3 Ways to Foster a Positive Sibling Relationship

4 min read
Elina Fairytale/Pexels

Elina Fairytale/Pexels

Children and adults benefit from close and supportive relationships with their siblings. Research shows that a positive sibling relationship is linked with mental and physical health and the quality of peer and romantic relationships across the lifespan. Parents often have multiple children in the hope that they will be friends for life, only to face the daily reality of frequent and disruptive sibling fighting.

Siblings are natural competitors for family resources—like parents’ and caregivers’ love and attention. Sometimes, however, rivalrous behavior can dominate siblings’ interactions, leading to sibling conflict and creating an antagonistic family environment. Parents play a significant role in reducing rivalry and creating harmony between their children. In this post, we describe three strategies parents and caregivers can use to foster a positive sibling relationship.

1. Reward and Support Positive Sibling Interactions

Parents can help their children develop warm relationships by supporting their development of interpersonal skills. Skills like sharing, patience, perspective-taking, and cooperation are essential to establishing a positive sibling relationship and quality relationships with others outside the family.

To help young children gain these abilities, parents can create opportunities to teach and guide their children during shared activities. Parents also can demonstrate and teach these skills during sibling conflicts when they inevitably arise. When children successfully use these skills with their siblings, parents should praise them.

As children get older, parents can encourage them to work together or share personal good news or challenges they are facing, creating openings for their children to practice kind and supportive behaviors with their siblings. No matter the age of their children, it is important for parents to notice when their children get along and express support for their relationship. An added benefit of helping children develop these interpersonal skills is that noisy and disruptive sibling conflicts will decrease.

2. Treat Children Equitably

Children from the same family are frequently no more alike than unrelated children. Characteristics like birth order, gender, personality, interests, and abilities create differences that are often accompanied by parents treating their children differently. For example, parents may prefer spending time with a particular child due to shared interests. Siblings are different, and truly treating children equally may not be achievable. However, treating children equitably—or fairly—is possible.

By treating children equitably, parents communicate that they value each child for who they are, which helps tamp down feelings of rivalry. Children often believe they are aware of every instance of how their siblings are treated in comparison to their own treatment. For this reason, it is important to establish a family environment of open communication. Open communication can create understanding and perspective that otherwise may not be possible when children believe they are being treated unfairly.

3. Teach Constructive Conflict Management and Resolution

Siblings will inevitably have conflicts, so it is essential for parents to teach children how to fight and resolve their disagreements constructively. Constructive conflict, characterized by listening, cooperation, and finding a mutually satisfying solution, is associated with warmer sibling relationships. Conversely, sibling conflicts that involve not listening, escalating combative behaviors, and one or both siblings feeling mistreated and misunderstood are linked to less warm and involved sibling relationships.

Parents can help facilitate children’s learning of constructive conflict management by remaining a neutral party focused on guiding children in learning these important relationship skills. With parents’ help, children can identify the problem causing conflict, explain their differing feelings and perspectives, and propose and enact solutions. Learning how to resolve fights constructively has benefits not only for the nature of sibling dynamics but also for relationships with peers and future romantic partners.

Family Dynamics Essential Reads

Parents play an essential role in fostering enduring and warm sibling relationships. Although often overlooked, the nature of sibling dynamics and siblings’ relative treatment by parents are critical for children’s mental and physical health and interpersonal relationships across the lifespan. By consciously fostering positive sibling relationships, parents can help their children become lifelong allies, not rivals.

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