Anyone who has had siblings know they are some of the longest lasting relationships we form in life. Siblings are there in our earliest memories, and we remain connected to them, even if distantly, throughout our whole lives. It is no surprise then to think that siblings profoundly shape who we become as we grow into adulthood. Siblings help us learn social skills, influence who we marry, and can ultimately teach us valuable lessons in conflict resolution. As a parent it’s clear that one of the best things you can do is encourage positive interactions among your children, with the hope of cultivating long lasting positive relationships.
A professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Laurie Kramer, found that statistically sibling conflict can arise 3.5 times every hour, and with younger siblings it can occur 6.3 times every 10 minutes. For some parents these statistics can feel depressingly true, and a little hopeless. How can you possibly fight these odds every 10 minutes? At the end of the day you can’t totally remove all possibility of conflict from the home, or between children, but you can help children learn how to better manage the conflict between themselves.
One valuable thing parents can do is teach collaborative-problem solving. Mustering all the patience you can, which might not be a lot at the end of the day, encourage kids to clearly identify the problem and think of a solution for it on their own. The ideas they come up with might surprise you, and be more effective than your solution of “because I said so.” Children will start to develop a solution based mind-set, learning that it’s far better to approach disagreements through peaceful negotiations, by looking for common ground and a solution that works for all parties.
In addition this take notice of and reward positive interactions. If you see your children displaying altruistic behavior towards one another tell them how proud you are, and how much you appreciate the help they contribute to the family. Parents can also give children opportunities to share a responsibility or depend on one another. They might complain that you’ve assigned them bathroom cleaning duty each Saturday, but this shared task can help them bond and develop memories together. These scenarios might not always be a guaranteed success, but when they are successful children will come away remembering how a sibling cared for them, leading to greater trust and respect as they get older.
Most people with siblings you can relate to feeling unnoticed or ignored, especially in comparison to a seemingly more successful brother or sister. While these feelings are generally normal, they can contribute to poorer relationships among siblings if not managed. Parents can prevent permanent damage by encouraging differences. You might have a child who will mirror an older sibling, while another child will choose to rebel, acting the exact opposite way instead. Be diligent in making sure you acknowledge different forms of success, whether it be good grades, excellence in sports, or even the talent for being a good friend. Avoid making direct comparisons and focus on encouraging each child to pursue what makes them unique. Children will start to see their role in the family as different from their siblings, and feel more secure and safer from the threat of displacement. At the end of the day you want your children to know there is room from all of them, and their differences, in the family.
If even with your best efforts you still find your children waging daily battles, take hope in knowing that with the majority of people sibling warmth and love often prevails. All those fights growing up can sometimes lead to funny memories that they’ll bond over in adulthood, reminiscing over the lessons they learned, and how it helped them better understand other people in the world around them.