The second a sibling arrives home, the family dynamics are forever changed. How these developing humans get along with each other significantly depends on several factors including genetics, the environment they are raised in, role modeling of parents, and the general likes and dislikes of the siblings.
Think of your family as a team. Each individual plays a unique and vital role in maintaining the family dynamics. Having siblings that get along with one another vastly improves the health of the family unit. On the other hand, siblings who bicker and fight constantly add additional and unnecessary stress to family dynamics.
Building strong sibling relationships among your children not only brings peace of mind to parents, but it also yields adults who understand how to compromise and work as a team with almost anyone.
That being said, even the most proactive parents who work feverishly to create a nurturing environment for their children sometimes have kids who just don’t like each other. That’s life. Nevertheless, parents can provide their children with opportunities to learn and practice positive life skills such as being able to demonstrate respect for someone with a different point of view.
So how can you be proactive in building team spirit between siblings?
1. Even If You Do Have a Favorite, Do Not Be Obvious: It’s inevitable, sometimes a parent is lucky enough to have a child who (to them) feels easy and fun and who they connect with more often. It’s wonderful when that happens! Just make sure you are aware of any unconscious or conscious favoritism. Kids can smell preferential treatment from a mile away. If you want siblings to be tight, don’t wedge yourself in between them with favoritism.
2. Don’t Compare Apples to Oranges: Such an easy concept to grasp, but not so easy to implement. Even if your children share many similarities, don’t compare them. This will ultimately lead to unnecessary competition. Siblings need to know that home is a safe place where they can develop at their own pace without sibling comparisons.
3. Facilitate Shared Experiences: When people who don’t usually get along are put into a situation where they share a common enemy, they are usually able to put their differences aside and work together to defeat this shared foe. Instead of sharing an enemy, offer your kids a shared positive experience (*Note: Sometimes during the teenage years siblings unite against their parents in order to be able to successfully break and push family rules). Ask your children to participate in an activity such as volunteering at an animal shelter together or offering to teach classes at their local recreation center.
For younger siblings, help them make cookies to give to neighbors or make a meal for a family in need. Remember, your main goal is to offer a shared experience they can talk about and relate to with one another. This provides a space outside of the home where the siblings may want or need to lean on each other for support without parental intervention. These types of activities also build the bond between siblings and tend to decrease bickering and fighting.
4. Model Respectful Behavior at Home: This one seems simple but it’s not easy to implement 24/7. Why? Because we are all human and fallible. However, we can’t use this as an excuse to not try our best, especially with family members. When you and your significant another start to argue be mindful of who’s around and possibly table that conversation (if possible) for another time if you think you may lose your temper. If you both are in control I encourage you to model for your children how to have a civil discussion wherein the parents remain calm and in control and model compromise and respect.
5. Don’t Vent about Your Kids in Front of Siblings: Every parent needs to vent their frustrations once in a while, I get that. But try to do it out of earshot of the kids. You may think your words don’t have an impact on your son because you are speaking in front of your daughter. Wrong. Your daughter will hear how you talk about her brother and she may even take on some of your feelings toward him (i.e. She gets mad when he leaves dirty clothes on his bedroom floor because it makes you mad. This issue shouldn’t even concern her yet she’s taken on your feelings about it.)
6. Tell Them You Love Them Every Single Day: Children thrive in environments where they feel safe and loved. This “dugout” within the world provides them the space to build their confidence to explore their world, their emotions, their inner demons in a loving and supportive environment. Children need space to practice things like manners. They need to learn how to accept responsibility for their actions and apologize when they mess up without fear of retaliation or punishment. Making your children feel loved is one of the greatest gifts of emotional support.
Sometimes all a family’s team players fit nicely into their specific role in the family. Other times family members have to work harder to build those strong bonds. Regardless of whether it’s easy or difficult, promoting positive relationships between siblings is important to the health of the family unit but also society as a whole.