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Nurturing Harmony in Your Nest: Fostering Positive Sibling Relationships

Many research studies have shown that people who grew up with siblings are skilled in the art of communication and conflict resolution, have higher social skills, and increased levels of empathy. But to get to that point, parents are tasked with the responsibility of cultivating positive sibling relationships. If you have multiple kids, or have a sibling yourself, you know how hard this can be. Let’s explore a few tips and tricks to help encourage and foster positive sibling relationships. 

Avoid comparison: 

Comparison is one of the fastest ways to pit siblings against each other. It’s all too tempting to say something like: “Why can’t you be more like your brother; he doesn't throw a fit when it’s time for bed!” or “Your sister got A’s and B’s in high school; I don’t understand why you can’t.” I imagine the intention is to draw attention to how other people act as an example, or how if they just worked a little harder they could be succeeding. But instead of helping them see a different way to behave, you are just creating resentment between the siblings and yourself. One sibling might start resenting the other for always being the “golden child” and resenting you for seemingly liking them better. The other sibling might start resenting you for always expecting them to be the “golden child” and resenting their sibling for never being able to live up to expectations. Instead, stick to commenting on what the child you're talking to is doing, and make requests of what you would like to see them do differently. Leave the other siblings out of it entirely. 

Equal is actually less: 

This is a common complaint in my house. I hear, “But he has more!” all the time. If I am pouring cereal and it's not exactly equal, I hear about it. But the thing is, equal can actually be less. When you try to love kids equally, it can feel ingenuine or like you’re “obligated” to say that because you're their parent. Instead, love kids uniquely. For example, when my 4-year-old complains that my 6-year-old got more cereal, instead of arguing about the amount, I might respond with something like, “Oh, are you still hungry for more? Are you hungry enough for a small pour or a big pour?” The idea here is to focus on what each kid needs individually. Take another example: Say you and your child are planning their birthday party when your other child comes in and demands your attention. Instead of trying to split your time equally, say “Planning this party is important to your sibling and there is lots to go over. I’ll let you know when I am finished and then I will listen to you in full detail!”

Teach conflict resolution:

Dealing with siblings fighting (a lot) can get old pretty fast. On the other hand, it is a naturally occurring opportunity to teach conflict resolution. Instead of interfering and squashing the fight or punishing both kids for fighting, try reflecting each child's point of view. For example, say one child was playing with Legos and the other knocked over their buildings. Say something like, “So it seems like you were playing with the Legos and you really wanted to join. But when you couldn’t join, you got mad and decided to knock over the building. Did I get that right? Well, I have confidence you can come up with a solution that seems fair to both of you. Do you want time to solve the problem or help?” By reflecting each child’s point of view, you are modeling empathy and understanding, which will eventually lead to your children learning to solve their own problems in a healthy way. 

Don’t make one responsible for the other:

In attempts to promote strong family bonds, parents will often encourage one sibling to take care of the other. It might sound something like, “make sure you include your brother” or “you need to protect your sister if other kids are being mean.” As adults, we understand that the intention is to teach our kids to support each other and stand up for each other. But to siblings, sometimes this puts one in the role of caretaking the other, and can eventually lead to resentment on both sides. Instead, encourage each child’s own confidence in themselves. It's okay to encourage them to look out for each other and support one another, but this does not mean that they are responsible for rescuing each other. 

Keep in mind that your kids might not be best friends:

And that's okay! Your children are each their own person with their own personalities. Unfortunately, sometimes, personalities clash. This might be the case for your kids. You can foster a supportive and loving relationship without forcing them to be best friends. In this case, mutual respect is the goal.

Sibling rivalry can be one of the more difficult aspects of parenting, but can be very rewarding when managed positively. Try out some of these tips and let us know how it went! And as always, should you feel you need extra support, reach out to WellNest Counseling to chat more in-depth about your situation! 

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