For most families, siblings are a fact of life. More than 80 percent of children live with at least one sibling! If you’re like me, you have good memories (obstacle courses in the backyard), and maybe some not-so-good ones (pinching contests on long car rides). Having—and being—a sibling shapes us in important ways.
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Growing up with siblings helps children develop skills like negotiation and problem-solving. Siblings also help us learn to understand the feelings of others. Children whose siblings are kind, warm, and supportive show more empathy than children whose siblings don’t show these qualities.
Sibling relationships benefit children as they grow. Teens who feel supported by a sibling tend to have better friendships and higher self-esteem. Older adults who are close to their siblings report higher life satisfaction and lower rates of depression.
So What You Can Do to Build Sibling Relationships?
- Avoid favorites. It seems obvious, but having a “favorite” damages sibling relationships. Avoid comparing siblings or criticizing one sibling in front of another.
- Build strong relationships with each child so each feels loved, valued, and special. Make some one-on-one time with each child part of your daily routine.
- Help children learn to resolve their differences. Conflicts between siblings give children many, many opportunities to practice turn-taking and cooperation. These moments also help children see the world from someone else’s perspective. Let your children try to work it out, and step in only when they need help.
- Create opportunities for siblings to have fun together. Whether it’s a dance party, water play, blocks, art, and other activities are great for children of different ages and temperaments.
- Leave them alone. If they’re having fun together, you don’t need to join in. Let them play and take a few minutes to relax!
- Give them a mission to complete as a team. “Can you two push the laundry basket over to the washing machine? Let’s see how strong you are together!”
- Build sibling connections into daily routines. Prompt children to say “good night,” “I love you,” and “goodbye” to their siblings across the day.
- Cheer each other on. Encourage sibs to support one another. First-time big brother rides a bike with no training wheels? High-fives from his younger siblings. Little sister builds a super-tall block tower? Snap a family pic to celebrate the moment.
- Give siblings a chance to care for one another. If a child is sick, let his brother bring him a snack. If a child falls down at the park, ask her sister to help her up while you pull band-aids out of the diaper bag.
- Establish family traditions that build strong sibling bonds. Involve children in activities like preparing special meals, making cookies, decorating for the holidays, and other important family activities (like planting a garden in the spring).
- Do shared activities. Draw a family picture on a big piece of paper that everyone draws on—or a “family fruit salad,” where each family member adds a different kind of fruit to the bowl.
While sibling conflict is normal, sibling connections are too. Nurturing these early relationships is a gift you can give your children and one that they’ll take with them their entire lives.