Strengthening Sibling Relationships

Jun 20, 2024

Strengthening Sibling Relationships

One of our greatest hopes as parents is that our children will have strong, supportive relationships with one another. Sibling relationships can be some of the most enduring and impactful bonds in a person's life. Research demonstrates that strong sibling relationships can increase lifelong satisfaction and protect individuals from loneliness and depression.

Siblings can disagree and have conflict while still being close! Conflict is a natural part of relationships as we have different opinions, miscommunicate, and can accidentally hurt each other’s feelings. Check out our other resources for handling conflict if this is an area of stress. It is within our homes and within family relationships that children get to learn and practice skills they need for life, and one of them is conflict resolution!

Here are specific strategies to help your children build a strong and loving relationship with each other:

1. Encourage Teamwork

**Family Projects**: Involve your children in joint projects that require collaboration. Whether it’s building a puzzle, creating a garden, or setting up a family event, working together towards a common goal can strengthen their bond.

**Chores**: Assign chores that they can do together. This not only teaches them responsibility but also cooperation and mutual reliance. Our kids often tackle their bathroom together and make up games along the way. For example, once our kids turned this into a Bluey themed event and sang Bluey songs while cleaning. Sometimes, our kids will offer to help clean each other’s rooms and then switch!

2. Celebrate Differences

**Individual Strengths**: Encourage your children to appreciate each other's unique talents and interests. Celebrate achievements of each child and discuss how different skills can complement each other. When our kids attend their siblings activities, we encourage them to cheer them on! We also do not let them bring electronics so that they can pay attention. While they may resist at first, when it is their siblings turn to cheer them on, they appreciate this family tradition.

**Avoid Comparisons**: Resist the urge to compare your children to one another. Each child is unique, and comparisons can foster resentment and rivalry. Parental favoritism is linked significantly to long-term mental health, even when adults reflect upon their childhood later in life. When children perceive that their parents prefer their sibling, this impacts their self-esteem, relationship with their parents, and relationship with their sibling.

3. Facilitate Conflict Resolution
This is a very important one! Not only for your role as a parent and not wanting to constantly play referee, but conflict between siblings has been linked to depression and loneliness in later life. Remember, it is NOT simply whether or not they argue, but HOW they handle their disagreement. Sibling conflict allows each child to learn how to state their feelings, express and hold boundaries, and learn how to overcome upset.

**Active Listening**: Teach your children to listen to each other's perspectives during disagreements. Model and practice active listening techniques during family discussions.

**Problem-Solving Skills**: Guide them in resolving conflicts on their own by suggesting they propose solutions and find a compromise. This helps them learn negotiation and empathy.

For both of these, members - you can check out our deep dive and downloadable guide! We also have several posts and reels on our social media pages outlining this!

4. Create Shared Experiences

**Family Traditions**: Establish family traditions that include activities your children enjoy doing together. Whether it is a weekly game night, a monthly outing, or holiday rituals, these shared experiences can build lasting memories.

**One-on-One Time**: Arrange for each child to spend one-on-one time with each sibling. This can deepen their relationship by allowing them to connect on a more personal level. At Mind and Child, we are all about practice! The only way for our kids to learn to enjoy each other is for them to spend time together!

5. Model Positive Relationships

**Parental Relationships**: Demonstrate healthy, respectful relationships with your spouse, friends, and extended family. Children often emulate the relationships they observe in their environment.

**Express Love and Affection**: Show affection towards each of your children and encourage them to do the same with each other. Simple gestures of love and care can reinforce their bond. Healthy physical affection is associated with immediate and long-term mental health outcomes!

6. Encourage Shared Hobbies

**Common Interests**: Find activities both siblings enjoy and encourage them to pursue these hobbies together. Whether it’s sports, arts and crafts, hiking, reading, or gaming, shared interests can provide a common ground for connection. Even if they have different interests, such as one is in piano and the other in basketball, find another activity they could do together.

**Skill Sharing**: Encourage siblings to teach each other their hobbies and skills. This can foster mutual respect and admiration. This also can be a great way for them to get in that practice!

7. Promote a Positive Home Environment

**Safe Space**: Create an environment where each child feels safe, heard, and valued. A positive and supportive home environment lays the foundation for strong sibling relationships. In our homes, we should be emphasizing being empathetic, noticing and helping others when we can,

**Family Meetings**: Hold regular family meetings to discuss feelings, plan activities, and resolve any ongoing issues. For young ages, we also like simple activities such as “High Low Buffalo” or “Rose and Thorn” at dinner just to get conversation going and to encourage open communication. This open communication helps build trust and understanding among siblings.

8. Recognize and Address Jealousy

**Acknowledge Feelings**: If a child feels jealous or left out, acknowledge their feelings without judgment. Rather than focusing on talking them out of it, you can simply reflect “So you were feeling jealous that I played that game with your brother and not you?” Help them express their emotions and find ways to feel secure in their relationship with their sibling. For example, “Sounds like you would love to play a game too? That sounds fun, let’s pick it out!”

**Equal Attention**: Make sure each child receives attention and praise for their achievements and efforts. This can help reduce feelings of competition and jealousy. This doesn’t have to be incredibly lengthy or costly! Try shooting for a minimum of 10 minutes a day per kid and join them in an activity they love. If you have a larger family, this may have to be spread out, but be intentional about spending *quality* time with each kid.

9. Involve Them in Caring for Each Other

**Older Sibling Responsibility**: We do NOT mean simply assigning additional duties to older siblings, as this can feel like a burden. From a young age, include them in tasks for their siblings. For example, let the older sibling help feed the baby with a bottle. If older, let them help your make lunches for siblings and ensure you compliment them in front of their younger siblings and point out how helpful, caring, and responsible they are. We would guess they will be smiling from ear to ear at being acknowledged! As younger kids often need more help and support, and parent attention, older siblings can become resentful. Remember to offer extra positive rewards for being oldest, such as staying up a few minutes later than their younger siblings and setting aside a period of each time to reconnect with them.

**Support Roles**: Encourage them to support each other in times of need, whether it’s helping with homework, comforting each other when upset, or celebrating each other’s successes. This may feel clunky at first, but it does get easier with time! Not only do they learn to rely on each other, they will probably learn to handle frustration and get some extra practice resolving conflict.

10. Promote Empathy and Understanding

**Role-Playing**: If you have been following us for a while, you know we love role-playing! It is such a simple, powerful tool to practice when trying to learn new skills. Use role-playing exercises to help your children understand each other’s perspectives. This can enhance their empathy and reduce conflicts.

**Empathy Exercises**: Encourage your children to express how they would feel in their sibling’s situation. This practice helps them develop a deeper understanding and compassion for each other. After a conflict, it may help to ask each other, “How do you think you made your sibling feel?”

Building a strong sibling relationship takes time, effort, and patience. By implementing these strategies, you can create an environment that fosters love, respect, and a deep bond between siblings. Remember, the goal is not to eliminate all conflicts but to equip your children with the tools to handle disagreements constructively and grow closer through shared experiences and mutual support.

~Dr. Jordana

Want more like this? Transform your home with our Parenting 101 Course, and weekly tips from two Child Psychologists. 

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