Creating healthy sibling relationships

Encourage good feelings between siblings.

Sibling relationships are one of the first opportunities for children to learn social skills. Growing up, many of us have vivid memories about our relationships with our siblings. For some of us they are great memories and those relations continue today; for others, these relationships were not as positive. Or, in some situations these relationships have evolved over the years in different ways. Thinking back to your sibling relationships may help you with your children and how they interact with each other.

Michigan State University Extension has some ideas and suggestions to help generate and encourage positive feelings between your children:

  • Make sure that each of your children receives alone time with you several times a week. This one-on- one time can cut down on the need to seek attention in inappropriate ways. Examples of one-on-one time might be a shared activity like reading, fixing a meal together, listening to music, a car ride or a walk.
  • When spending time with one child, refrain from talking about other siblings. This time is just about the child you are with, so you can learn about, and enjoy each other more.
  • Don’t withhold affection or attention from one child in order to make it up to another. In an attempt to even things out, parents may over compensate towards one child. All the child needs from you is full and realistic appreciation for who they are.
  • Don’t get trapped by too much “togetherness.” For some children, the pressure of having to spend long stretches of time in the company of siblings can become stressful. Try to be thoughtful of where the relationships are currently and plan appropriately to keep stress (and bickering) levels down for all involved.
  • Don’t lock the children into their family order position – (oldest, middle, and youngest). Give each of the children an opportunity to experience the freedoms and responsibilities of the others when appropriate.
  • Share with each of your children what their siblings like and admire about them. Often, siblings will not share the positive thoughts and feelings they have for each other. Learning what positive feelings they have for each other will create a positive relationship.

Use these ideas and suggestions over time to help you navigate your children’s relationships with each other as lasting, positive effects. Always remember that sibling relationships constantly evolve and change during different periods of their lives. By removing some of the usual obstacles of sibling rivalry, we can help create long, happy, fulfilling relationships.

MSU Extension offers a multitude of classes and resources on stress and anger management, parenting, conflict resolution and violence prevention. For programs near you go to:

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