Sibling rivalry isn’t inevitable. Many kids CAN develop a strong bond. Here’s how to encourage siblings to get along, even 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 jealousy, sibling 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. It took my eldest several weeks to adjust to his new brothers. I don’t blame him, either—the change was hard enough for us, and we knew what we were getting into.
How to encourage siblings to get along
Still, 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.
I never liked the stereotype of siblings fighting, bullying one another, or tattling on each other’s wrongdoings. I want them to grow up to be one another’s best of friends, all throughout adulthood. And I truly do think it’s possible, and that they’re on their way there.
Want to do the same with your kids? Here’s how to encourage kids to get along and foster a strong a bond:
1. Don’t solve all their conflicts
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.
Offer solutions instead of outright solving their problems. “Sportscast” and describe what’s happening, and prod them for suggestions. “She 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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2. Treat toys as communal property
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We assume 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 fewer toys kids have, the more they’re forced to find a way to play with one another.
Other than a few cherished items, toys can belong to everyone. Don’t ask your kids if their siblings can use their toys (“Can he play with your fire truck?”). This eliminates the “This is mine!” possessive talk that can often trigger a fight.
And find collaborative games where all the kids are on the same side and can work together. One of our favorite board games is Race to the Treasure. Rather than the kids competing with each other, they work together to “beat the ogre.” Highly recommend!
3. Let your older child teach
My then-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 baby 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 saying, “See? You pull it like this,” and teaching him how to pluck the strings.
Any time your eldest is on the verge of getting upset, tell her that her younger sibling only wants to learn from her. Lecturing or telling her to calm down only misses an opportunity for them to play with and learn from one another.
She’ll love being a teacher because it makes her feel like an adult. Teaching also lets her take back the power she sometimes loses for being a child. Now, she’s the “big kid” who has a thing or two to teach her little brother.
4. Don’t force kids to share
Sharing is over-rated. Or rather, being forced to share is over-rated. Of course, we want or kids to share on their own, but to demand them to do so isn’t fair.
Instead, encourage them to take turns or play together. Let’s say one child wants to play with something that the other one has, or vice versa. 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. You might track whose turn it is to press the light up button, or ask one child to scoot over so the other one could have some space to play too.
Forcing kids to share gets the job done, but begrudgingly. And since you want to encourage siblings to get along, want to nurture a genuine desire to share, not one forced on them.
Read more reasons kids shouldn’t be forced to share.
5. Don’t let older siblings “parent”
While older kids have more privileges and responsibilities, they also shouldn’t “parent” their siblings the same way you do.
Sure, you want your eldest to look out for her little brother, but she shouldn’t feel like she has the same authority as you do. After all, her role isn’t to be a parent, but to be a big sister.
If you catch her disciplining him, tell her to stop. It’s not her place to discipline, and you wouldn’t want her siblings to resent her for that.
Instead, thank her for letting you know what’s going on, and leave the parenting to you—the parents.
Take a look at these effective sibling rivalry solutions.
6. Let older siblings help
Since your older child can’t “parent,” encourage her to help. She can put baby bottles away or push her brother on his trike. Tell her on many occasions how helpful she is.
You can even combine asking for her help with play time. One of the ways my eldest helped with the twins is keeping one company while I bathed the other. I placed one baby in his crib, and my eldest would play peek-a-boo with him. Not only did my eldest help me, he also played with his brothers.
Read more about how to get your older child to help with younger siblings.
7. Don’t tolerate siblings being mean
Inevitably, kids won’t get along all the time. Even if we encourage a sibling bond, they can still be downright mean to one another. That’s when we step in and prevent the animosity from getting any worse.
I don’t mind kids arguing or resolving their own conflict, but I will say something if they’re 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. They can disagree, but they must do so with respect.
Get tips on how to teach conflict resolution for children.
8. Praise your kids 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!”) Give them a smile when you see them laughing with each other and say, “You’re making each other laugh!”
Show them how happy they make their siblings. They’ll learn how their actions and altruism can bring joy to others.
Do the same when they’re helping each other out. My twins would sit in their high chairs and would accidentally drop their toys to the floor. On his own, my eldest would pick the toys up and hand them back to his brothers. I made sure to praise him for his helpful behavior.
Of course, don’t over-praise 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.
Read why you shouldn’t say “good job.”
Despite the stereotypical “sibling rivalry,” you can encourage a sibling bond, no matter their ages.
Don’t solve all their conflicts, force them to share, or allow them to be mean to one another. Instead, treat toys as communal property and praise the times when they do get along. Encourage your older child to teach and help younger siblings instead of “parenting” them on your behalf.
Sibling harmony isn’t only about making sure no one is fighting, keeping tabs on whose toy is whose, or forcing them to share. Instead, developing a strong sibling bond is when each child feels a genuine love for his or her brothers or sisters—right from the start.
Get more tips:
- Are You Balancing Your Children’s Needs Fairly?
- When Your Child Regresses Because of New Baby Jealousy
- 5 Easy Tips for Kids to Learn Empathy
- Balancing Newborn and Toddler Needs when Baby Comes
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Leanne Strong says
The problem with treating toys as communal is that we need to teach children how to lay down personal boundaries, as well as how to respect other people’s boundaries. Maybe for each year of their lives (well, up until age 6 or so, because by then, they understand the importance of sharing), we can allow them to pick one toy that they do not ever have to share with anybody. This way, they can learn that laying down and respecting personal boundaries is just as important as sharing.