Sibling Rivalry: How to Help the Kids Get Along - Hope 103.2

Sibling Rivalry: How to Help the Kids Get Along

Sibling rivalry and conflict is normal, but parents can take steps to teach them to care for each other, says family psychologist Collett Smart.

By Clare BruceTuesday 26 Sep 2017ParentingReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Collett Smart chats to Katrina Roe on helping your kids get along

Depending on their childhood relationships, siblings can grow up to be at war with one another, or friends for life.

While there’s no secret formula to making your children bond, parents can take steps to teach them to care for each other.

Family and adolescent psychologist Collett Smart has three kids of her own, so it’s something she thinks about daily. Chatting to Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe, Collett was quick to stress that sibling conflict is normal, and part of learning about life.

Should You Worry About Sibling Fights?

Red haired brother and sister playing

“I think conflict is absolutely normal in any healthy relationship,” she said. It means children are learning to assert their own opinions, to share or co-operate, and to use conflict management. They are learning how to get along with different people and personalities.”

Parents shouldn’t worry too much that their children argue, because usually the fun times, outweigh the negative moments.

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“The nett positive [time] is what predicts healthy relationships later in life,” she said.

“Some of the research on relationships says you need five to seven positive interactions to counterbalance one negative. That makes you despair if your children have bickered three times in a morning, but positive interactions are simple—things like smiling at your sister, or putting away your brother’s cereal bowl, saying thankyou, being involved in joint family projects.”

Tips for Improving Your Childrens’ Sibling Relationships

Collett offers a lot of hope  for parents who aren’t getting along, and offers the following tips.

1 – Nurture the moments when your children get along.

If your little ones are playing together nicely, let them keep playing. If your teens are bonding over a conversation, or having a rare moment of laughter or enjoying an activity together, don’t interrupt it.  “There’s times when I’ve noticed my children really involved in a deep conversation late at night, so I’ve even left their bedtime slip a bit, to nurture that positive interaction,” Collett says.

Two sisters laughing

2 – Overcome rivalry by helping each child find unique hobbies.  

Some of the biggest childhood conflicts and rivalries occur between two kids of the same gender, where one feels overshadowed by their sibling’s abilities or achievements.

“Get them involved in completely different sports or activities, so they can each develop their own interests,” Collett says. “And then they can celebrate and support each other for what they’re good at.”

3 – Have individual time with each child so they don’t feel neglected.

This strategy is especially helpful for children who feel they’re not getting the same amount of attention as their sibling. While their jealousy may simply be a false perception, individual attention can help.

“Plan special times with each child and verbalise to them the fact that they are spending time with you on their own, compared to a brother or sister,” Collett suggests.

4 – Defuse jealousy by teaching your kids they are unique.

At times children with a quieter personality might become jealous of their gregarious sibling who gets all the limelight. Parents can help their kids by teaching them that they are each unique, and each has different strengths.

“One child might prefer their own space, while another is much more social and outgoing. Explain and normalise each others’ traits, and even celebrate them,” Collett says. “My daughter, for example, likes quiet in the morning. She gets a cup of tea, closes her door and has quiet. My boys go off and wrestle or chat with dad at the breakfast table. Explain that that’s ok, it’s not that they’re not loved by their siblings.”

5 – Teach your kids to show kindness and care to each other.

Sister comforts her little brother

Encourage your children to do kind gestures for each other, such as:

  • Telling their sibling ‘well done’ when they’ve had a big achievement
  • Giving their brother or sister a card or a hug when they need comfort
  • Greeting each other every morning and saying goodnight each evening
  • Taking their sibling a favourite treat when they’re sick

“As parents it’s about teaching your children to say ‘I love you’ through actions, and modelling this behaviour yourself to your children, so they know what caring and empathy looks like,” says Collett.

6 – Allow space for your kids to help one another.

If one of your children is hurt, or in need of help, don’t always be the rescuer; take a step back and allow space to see if a sibling steps in to comfort them. And recognise and celebrate it when it happens.

“Say, ‘Wow, I really noticed how you showed love for your brother or sister’,” Collett suggests. “We need to notice the times they care, not the times they fight.”

7 – Don’t expect them to become besties.

Remember that while it would be nice for our sons and daughters grow up to be bosom buddies, it’s OK if they don’t. “They are siblings,” Collett says. “That’s a unique relationship that needs to be celebrated.”