A Parents role should ultimately be to support their children to work out their conflicts and rivalries for themselves. Let’s help these siblings get along !
Of course monitoring is always required and stepping in will still be necessary if conflicts turn into bullying behaviour or become dangerous.
Ways to help our kids get along:
- Encourage siblings to sort out problems together rather than relying on an adult to do it. If adult intervention is needed, e.g. with younger children, talk through the solution as you implement it so your children learn what, why and how to manage similar situations in future. Listen to kids’ own solutions – they often have really good ideas – and encourage them to try them out . This is basic problem solving.
- Help children to see things from each others’ perspective and learn to respect others’ points of view. You can do this through role playing and changing the role each child plays so they get a different perspective, encouraging kids to name feelings -what they are feeling, pick up on body language to gauge what someone else may be feeling, and encouraging kids to imagine themselves in the other child’s position and promoting empathy.
- Kids also tend to assume the worst about their siblings’ intentions, so helping them to think of alternatives can de-escalate a situation quickly and facilitate more realistic assumptions next time. For example, an older child may be frustrated that a younger child is copying him and assume it is done to annoy him. However, the younger child may be copying the older child because they think the older child is fantastic and want to be just like him.
- Teach children to identify, manage and modify their own emotions and behaviours in conflict situations. The first step could be to just take a deep breath. Other strategies may involve using their words (e.g. “stop it I don’t like it”), ignoring annoying behaviours, walking away to calm down. Role plays or problem solving when everyone is calm can be helpful to practice these skills rather than only trying them in the heat of the moment.
- Teach siblings to use their unique knowledge of each other to strengthen their bond rather than taking advantage of each other’s weaknesses.
- Try to treat your children fairly ,not equally. Kids feel more positive toward their siblings when they believe their parents are treating them fairly, relative to their siblings, by providing similar levels of praise, affection, and discipline. All things do not have to be equal though, with consideration being given to factors like the child’s age (e.g. older sibling can stay up later than younger sibling).
- Promote play, conversation, mutual interests and fun. Help kids identify things they can do together, or you can all do together as a family, that are fun. Regularly spending time together that is positive, promotes the desire to spend more time together. The aim is to outnumber the negative experiences with positive experiences.
- Remember siblings need time apart too. Be aware of situations and times of the day that are likely to lead to conflict and avoid forced time together at these points like when everyone is tired after coming home from school or when one child has a friend over.
- Help kids to be respectful of their siblings’ space and belongings by promoting family rules such as “we ask to use another person’s things first”. Model this behaviour yourself.
- Praise kids when they help, support or cooperate with each other. This is basic behavioural guidance. Noticing the behaviours you want to see more of, and reduce focus on behaviours you want less of helps kids to see the benefits of positive interactions with their siblings, such as playtime being extended when they play cooperatively.
Many families with more than one child struggle with conflict between siblings, but evidence suggests the best ways to reduce conflict and encourage positive sibling relationships involve parents taking a supportive or coaching role to help their kids rather than intervene on behalf of the kids. These strategies can take alittle time to practice and get used to but the positive changes in your children’s relationships with each other (and your sanity) will be worth the effort.
If you have concerns about the level of conflict between your children, or would like to learn more specific strategies to help children of different ages, you may benefit from speaking with our psychologists at Changes Psychology.
Read Previous articles:
Bronson, P. & Merryman, A. (2010). Nurtureshock: Why everything we think about raising our children is wrong. Ebury Press: UK.
Carter, C. (2010). Siblings: How to Help them be Friends Forever Retrieved from
Kalman, I. (2013). Sibling Bullying Research Can Destroy Anti-Bullying Movement
New research on sibling bullying is the greatest danger to antibullyism Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resilience-bullying/201307/sibling-bullying-research-can-destroy-anti-bullying-movement
Kramer. L. (2010). The Essential Ingredients of Successful Sibling Relationships: An Emerging Framework for Advancing Theory and Practice. Child Development Perspectives, Vol 4 (2). p 80-86.
Picklesimer, P. (2010). The essential ingredients of supportive sibling relationships. Inside illinois. Sept Retrieved from: http://news.illinois.edu/ii/10/0902/siblings.htm