Fostering Sibling Friendships

Did you know that on average, siblings between the ages of three and seven argue about 10 minutes of every hour? I love telling parents about this fact from the studies in the book, Nurture Shock, New Thinking About Children, because it gives parents a feeling of relief that, “Whew, my kids aren’t the only ones that bicker!” Concerns about how to deal with sibling conflict are some of the most frequently asked questions I hear from parents. It can bring up a lot of emotions. As parents, we love our kids and want them to love each other. And it can drive parents a little nuts when their children seem to be arguing all day long. Here is some information about how to alleviate sibling conflict and how to foster positive sibling relationships.

One key idea is that siblings who have fun together—at least some of the time—will be more motivated to work through their differences. One researcher reported that when sibling interactions resulted in net positive interactions, this made the difference for enduring relationships later in life. The siblings who just ignored each other as kids tended to stay cool and distant in the long term. Think back to your own sibling relationships; does this idea hold true? I tended to scrap with one of my sisters—okay, I admit it, I still do—but we also had a ton of fun during the good times. The relationship was important enough that we would always make up; and still do, thank goodness. When relationships have some positive emotional resonance, siblings will be more motivated to get past the conflict. They want their playmate back!

Another key idea to encourage positive sibling relationships is to help children develop the skills to get along with each other. These skills will come in handy for getting along with their age-mates as well. If left to their own devices, children are likely to push and grab and squawk to get what they want. They don’t come preprogramed with a pleasant negotiation skill-set. Never fear, parents can help children develop the skills they need for successful interactions. Parents will then need to exercise patience, patience while encouraging their children to practice, practice.

To get started, think about what stumbling blocks occur during your children’s conflicts. First off, check the basics. Are the kids too tired, too hungry or over-stimulated? If so, that requires adult intervention to meet those needs to help children be at their best. Next, think about skills your children need to learn to negotiate with each other. What do you see them doing that is not working? Can you think of more appropriate alternatives that you can teach them to do instead?

One program called, “More Fun With Brothers And Sisters” helped siblings develop negotiation skills with one another by using the words, “Stop”, “Think”, and “Talk”. These were used as cues to help children learn to initiate play, find activities that both siblings liked, and how to gently decline play when they were not interested.

What do you think is the most common reason for sibling conflict? The answer is the sharing of possessions. You can help your children with this by teaching them to say, “May I have a turn when you are done?”

When your children seem to be hassling each other day and night, just remember that it is normal for children to squabble. Take a deep breath and help them practice their negotiation skills and find ways to highlight the good times.