Nurturing Sibling Relationships

Filed under: Siblings, Relationships

sibling relationships

When my oldest daughter was 7 and her little sister was 5, I told them they could go swimming after finishing a page of homework. After a while, my 5-year-old raised two pages of work up in the air and proudly proclaimed, "We can go swimming now! Let's go!"

Confused, I asked her what she meant because her older sister was still working on her homework. She replied, "Oh, Mommy, we can go swimming now because I did two pages of homework." Wondering if she had misunderstood the guidelines, I pointed in the direction of her sister, who was still busily working at her desk. With a proud smile on her face and wide-eyed excitement, my sweet little 5-year-old exclaimed, "No, Mommy, we can go now because I did two pages: one for me and one for my sister!"

While applauding her for her thoughtfulness, yet setting the correct boundary, I told her, "Oh, honey, that is very sweet of you to want to help your sister, but she really needs to finish her own work. Thank you for the thought, but your extra page doesn't count for your sister."

With an accepting nod of the head she replied, "OK, Mommy, but the love counts, right?"

It warms a parent's heart to see love between siblings. When a parent witnesses one sibling choosing to do something loving towards another on his own accord, it creates a deep sense of satisfaction. More than anything else, parents want to see their children get along harmoniously, support each other and be "bestest" friends.

Unfortunately, this love between siblings does not always come naturally or easily. Siblings are often squabbling, competing or having less than positive feelings about each other. Left to their own devices, they will bicker to no end. It takes vision, patience, modeling and encouragement on the parents' part, and plenty of practice on the children's part, for the sibling relationship to be a positive one.

Yes, children are young, but relationships are real. As much as adults struggle with having positive relationships, children do, as well. They need their parents' help.

While parents want to nurture a positive relationship between their children, many times they don't know exactly how to go about it. Should they have their children room together so that they will develop a closer bond? Should they insist on their children taking classes together or sharing hobbies? Or should they step back and let their children figure out the relationship and hope for the best?

Just like so many other areas in life, children need specific instruction and good modeling to know how to develop good sibling relationships. As most parents know, siblings do not become best friends automatically just because they are living in the same house. Children need parents to help nurture this very important relationship.

Try these five tips to help strengthen the connection between your children:

1. Practice what you preach, because your children are learning more from what you do than from what you say. Instead of shouting at your children to stop shouting, encourage them to use a gentle voice with each other. Use kindness and thoughtfulness in your actions, and your children will be more likely to follow suit.

2. Does every child in the family get shoes just because one of your children gets his much needed soccer shoes? Do your children always complain that you're not fair? When children complain about something not being fair, what they really mean is that it's not exactly "equal." They want the exact same portion of ice cream as their sibling every time but let's face it, life is not always equal. Explain to your children that fairness means you get what you need, but it doesn't always happen at the exact same time or in the exact same way. And, that's okay.

3. Siblings need meaningful activities in order for them to have opportunities to work together and have memorable, bonding experiences. If left unattended on a daily basis without goals or focus, frequent conflicts and aggravations are sure to flair up. Bake cookies together. Build forts. Work together as a team toward a common goal. Children benefit greatly when parents help to channel their children's energy into something positive.

4. Consider whether your children have been together too much for their own good. Allowing each child to have private time in the playroom for a day or letting a child attend birthday parties alone once in a while can be a good thing. Maybe they could benefit from a change in scenery and company.

5. For siblings who have five or more years between them, it can be more challenging to find connections and opportunities to nurture. Despite the wide gap, it is still very important for them to have a positive relationship and the energy put into this is well worth it. One danger to avoid is giving the older sibling authority over the younger sibling. Of course they should look out for their younger brother or sister but parents need to set the boundary and expectation that siblings are friends first.

As often as you can, intentionally nurture the sibling relationship with good modeling, opportunity, encouragement and teaching. It's impossible for kids to always get along, but at least you now have a few strategies to help create harmony among your kids. What other strategies have worked for you?

This article originally appeared on PBSParents and was written by Suzy Martyn. Suzy is the author of Enjoy the Ride: Tools, Tips, and Inspiration for the Most Common Parenting Challenges and Sleep Tight: Help Your Child Attain a Good Night's Sleep in Three Days As a mentor mom and keynote speaker for Babies 'R Us and MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups, Martyn enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with parents and hearing what concerns them the most. Her experience has been enhanced by more than 25 years of caring for children in the classroom, through in-home childcare, and as a parenting consultant as well as from being the mother of three daughters who are "bestest" friends.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.