Sibling rivalry isn’t inevitable. Many children actually like and get along with their siblings. Here are tips for helping siblings get along.
With the birth of my twins, I assumed my eldest would wait years before enjoying his siblings. “They’re too small to do anything fun with him,” I thought.
I also dreaded the potential backlash of introducing new siblings. Jealousy, rivalry, and even physical assaults on the new babies. I wanted them to get along and be lifelong friends.
Thank goodness those fears were unnecessary. Nor did I need to wait to witness my kids getting along—their sibling love grew right from the start.
Okay, maybe not right from the start. If anyone will remember, it took my eldest son several weeks to adjust to his new brothers. I don’t blame him. The change was hard enough for us, and we knew what we were getting into.
Helping siblings get along
I wanted my kids to have a good relationship with one another. And one that doesn’t have to wait until they’re older.
Treat toys as communal property.
We sometimes have the false notion that kids will get along much better if we define whose is whose. No fighting over the same toys, right?
Instead, studies found that scarcity breeds cooperation. The less toys kids have, the more they’re forced to find a way to play with one another.
My husband and I don’t ask our eldest for permission to use his toys on behalf of his brothers (e.g. “Can he play with your fire truck?”), just as the babies’ infant toys are up for grabs and not solely the twins’.
Yes, they have a few cherished items that are theirs and theirs alone. These are the special toys they attach themselves to for comfort. Otherwise, toys belong to everyone, eliminating any “This is mine,” possessive talk.
Don’t solve social conflict.
The babies are still too young to argue back, but they’ve gotten into tiffs as well. Small stuff, like vying for the same toy, or getting into each other’s space.
Still, I don’t step in unless needed. I watch them grab toys back and forth from each other, seeing how they’ll handle the situation. In most cases, they’ll decide how to play, or realize the toy isn’t worth the trouble and surrender it.
Step in when things get physical, such as when a toy will bonk someone’s head. Otherwise, let kids resolve their own social conflicts.
Since my four-year-old is older, I have to be the babies’ voice, but I offer solutions as needed. I try to “sportscast” and describe what’s happening, prodding my son for suggestions: “He wants to stand next to you but you look like you want your space. What do you think we should do?”
And don’t make a big deal about it. Jumping in with solutions or refereeing can escalate into a bigger problem than it needs to be.
Let your older kids be teachers.
My four-year-old was sitting on a chair playing a guitar when he shrieked, “He’s climbing on me!” One of his 11-month-old brothers crawled over, drawn by the music. But my eldest didn’t know what to make of his brother crawling over.
“Oh, it looks like he wants to play too. Show him how to play the guitar.”
Suddenly, the boy who was a second ago recoiling from his baby brother is now saying, “See?” and teaching him what the strings are for.
This has been one of those amazing tricks that so far has worked every time. Whenever my eldest is on the verge of freaking out, I tell him it’s because they want to learn from him.
I could have lectured him. Or told him not to freak out. But then they miss an opportunity to play with and learn from one another.
Kids love being teachers because it makes them feel like adults. Teaching also lets them take back the power they sometimes lose for being kids.
Don’t force kids to share.
Sharing is over-rated. Or rather, being forced to share is over-rated. Of course we want our kids to share on their own, but to demand them to do so isn’t fair.
Instead, encourage your kids to take turns or play together. Let’s say my eldest wants to play with something that one of the babies has, or vice versa. I tell them to decide how to play with each other or take turns.
If a struggle is about to ensue, guide them to a resolution. I might track whose turn it is to press the light up button. Or I’ll ask my eldest to scoot over so that the other one could have some space to play too.
Forcing kids to share gets the job done… begrudgingly. And since I want to encourage siblings to get along, I needed to downplay any hard feelings they might have,
Don’t let older siblings “parent.”
“Come back here,” I called to my 11-month-old, as he made his way towards the electric fan. A second later, my eldest son repeats, “Come back here.” Complete with the same warning tone of voice I assumed.
On one hand, I want my eldest son to look out for his brothers. But I also don’t want him to feel like he has the same authority over his brothers as his parents do. His role isn’t to be a parent, but to be a big brother.
So when he assumes the same tone and acts like he’s disciplining his brothers, we tell him to stop. It’s not his place, and I wouldn’t want his younger brothers to resent him.
Instead, we thank him for letting us know that one of his brothers is heading to the electric fan. But he should leave the parenting up to us—his parents.
Since older kids can’t “parent,” encourage them to help. They will love putting the bottles away in the fridge, or grabbing the diapers and socks. I tell my eldest on many occasions how helpful he is.
You can even combine asking his help with play time. One of the ways my eldest helps with the twins is keeping one company while I bathe the other. I’ll place one baby in his crib, and my eldest will help and play peek-a-boo so that he doesn’t feel alone. Not only is my eldest helping me out, he’s also building in some fun play time with his brothers.
Don’t tolerate siblings being mean.
Inevitably, kids won’t get along sometimes. Even if we encourage siblings to get along, they can be downright mean to one another. That’s when we step in and prevent that animosity from escalating further.
I don’t mind kids arguing or settling conflict, but I will notice when my eldest son is acting unfair. I might say, “We don’t talk like that to one another,” or “You need to ask him nicely.”
We need to encourage respect and have zero tolerance for malice, even among the kids.
Praise them when they’re getting along.
Praise your kids when you see them getting along on their own initiative. (“You guys look like you’re having so much fun playing trains together!”)
Even babies benefit from positive praise. When I see them laughing with each other, I’ll give both a big smile and say, “Aw, you’re making each other laugh!”
And add some extra praise when your kids are not only getting along, but helping one another out. The other day, the twins were sitting in their high chairs when they kept dropping their toys to the floor. On his own, my eldest picked the toys up and handed them back to his brothers. I made sure to praise him.
Of course, don’t be a praise-junkie where your kids will do things just to receive praise. After all, sibling harmony should be the norm, not a novelty. Still, a good way to establish positive behavior is to praise them.
One of my favorite praises to give kids? Show him how happy he made his siblings. He will have learned that his own actions and altruism could elicit joy in others.
Encourage siblings to get along right from the start. Sibling harmony isn’t only about making sure no one is fighting. Or keeping tabs on whose toy is whose, or even forcing them to share.
Getting along with siblings is when each child feels a genuine love for his or her brothers or sisters.
Get more tips to encourage siblings to get along:
- Are You Balancing Your Children’s Needs Fairly?
- How to Stop Siblings from Fighting and Teach Conflict Resolution Instead
- How to Avoid Excluding Your Non-Twin Child
- 5 Easy Tips for Kids to Learn Empathy
- Balancing Newborn and Toddler Needs when Baby Comes
Do you struggle with siblings fighting? What are your tips to encourage siblings to get along? Let me know in the comments!
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