Years ago, I read an article in Time Magazine on The New Science of Siblings — about how it is our siblings who shape us more than anyone else. Having four siblings myself, I found it so fascinating (and true)! Reading this article made me think about my mother, who always said her greatest parenting goal was to raise children who like each other. If it’s our siblings who shape us, then it’s even more important to ensure sibling relationships are harmonious. Here are 5 tips for encouraging sibling closeness.
1. Don’t compare your children, ever
Try to resist the temptation to make comparisons, even in the hope of encouraging your children to do something good. This can be a hard habit to break, as we’ve all experienced this type of persuasion during childhood. For example, at the dinner table, if one child is eating more slowly or being more picky, try not to compare this child to the child who has eaten well with the hopes that this might encourage better eating. This rarely works, and only pits your children against each other.
2. Don’t be the referee
When my kids come to me in an argument, I try to encourage them to resolve it without my help. I explain that I’m not interested in who started it or who’s fault it is — I just want them to get along. As they realise they can’t come to me for a decision on every disagreement, they begin to resolve them on their own. Of course if an argument becomes physical, or if someone’s feelings are really hurt, I will step in. But if they’re fighting over toys, or arguing over who gets to choose the bedtime story, these are things they can resolve themselves.
3. Encourage your children to empathise with each other
Whenever one child comes to you complaining about their sibling being cranky or mean, see this as an opportunity to encourage them to understand why their sibling is acting this way — perhaps they’re tired, or hungry, or not feeling well (usually it’s something quite simple like this). Try to encourage your child not to take it personally, but rather to find a bit of understanding for what their sibling might be feeling. Psychologists are quick to point out that emotional intelligence first grows in the context of loving relationships in which people feel secure, meaning that children (and even adults) can often be the worst versions of themselves when they are with the people they love and are loved by the most. As parents, we should view sibling conflicts as a good opportunity to build emotional intelligence and learn from their relationships with their siblings. If we can encourage our children to see each other’s perspective, rather than feeling angry, it helps to create a more loving relationship.
4. Ask your kids to help each other
One of the obvious downsides of having several children is the lack of one-on-one time with each of them. The benefit, however, is that your children rely more on each other, and it creates a sense of teamwork between them. Encourage older children to read with younger ones, or ask big kids to help dress little ones, or even try to find ways the younger kids can help the older ones.
5. Keep out of the negotiations
When my kids are squabbling over something, my natural reaction as a mother is to step in and make sure things are fair and right– are the older ones coercing the younger ones into doing what they want? Are the younger ones just breaking down in tears to get their way? — but letting them negotiate with each other is actually healthy for them. Bathtime is a perfect opportunity for healthy negotiations. When kids share a bath, they learn important life lessons about sharing space, swapping toys, taking turns next to the faucet or negotiating who gets out first. Not only is it important for kids to learn to love, play and care for each other, but also to argue, negotiate, and accept a resolution.
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