One day I asked on my Facebook page what people’s biggest struggle and biggest success is when it comes to siblings. The overwhelming answer was fighting.
At a family function, a relative of a relative (who is not our relative) said to me, “Your girls get along so well. You should teach a class about how you foster such a great relationship with them.” I tried not to laugh as I said, “I do, actually. And I’m teaching it next week!” My sibling class is my favorite to teach but I think it’s because it’s a topic that I am pretty passionate about.
This is not to say that my kids don’t fight. They do. Often. As a matter of fact, just this morning Katherine said Rebecca was pulling her pony tail. The difference is that we’ve taught them to try to communicate well throughout their altercation and we are always close by to help support them if they need it.
On the way to school, I asked the girls what makes them feel like they have a great relationship as sisters. Here were their response:
Katherine (8) – “When we get to talk on the way to school, I feel like we become better sisters.”
Caroline ( 7) – “When we get to do things together.”
Rebecca (5) – “When my sisters help me with a project.”
I noticed the main theme through all their answers was connection. Creating connection between siblings is one of the most integral parts of fostering a solid relationship between them. Here are some suggestions and ideas:
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1. Teach them how to make decision where everyone wins
There are going to be a lot of situations where it looks like everyone can’t win. And sometimes that may be the case. For most situations, though, you can teach the kids how to create a win-win for everyone. At Easter my sister in law gave the girls these amazing large, fuzzy pillows. They were each a different color and the girls had to decide who would get what color.
What this looks like:
Me – “I want you each to tell me what 2 color pillows you’d like to have. There’s yellow, pink, and purple. Think about what your favorite colors are and what color your room is because that’s where your pillow will be.”
Katherine – “Pink and purple.”
Caroline – “Yellow and pink.”
Rebecca – “Pink and purple.”
Caroline got the yellow one because she was the only one who wanted it. Katherine got the pink one and Rebecca got the purple one. Everyone was happy because they all got one of their top 2 choices. If this hadn’t worked and they all wanted the same colors, we would have waited to give any pillows to anyone. We don’t distribute anything until everyone is in agreement.
How do you handle that?
So if they all wanted the pink and purple pillows, I would have said, “Well, you all want the pink and purple pillows and there are only 2 of them and 3 of you. What can we do so that everyone feels like they get what they need in this situation?” I would have helped to guide them to different solutions like, “We can all take turns with the pillows and each color spends a week in someone’s room,” “Maybe we can return one at the store to get a new color,” “Make a new cover for one of the pillows,” or “Pick a color out of a hat.” They’d all have to agree on the method used to determine who gets what. If they don’t all agree on the method, they won’t be accepting of the outcome. If they do agree, that doesn’t leave them room to complain. Now, if they are having a hard time with this, as younger kids would, you can hold onto the pillows yourself until they’re ready to resolve the issue. Approaching it diplomatically will help them to sort out their own problems later. It also teaches them that each of their voices’ matter and that you won’t play favorites.
2. Encourage teamwork
Have the kids work on a project together. It can be a craft project, a cooking project, or even a cleaning project.
What this looks like:
You can set up a project for them to do together and figure out on their own. For example, “I need you guys to clean the playroom. Can you guys figure out how to do it on your own or do you need some suggestions?” If they can figure it out on their own, keep an ear on them to make sure that one person isn’t taking advantage of another. If they need help, offer alternatives like, “One person can pick up the Legos, one person can pick up the books, and one person can put the craft supplies away. Who wants to do which project?” You may have it easy at this point where everyone picks a different item. However, parenting is not full of easy. Normally you’ll have them all wanting to do the same project.
How do you handle that?
See above where I talk about how we decide who gets which pillow and use the same method. “Which 2 projects would you like to have?”
Sharing isn’t an innate behavior. Everyone, including adults, can get territorial about their possessions and what they want to do. While I think it helps if your kids share things (less money spent by you!), I think it’s also important that each child has their own things that they don’t share. This revelation was a hard one for me to come to when Katherine and Caroline were little. They’re 14 months apart so I naturally thought they’d share everything. At around 2, Katherine said to me one day, “Mommy, I don’t want to share this – it’s my most special toy.” And it was. I realized that as an adult there are things that I don’t want to share with anyone. If I’m giving our kids the same respect that I expect, then I can’t expect them to share everything. This meant that we had 2 or 3 of some things but that’s okay. By teaching the girls that they have things that no one else can touch or play with, it also taught them that people’s things are valuable.
What this looks like:
Each child has a bucket that goes into a shelving unit in our playroom that belongs to them. We label them with their name. They aren’t allowed to touch anyone’s bucket without permission and anything they put in there is off limits to everyone else. This has been their space and they really value it.
4. Offer support
You can offer to help them mediate a disagreement but don’t solve it for them. It’s easy to step in with all the answers but this is setting them up to be rescued every single time. By guiding them in their disagreements, it will require more of your time in the beginning, but it won’t in the end. Eventually they’ll know how to mediate their own disagreements and ask for help when they need it. What can be difficult is when you have younger children that aren’t yet verbal.
What this looks like:
“Do you need Mommy’s help you to talk to your big brother? Can you tell us what you want?” or you can say something like, “I think what your little brother is trying to say is that he’s feeling frustrated that he still hasn’t gotten a turn yet. Is that right, little brother? When can we expect him to have a turn? Would you like me to set a timer for you so we know when it’s his turn?” It’s important to make sure you don’t put words in their mouth but try to put feelings into words. This will help both of them identify that feelings have labels and it will help them to recognize them when they happen.
5. Teaching “make ups”
When someone does something wrong it’s important to teach them how to make it better. You want the make up to be related to the offense so it’s a logical consequence. If you can’t think of a logical consequence, you can ask the offended child, “How would you like your sister make it up to you?” It’s important that the consequence be logical because in this situation, a child can take some creative leeway. For example, you don’t want a child to clean their sibling’s entire room if they weren’t the one to mess it up.
What does this look like:
If one sibling knocks blocks over, they can do a make up by helping to build the tower again or to pick up the blocks. If one sibling says mean things to the other, they can make a list of 3 things that they do like about the other sibling. If someone hurts someone else, they can draw them a picture to make them feel better.
Now, this isn’t to say that if you do all these things with your kids that they will love each other forever and ever and never fight. They’re siblings and every person comes to a relationship with their own dynamics. The most important thing is to teach them how to be empathetic to each other and how to bounce back when they fall down.
Because they will fall down.
Over and over again.
And they’re going to want their siblings there to offer support when they do.
P.S. If you are interested in the Building a Better Sibling Connection course, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be teaching it online soon!
P.S.S. These are my most favorite sibling books.
Click to read how connecting with your kid individually is important.