Enriching Sibling Relationships

“PARdon Me” a blog series by Laura Duke, CPNP, IBCLC

PARdon me…but how is the brotherly/sisterly love flowing at your house?  Siblings are spending an unprecedented amount of time together.  They are not headed off in different directions for sports or activities.  Friends may only be available by screen.  Schoolwork has come to a close.  In the end, the only person to hang out with….other than, heaven forbid, mom or dad….may be their brother or sister. 

Almost 80% of children grow up with at least one brother or sister. (Healthychildren.org).  Unlike friends who may come and go, siblings are connected for a lifetime.  Pamela Dugdale says, “Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring quite often the hard way.”  Through sibling and other family relationships, we learn how to deal with conflicts, how to appreciate individual differences and how to see life and the world around us from a different perspective.  What can parents do to foster these relationships?

Embrace Differences:  “Everybody’s beautiful…in their own way.”  (Ray Stevens)

Siblings may look almost identical but be very different in personality and aptitude.  This is something to celebrate!  Encourage your children to have separate interests.  Embrace their individuality.  Avoid comparisons verbal or nonverbal. 

Foster Fun:  “Never underestimate the importance of having fun.” (Randy Pausch)

Encourage your kids to be silly.  Make a game out of being nice to your brother or sister.  Once again, I refer you to Pinterest.  There are tons of pins featuring activities that encourage sibling bonding and help with rivalry and fighting.  Many are geared towards siblings of varied ages.  You don’t have to come up with the ideas yourself.

Allow Disagreements:  “Siblings that say they never fight are most definitely hiding something.”  (Lemony Snicket)  

Siblings will fight.  It is how we learn conflict resolution.  Your job as a parent is NOT to solve every argument.  That would be impossible.  You should also not ignore disagreements.  Take the time to hear both sides and help your kids identify how to compromise or resolve the issue.  It is OK to have parameters such as no hitting or physical contact, no name calling or bad language and no property damage.  Sometimes a little quiet time apart may be necessary  before working towards a resolution.  Remember that rarely is only one person completely right in a conflict.  There are always two sides.  Some physical contact between siblings is normal and age appropriate.  James Patterson observed, “Half the time, when brothers wrestle, it’s just an excuse to hug each other.”  I am pretty sure that if you point this out to them, they will stop. 

Encourage Teamwork:  “There is no I in team.” (Michael Jordan and every coach ever) 

Find ways for your kids to work towards a common goal.  Have them race mom and dad to finish a household chore.  Give them an age appropriate project to work on together and follow it up with a simple reward.  Let them gang up on you sometimes!

Know When to Separate:  “If you are lonely when you are alone, you’re in bad company.” (Jean-Paul Satre)

Recognize when the sibling togetherness is starting to wear thin and encourage your kids to spend some time alone.  Allow them to engage in some activities on their own without their brother or sister around.  Take time to allow kids to spend some one on one time with each parent.  You will get as much out of it as they will.    

As I have often said, give yourself and your kids some grace.  It is a very different time.  They are trying to navigate it as we are and sometimes that means lashing out at the safest people in their life.  Building strong sibling bonds takes time and practice.  We make mistakes along the way and keep trying.

In the meantime…..PARdon me……

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