I attended a seminar years ago, while studying for my degree in Early Childhood Education, on the topic of sibling relationships.
There were nearly 100 students in attendance. I remember at one point, the professor asked us to stand up if we felt we currently had a positive relationship with our siblings. I was shocked when only 15 people stood up!
Since then, I’ve thought about sibling relationships often.
Why are some siblings close, while others never seem to get along? What is it that makes healthy childhood sibling relationships dissolve as we become adults? Is there something that parents can do to help promote healthy sibling relationships?
Certainly each family is different, and each sibling relationship has its own unique dynamics.
As a mom of 4, I’ve made it my mission to do all that I can to encourage healthy bonding and respectful relationships between my children.
Here are some tips for promoting healthy sibling relationships:
Be together – It sounds obvious, but in today’s busy world where we place such value on extracurricular activities and tend to overschedule our lives, it can be easy to go an entire day without spending any meaningful and intentional time with our loved ones.
I’ve made a point to limit my children’s after-school activities, so we have the time we need together as a family to bond and create memories.
Allowing siblings the time they need to explore collaborative, unstructured play is vital for building strong and healthy relationships.
Work it out – Problem solving and conflict resolution are important life skills that are only mastered through experience. Allowing siblings plenty of opportunities to work out their issues is necessary to develop these skills.
If adults always step in when siblings begin to argue, they won’t have the chance to learn how to resolve their problems independently.
Believe me, with 4 strong-minded sons, I am often tempted to end the bickering by coming up with my own solution to their problems. That, however, doesn’t give them the practice they need to build strong social skills while working together to achieve a resolution.
Agree to disagree – As with any relationship in life, siblings won’t always agree. That’s okay. Understanding that each individual has their own ideas and opinions is important. Learning to respect each other, regardless of differences, is vital for any healthy relationship.
Embracing each sibling’s unique traits and abilities, as well as supporting their strengths and weaknesses, is the first step to truly respecting them as a person.
Have fun – Allowing for plenty of time that siblings can spend together doing things they enjoy is a big part of creating happy memories and a healthy relationship.
Help children realize that siblings are their most treasured playmates, and allow for plenty of activities that encourage bonding.
Don’t compare – Regardless of how gently you do it, or how genuinely innocent it may be, comparing siblings is never a good idea. Whether it’s academic achievements, athletic ability, looks, or personality, comparing your children is a surefire way to start a rivalry that will likely continue long past childhood.
Comparing, even when done in a positive way, teaches kids to compete with each other.
Avoid labels – Labeling siblings, such as “the smart one” or “the athletic one” can have a negative impact on the way kids see themselves and their siblings. These labels can also cause children to stay in a role they have outgrown because they see it as part of their identity.
Promote a sense of responsibility and accountability – Teaching siblings to look out for each other is a big part of getting them to view their siblings as partners and not rivals. Being helpful, and aware of their siblings’ needs and feelings is important for maintaining a close bond.
Try to understand each other – This is especially important with siblings who are far apart in age. Helping older children to comprehend why their younger siblings act a certain way (tantrums, difficulty sharing, etc.) can help tremendously with the way they look at specific situations.
Knowing why a younger (or older) sibling does certain things can help kids develop a sense of empathy that can have a positive impact on their relationship.
Sibling relationships are often the longest-lasting relationship in our lifetime. They shape our ability to relate to others, and our perception of ourselves.
As my children grow, there are few things I am more proud of than the relationships forming between them. Although there are plenty of days full of arguments and eye-rolling, there are even more filled with kind words, encouragement, and laughter. For that, I am eternally grateful, and hopeful that the bond they share will follow them into adulthood.
How do you encourage healthy sibling relationships in your family? I’d love to hear your suggestions.