Helping siblings get along can be both challenging and rewarding for parents. Parents of siblings have to find ways to let each child know they are special and loved while also teaching them how to share, cooperate, and work together. Siblings are very lucky, in that they become socialized at a young age, and experience “playground problems,” such as sharing, disagreements, and expressing difficult feelings at the home first, which can prepare them for school and life. Learning how to relate to a sibling can help develop your children to become more sensitive to the feelings of others, better express themselves, and set them up to develop healthy relationships with peers throughout their life.
As a parent, there are many simple things you can do to help your children get along, cooperate, develop long-lasting friendships with each other, and feel special and unique.
Working through Big Feelings: Young children are just learning how to label and express their feelings. Help your child name and identify her feeling and together talk about ways to manage her emotion. For example, a child might feel jealous with the arrival of a new baby brother or sister. Ask her how she is feeling and together think of ways she might feel better, such as some extra cuddle time in your arms, or doing a special activity together that is specific to your child’s interests.
Remember to be sensitive to your child’s feelings and mindful of the amount of time you are spending with each child. You can also help your children express their emotions by using paper plates or bags to make feeling masks, which can serve as a productive entryway to expressing emotions. Create faces for positive (comfortable) emotions, such as excited and proud, as well as more difficult (uncomfortable) emotions, such as angry and jealous. Talk together about these emotions, and encourage your children to hold up the appropriate feeling mask when they experience that feeling.
Breathe, Think, Do: When siblings get into disagreements or are overwhelmed by big feelings towards each other, breathing and coming up with a plan to resolve their disagreement can help them to feel better.
Introduce your children to this simple strategy:
Breathe: Encourage your children to belly breathe: put their hands on their belly and slowly take three deep breaths in through their nose and out through their mouth.
Think: Help your children explain how they are feeling then think of things they can do to feel better as well as strategies (or plans) to solve their disagreement. For instance, if both children want a turn on the swing, talk about ways to solve the problem, such as waiting by doing something else (riding a tricycle, going down a slide) or even letting one child push while the other one swings and then switching. Remember to listen to both children and validate their feelings, such as “I know it can be really hard to wait for the swing. Let’s think of something else you can do until your sister is done.”
Do: Together, choose a plan and help them try it out! If the plan doesn’t work, try a different plan.
My Space, Your Space: While it is important for children to share a lot of things, it is okay for children to have different preferences. Parents should respect the different preferences of each child, and help their kids to learn to respect their siblings’ different preferences. If children value different toys, you can ask them to keep their toys in different places, and help them learn to be respectful, so as not to touch others’ things without permission. If they would like to play with their sibling’s toy, they can ask her whether they could borrow it.
Sibling Sundays:Try to designate one day of the week where your children do a structured activity together, such as an art project, playing a board game, or engaging in pretend play. Spending this time together can develop and strengthen their sibling bond, as well as encourage cooperation and listening skills.
Special Alone Time: Siblings might get jealous of each other and vie for a parent’s attention, which can leave you feeling torn or overwhelmed. Try setting aside special days or afternoons to do an activity or spend time with each sibling alone. Ask them what they want to do beforehand to help them get excited about their alone time with you. The special connection that they make with you during this time will help them be more tolerant of their sibling and times when they do need to share your attention.