Sibling rivalry isn’t inevitable. Many children actually like and get along with their siblings. Here’s how to encourage a strong sibling bond from a young age.
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—the potential jealousy, rivalry, and even physical assaults on the new babies.
Thank goodness those fears were unnecessary. And I didn’t even need to wait for my kids to get along—their 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.
How to encourage a sibling bond
I wanted my kids to have a good relationship with one another—one that doesn’t have to wait until they’re older to benefit from. Here’s what we did to foster that bond:
Treat toys as communal property
Sometimes we think kids will get along much better if we define which item belongs to whom. No fighting over the same toys, right?
Instead, studies found that scarcity actually leads to 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 (“Can he play with your fire truck?”), just as the babies’ toys are up for grabs and not solely theirs either.
They have a few cherished items that are theirs and theirs alone. These are the special toys they turn to for comfort. But otherwise, toys belong to everyone, eliminating any “This is mine,” possessive talk.
Don’t solve social conflict
As young as they may be, my twins have gotten into arguments with each other. 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 on their own how to play and resolve the issue, or realize the toy isn’t worth the trouble after all.
Step in when things get physical, such as when a toy will hit someone’s head or they’re about to hurt each other. Otherwise, let kids resolve their own social conflicts.
Since my four-year-old is older, I have to be the babies’ voice, but even then, I only offer solutions, not outright solve their problems. I “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 you can 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.
Like I say in my ebook, Parenting with Purpose:
“Yes, it’s uncomfortable watching your kids struggle. We feel compelled to be peacemakers and bring order right away. The problem with resolving their conflict is they don’t get to learn from their interaction. You’re not able to teach them valuable social skills like waiting, turn-taking, and sharing.”
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Let your older child teach
My four-year-old was sitting on a chair playing a guitar when he shrieked, “He’s climbing on me!” He didn’t know what to make of his 11-month-old brother crawling on his lap, drawn by the music.
“Oh, it looks like he wants to play too. Show him how to play the guitar.”
The boy who, a second ago was recoiling from his baby brother, was now telling, “See?” and teaching him how to pluck the strings.
This has been one of those amazing tricks that has worked every time. Whenever my eldest is on the verge of freaking out, I tell him his brothers only want to learn from him.
I could have lectured him, or told him to calm down. But 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. Now he’s the “big kid” who has a thing or two to teach his baby brother.
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 to take turns.
If a struggle is about to happen, guide them to a solution. I might track whose turn it is to press the light up button, or I’ll ask my eldest to scoot over so 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 want to nurture a genuine desire to share, not force it on them.
Don’t let older siblings “parent”
“Come back here,” I called to my baby, as he made his way towards the electric fan. A second later, my eldest son repeats, “Come back here,” complete with my same warning tone of voice.
Sure, 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 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.
Let older siblings help
Since older kids can’t “parent,” encourage them to help. They’ll 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 play peek-a-boo so the baby doesn’t feel alone. Not only is my eldest helping me, he’s also playing with his brothers.
Don’t tolerate siblings being mean
Inevitably, kids won’t get along sometimes. Even if we encourage a sibling bond, they can still be downright mean to one another. That’s when we step in and prevent that animosity from getting any worse.
I don’t mind kids arguing or resolving their own conflict, but I will say something if my eldest son is acting unfairly. I might say, “We don’t talk like that to one another,” or “Please ask him nicely.”
Encourage respect and have zero tolerance for hurtful words, even among the kids.
Praise your children when they’re getting along
Praise your kids when you see them getting along on their own. (“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 praise your kids when they’re 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 with kids who will do things just to receive praise. After all, sibling harmony should be regular, not a novelty. Still, a good way to establish positive behavior is to praise it.
One of my favorite ways to praise kids? Show them how happy they make their siblings. They’ll learn how their own actions and altruism can bring joy to others.
Despite the stereotypical “sibling rivalry,” you can encourage a sibling bond, no matter their ages. 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.
Instead, getting along with siblings is when each child feels a genuine love for his or her brothers or sisters—right from the start.
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
- 17 Tips to Encourage Sibling Bonding
- 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 a strong sibling bond? Let me know in the comments!
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