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How to Help Siblings Get Along (5 Tips)


Sibling conflict is normal, but how can we teach them better ways to communicate? Learn how to help siblings get along and help them express their feelings.

Raising siblings is an experience unlike any other. The sibling relationship is often a one-of-a-kind blend of closeness, silliness, in-jokes… and, of course, the unavoidable disagreements. Lots of disagreements.

But while conflicts are normal, caregivers should also equip kids with healthy ways to handle sibling rivalry and heal hurt feelings. Resources such as a book on Bigfoot and how he copes with hurt feelings, for example, can provide valuable tools for both children and their caregivers in navigating these emotions.

When your children learn how to navigate conflict with each other, they build social emotional skills they can use in all their future relationships.1 In this article, we’ll explore the causes behind sibling conflict, plus tips on how to nurture a deeper connection between your children. With a few practical strategies, you can empower your children with the conflict-resolution skills they need to let their sibling bond flourish.

5 Reasons Why Siblings Have Conflict

While every sibling relationship is as unique as the family tree, there are a few common issues that tend to be at the root of sibling conflicts. When asking yourself how to help siblings get along, start by inspecting the root cause.

These causes typically include:

  1. Seeking attention – Siblings often engage in conflicts to gain attention from caregivers or even from an older sibling who seems uninterested or occupied with another task. 
  2. Competing for resources – Oftentimes, siblings must share – from toys, space, and treats to the attention of their caregivers. It’s not surprising that many sibling fights start with “That’s my toy!” or “They took the last cookie!”
  3. Jealousy – It’s normal for children to feel jealous when they are sharing resources, wanting attention, misinterpreting situations, or struggling with their own emotional regulation. When they’re regulated, you can teach them how to identify and process their big feelings to set the stage for the next step – problem solving.
  4. Lacking problem solving skills - Kids struggle with solving conflict because they haven't learned to do it yet. Siblings offer a rich opportunity to learn essential skills. Explore our recommended problem solving activities to help children build resilience and develop a growth mindset.
  5. Individual differences – No matter how similar their upbringing, siblings will never be exactly alike. Personality differences can lead to clashes between kids who, by necessity, have to spend most of their free time together.
  6. Seeking independence – As kids grow, they naturally strive for more independence and individuality. This can contribute to conflicts over personal boundaries and privacy. Our Kinspiration Kits help you lead adult-child play to develop the skills to navigate their big feelings and help them express their boundaries.
  7. Different developmental levels – A very common reason for sibling conflict is an age difference. For example, a preschooler is trying to build a tower with blocks, and the toddler sibling approaches and knocks it over. This isn't done to be "mean," but the preschooler might interpret it that way. Both young kids are developmentally at a different stage of play and behavior, so it’s important for them to understand where they are both at.
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How to Help Siblings Get Along

Don’t be alarmed if you witness a sibling fight, even throughout the day. Some research has found that preschoolers fight with their siblings more than once every ten minutes.2

Don’t worry—research also confirms that it’s possible to resolve conflict and build warmth between siblings.2

With that in mind, let’s dig into 5 key strategies to help your kids get along.

#1 Acknowledge Their Feelings and Wants

When your children argue, you can start lowering the temperature by using reflective statements to help both feel heard. Use phrases that let them know their feelings are valid, and you’re listening. Try:

  • “I can see that you’re upset. Can you tell me what happened?”
  • “I know you wanted to have the toy first. How can I help you?”
  • “I saw that your sibling took your chair. How do you feel?”

Give each child time to talk. You may be tempted to jump into problem-solving mode, stop the fighting quickly, and move on. However, this doesn’t let your children build skills to resolve future conflicts on their own. Instead, encourage siblings to find their own solutions, which you can watch as a neutral moderator to affirm both sides.

#2 Set Rules and Boundaries

Setting boundaries with kids creates the rules in which each child feels safe. Involve your children in a family meeting where they can communicate their own boundaries to help them feel included and heard. Post rules where they can be seen by everyone, and refer back to them when conflicts arise.

Sibling conflict can become destructive, so be sure it’s understood that some behaviors are off-limits. Harmful behavior between siblings may look like:3

  • Name-calling and ridiculing
  • Belittling and taunting
  • Hitting, pinching, pushing, etc.
  • Destroying the other child’s things

If you notice these behaviors during play, encourage each child to "take a break.” You can be present as the siblings take a break, or let them come to their own solutions, depending on the age. Caregivers should intervene when these behaviors arise and help lead emotional regulation activities.

#3 Provide Lots of Positive Reinforcement

Instead of offering generic praise (“Good job!”), be appreciative of specific behaviors and positive moments you see between your children. Try phrases like:

  • “Look at you two sharing the swing—you look like you’re having so much fun together.”
  • “Did you notice how your sister smiled when you let her use your scooter? I can tell it made her so happy that you shared.”

Not only do these kinds of reflective statements show your children that you appreciate them, but it also encourages them to notice that they feel good when they’re kind to their siblings.

#4 Avoid Minimizing Phrases

Be cautious about phrases that minimize either child’s feelings, such as:

  • “It’s not a big deal”
  • “They didn’t hurt you”
  • “Stop crying”
  • “Don’t whine”

Actively refining your parenting skills to eliminate this language can be challenging. After a long day, fights and tantrums would be the last thing you want to handle. However, it’s beneficial for children to experience these obstacles to help develop the necessary skills to navigate conflict and create fair solutions. Without your guidance, kids can potentially feel like their feelings are invalid or don’t matter. Your intention may be to calm your child down, but minimizing it can cause further frustration. It can also lessen a child’s ability to cope with these big feelings in the future, which is the opposite impact caregivers are looking for.

#5 Plan Cooperative Activities

Siblings will often engage in unstructured cooperative play on their own. But if your children find themselves in frequent sibling squabbles, you may need to plan specific activities that encourage cooperation with adult support.

Some fun possibilities include:

Since each child may be at a different developmental stage, caregivers can help siblings understand one another through guided activities. Sibling conflict should be a “safe” conflict because it provides a rich and positive experience that can help kids outside of the home too. You can help siblings by:

  • Narrating play to explain how each child thinks
  • Helping each child understand their own feelings and thoughts while extending that understanding to their sibling(s)
  • Helping each child communicate these feelings

These baseline skills are the stepping stones to siblings being able to work things out on their own much better.

Grow a Sibling Bond That Will Last a Lifetime With Help From Slumberkins

As a caregiver, you have the power to shape a positive sibling relationship by teaching your kids healthy conflict-resolution skills. It’s never too late to start showing your kids the way toward a warmer relationship.

By listening carefully, acknowledging their feelings, and planning cooperative activities, you can create a nurturing environment that supports healthy sibling relationships.

Our tools and caregiver resources can help you plan meaningful activities to help kids discover greater empathy and positive behavior for their siblings and other people in their lives. Together, we can teach children the emotional skills they need to build healthy, loving, lifelong connections.


Sources:

  1. McHale, Susan M et al. “Sibling Relationships and Influences in Childhood and Adolescence.” Journal of marriage and the family vol. 74,5 (2012): 913-930. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.01011.x
  2. Dirks, Melanie A et al. “Sibling relationships as sources of risk and resilience in the development and maintenance of internalizing and externalizing problems during childhood and adolescence.” Clinical psychology review vol. 42 (2015): 145-55. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2015.07.003
  3. "Sibling violence." American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.  https://www.aamft.org//Consumer_Updates/Sibling_Violence.aspx



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