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How to promote healthy sibling relationships

Sibling relationships thrive when children learn from an early age that they are not in competition and have the power to help each other.

When we find ourselves arbitrating the latest he said-she said debate, it’s natural for parents to feel overwhelmed by sibling rivalry. 

While sibling conflict can be exhausting in the short term, it can be beneficial to children in the long run. When children work through difficult feelings and problems with their siblings, they learn how to manage emotions and conflict in the real world. 

The benefits of positive sibling relationships

Positive sibling relationships provide numerous benefits, including support, friendship, and connection. According to research, sibling relationships can increase sympathy, leading to other prosocial behaviours such as helping and sharing. 

Here are a few suggestions for how parents can help their children reap the benefits of their sibling relationships and turn disagreements into lifelong lessons…

Encourage family discussions over quick punishments

When your children are fighting over a toy, it’s natural to feel agitated. You might feel compelled to get rid of the toy in question or to separate siblings into separate corners. Young children look to their parents for cues when it comes to conflict resolution and dealing with intense emotions. If you are quick to remove toys and use time-outs, your children will internalise the message that negative emotions are bad and that problems are solved by hiding (in separate corners).  Instead of dishing out punishments, gather your children and sit around a table to discuss the issue at hand and devise ways to handle conflicts together.

Make special time for siblings

We often emphasise the importance of parent-child special time, but special sibling time is an excellent way to ensure that your children have the time and space required to form strong bonds. Determine a time each week when the children can play without interruption or instruction. Encourage them to combine their ideas and collaborate to create something new. If conflicts arise, take a step back and let them figure it out independently.

Promote family activities 

Siblings sometimes compete with one another. Creating fun family activities is a great way to move away from family competition. Obstacle courses and scavenger hunts are always popular, but make sure your children are in charge. When children collaborate, they learn that working together and listening to one another’s ideas results in a lot of fun for the entire family.

Include siblings in the nighttime routine

Kids adore their bedtime routines, and the youngest children frequently have the most items on their evening wish lists. Encouraging siblings to read a story, sing a song, or give hugs and high fives before bed creates a special bond before they fall asleep. It also teaches our children that they can seek support from one another if they feel unsettled at night.

Celebrate differences

At times, children will compare themselves to one another. In some cases, they try to teach each other, while in others, they try to figure out how they compare. Celebrate your family’s diversity of strengths. Teach your children to encourage one another, offer to help, ask one another for help, and recognise one another’s strengths.

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