, especially for the older kids. I’ll step in if things get physical or way out of hand, but I try not to set myself up as referee or judge and jury, and usually try to get them to negotiate or suggest they might need some time apart rather than attempting to ‘solve’ the problem.
Teach Conflict Resolution Skills.
Dealing with conflicts is a skill we have to learn, and it’s not a bad thing to have siblings to practice on! So teach your kids how to compromise, how to negotiate win win situations and how to manage their big feelings. And teach them compassion and and empathy and how to make things right.
My kids all share a bedroom, my oldest girls also shared a womb, so they don’t get much alone time. Sometimes I can see when one of them is just struggling with everything and lashing out at everyone and needs some space to just be grumpy and I’ll do my very best to provide time and space for them to be alone.
I still have much to learn about dealing with sibling relationships and am constantly reading about this topic.
Here are some great articles on the topic that I’ve found helpful:
The Sibling Relationship Challenging but Powerful – from Simple Kids.
Five Ways to Encourage Positive Sibling Relationships from Moments and Day
Ten Ways to Be Kind to Younger Siblings from Toddler Approved
Reversing an Angry Sibling Habit from Creative With Kids
17 Tips to Encourage Sibling Bonding from B-inspired Mama featuring advice from loads of great bloggers.
Three Strategies for Sibling Peace from Positive Parenting Solutions.
A Surprising Approach to Sibling Rivalry from Dirt and Boogers.
Do your kids fight sometimes?
How do you manage the sibling struggles?
I’d love to hear how you deal with your kids fighting, and how you promote a good sibling relationship. And I’d love you to share links to any articles or posts you’ve found helpful. Leave a comment and share how you cope with this common issue.