Consider this: During childhood and adolescence, your kids may spend more time around each other than any other peer or family member! And with all of the time spent at home in the last year, sibling one-on-one time has been at an all-time high for many families. While some kids may enjoy spending more quality time with their built-in best friend, others may want more space and boundaries. Helping your kids develop healthy relationships with each other certainly takes effort from each member of the family, but positive outcomes make the effort worthwhile. Research suggests that sibling support is related to higher levels of self-esteem and life-satisfaction as well as decreased levels of loneliness and depression. If you’d like to help your children cultivate healthy sibling relationships, read on for five strategies that will get you started.
5 Ways to Promote Healthy Sibling Relationships
1. Promote Sibling Bonding Time
Set a family meeting and help your kids brainstorm a list of all of their favorite activities. Then, guide your kids in exploring which of these activities they all enjoy doing. These can be simple activities, such as eating a favorite snack, watching a funny show, or playing a fun game together. Keep this list handy and establish a regular sibling bonding time, as often as once a week. Make sure your children’s sibling time goes uninterrupted. If you feel like doing more family brainstorming, you can also discuss family values and goals your kids have in common.
“Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family, and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.” – Carol Ann Albright Eastman
2. Establish and Respect Boundaries
Healthy boundaries can come in many forms, including the need for physical space and respect for each other’s property. It is important to consider a child’s need for boundaries in both of these aspects. If your child states that they need to take a break from their sibling, and you have physical space in your home to allow for separation, give your child the opportunity for alone time. Also, set house rules for personal property that everyone can use. Make it a household rule that each member of the family needs to ask the owner before using their items. Decide which items cannot be shared. If a child has items that they do not want their sibling to take, designate a specific area (e.g., a shelf) in the home for these items.
3. Identify and Break Challenging Patterns
Sometimes sibling conflict can feel like the same struggle over and over again. This is because it often is a pattern! The first step of changing this pattern is by helping your kids recognize it. It may be helpful to physically draw out the pattern on paper. Ask your kids to identify a typical challenge (e.g., their sister always steals their shirt), their response, and their sibling’s response. Then help each child label the feelings they experience during this challenge and guide them in thinking through their sibling’s feelings as well. After the pattern has been explored, help them choose a “pattern breaker”, such as helping their sibling discuss their feelings, doing something to make their sibling laugh, or walking away to do some deep breathing. Finally, ask each of your children to practice breaking this pattern, while acknowledging that it may be difficult at first.
4. Avoid All Comparison
You may have heard the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” In sibling relationships, comparison can contribute to conflict, jealousy, and rivalry. While siblings may compare themselves to each other on occasion, parents and caregivers can do their best to acknowledge their kids as separate individuals with unique and special qualities. In their book, Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Too, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish discuss the perils of all types of comparison. While it may seem obvious that unfavorable comparison (e.g., “Why can’t you be as tidy as your brother?”) should be avoided, it may not be as apparent that favorable comparison (e.g., “I wish your sister worked as hard as you in school.”) should be avoided as well. Even favorable comparison can foster unhealthy competition between siblings and add pressure to be the “best”. Instead, try to praise your child without any reference to the sibling by simply describing what you see, feel, like, or do not like. For example, instead of saying, “I wish your brother worked as hard as you do in school!” state, “You have been putting so much effort into that assignment!”
5. Acknowledge Frustration
Sometimes a child will feel the need to vent frustration about their sibling. In these situations, try not to dismiss their feelings. Instead, you can try to put their feelings into words and suggest creative ways to work through their frustration. For example, if your child angrily states that their sibling called them a name, you can acknowledge their feelings by stating, “That comment made you angry.” Then, you can suggest that they draw a picture of their feelings or write a letter to their sibling. For more ideas of ways children can work through their feelings about their siblings, try this free, printable sibling journal for kids.
It takes time to break free from habitual conflict and unhealthy relationship patterns. So, please be gentle on yourself and your kids as you try out these ideas and work towards creating strong relationships. Remember to approach difficult situations with an attitude of kind curiosity. With some practice, patience, and perseverance, you can help your kids develop supportive sibling relationships that last a lifetime!
At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.
Written by: Allison Fairchild, MA