Nothing feels better to a parent than watching your children play together peacefully (preferably while kicking up your feet and enjoying a hot cup of coffee). Seeing young siblings bond quickly conjures rosy visions of grown children who are best friends, a vision generally burst by the first “he touched my toy!” or “she looked at me weird!” or the dreaded “MOOOOOOOOMMM!” While some friction between siblings is inevitable, there are some steps you can take now to help your kids build the kind of strong sibling bond that will give them a teammate for life.
Be the Example for Your Children
Like most lessons you want to impart to your children, this one starts with you. Your children are sponges, so let them soak up the kindness and respect with which you treat other people. It is especially important for your kids to see you interacting positively with their siblings. If your child sees you treating a brother or sister kindly, and even (gasp!) having fun together, the more likely they are to do the same. And of course, praise instances of peaceful sibling play when you see them. Positive reinforcement leads to positive behavior!
Make Time for Each Sibling
A lot of the friction between siblings is spurned by competition for a parent’s time and affection. One way to relieve this tension is to make time every day for each individual child. Studies show that even just small amounts of quality, focused time create positive outcomes for children. When children feel secure in their own relationship with a parent, they are less likely to compete with their siblings.
Plan Sibling Bonding Activities
When there is a bigger age gap or you have kids with wildly different interests, it may not be natural for your children to choose to play together. So once again, this is where you come in. Find activities that your kids all enjoy doing and then make a point of scheduling sibling bonding activities. Do your kids share a love of swimming? Sign them up for swim lessons together, or join the local swimming pool during the summer. The more positive, joyful experiences the siblings have together, the more positive their feelings will become towards their siblings.
Create Opportunities for Your Children to Team Up
If the goal is for your kids to act as a unit, take a lesson from the workplace and plan team-building activities for kids. You don’t have to do trust falls or get them out on a ropes course, but you do want to give your kids the chance to work together as much as possible. On family game nights have the siblings play as a team against the adults or have your kids team up to complete chores like setting the table every night or doing the dishes.
Teach Conflict Resolution
Look, your kids are going to clash, that’s just part of growing up in the same household. When these spats do come up, make sure your children are equipped to resolve them. Set expectations for respectful interactions, teach your children how to effectively express their emotions, and then let your kids resolve their conflicts together. And if they come to you for help, make sure each child feels heard and validated.
Sibling Relationships Are Worth the Effort
Of course you’d love for your children to magically be each other’s best friend, but like all relationships, sibling relationships take work. The good news is that the effort pays dividends well beyond childhood—studies show that people with strong sibling bonds experience fewer negative life events as adults.