Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.
—Vietnamese proverb

Living with brothers and sisters is most children’s first experience in learning how to get along with other people. But no matter how well behaved your kids are, if there is more than one in the house, they will argue. Like the difference between hands and feet, siblings are family, but also unique individuals with their own talents, interests, styles, and needs. Here are some tips on how to help your children make the most of their sibling relationships

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • From the very beginning of their lives, avoid comparing your kids to one another. Acknowledge and celebrate what’s special about each person in your family.
    • Try to give your children plenty of time together and alone with you by enrolling older siblings in special programs or planning play dates with friends. Hire sitters once in a while for younger siblings, or trade time with a friend or partner.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Let your children know you appreciate it when they cooperate or treat each other (and you!) kindly. For example: Say, “I like to see you helping your sister that way,” or “It’s so fun for me when we can all work together like this.”
    • Ask yourself if there are things about your home that help siblings get along. For example: Do you have clear rules such as no violence? Are there spaces where children can spend private time alone? Are there spaces or toys that encourage cooperation and sharing?
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Set clear limits about verbal exchanges and physical engagement. For example: You might have a rule that name-calling isn’t an acceptable way to express anger, and that physical activities such as play wrestling are only allowed if both kids involved consider them fun.
    • Practice staying out of minor bickering and fights. This will help your children learn to resolve these conflicts on their own. Get involved only when the situation threatens to become emotionally or physically hurtful.
    • If your children acquire new siblings through adoption, marriage, foster care, or other family changes, expect these relationships to take time to develop. There will undoubtedly be things to work out and challenges to overcome. You can help the process by being extra careful to not show favoritism or preference to any of the children in your “new” family.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Let your teens see you having good relationships with members of your own family, especially siblings if you have them. Point out what you like about your relatives and let teens see how you resolve conflicts.
    • Allow your teenagers to still be kids while also increasing their levels of responsibility in your home. For example: Balance the benefit of having them babysit younger siblings with giving them time and space to just be with their friends.
  • Teach your children—through modeling and explanation—how to use “I” statements to express feelings to one another without making accusations (for example: “I feel angry when you say that,” instead of “You make me so mad, or “You are so stupid.”

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