Why won’t they just get along?

Strategies for helping siblings cooperate and get along with each other.

Photo by Carrie Shrier, MSU Extension
Photo by Carrie Shrier, MSU Extension

“It’s mine!” “He went in my room!” “She took my toy!” Any parent of more than one child has negotiated many arguments between siblings. Whether it’s about toys, room or just generally having to be in the space, siblings often have trouble getting along. What can you do as a parent to help your children cooperate and share with their brother or sister? Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips to smoother sibling relationships.

Teach problem-solving skills

Learning to solve problems is a skill. Teach your children steps to solve problems and give them guidelines on when to tell Mom or Dad. The Center for the Social Emotional Foundations on Early Learning offers the following problem-solving steps:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Think of a solution.
  3. Evaluate the solution for fairness.
  4. Try it out!

Explain to your children what you DO want to be told about, such as injuries, harmful behavior, etc., and what you expect them to solve, like sharing toys, being in their “space”, etc.

Don’t expect them to share everything

Imagine if you had to share all of your own personal possessions with someone else. You might not feel like sharing your phone all the time or having to give up that new pair of earrings. When possible, let children have their own personal possessions they don’t have to share. This might mean identifying just those one or two special things that are “off limits” to sharing.

Provide guidelines to sharing controversial items. If the family computer is often an issue, provide a schedule: Sam gets his hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Julia gets Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Also, don’t overlook the importance of personal space. If your children share rooms, make sure they have a special place to keep their own items and time to be alone.

Find time to be one on one

Schedule time for special “dates” with your children alone. It doesn’t have to be something expensive or even out of the home. Take time to hang out together, watch their favorite TV show, bake a cake, build a birdhouse or even just going for a walk. It’s nice to know you’ve got Mom’s ear for a few minutes and don’t have to compete to be heard.

Intervene before it escalates

Most parents can identify the signs that things are starting to go awry. You hear the bickering start or see them start to roughhouse. Pay attention to those little signs that your children’s play is shifting and intervene. Help support them in choosing a more appropriate activity, insist upon some separate time or even provide a task for them to redirect their focus.

Don’t compare

Do not compare your children to each other. While it might be tempting to point out that Daniel has no problem getting his chores done and McKenzie was quick to master her math facts, it is frustrating and hurtful to children to have their challenges highlighted in this manner. Instead, focus on their individual strengths and highlight their successes.

Model the behavior you want to see

Children learn a lot from what they observe. Do they see you getting along with your partner? Are you solving problems with words instead of arguments? Remember that children are observing everything you say and do and learning from your actions. Be mindful to create an expectation of kindness and appreciation at home.

Parenting multiple children of varying ages and personalities can be very challenging at times! Focusing on teaching sharing and cooperation can help nurture siblings relationships, limit some bickering and even lead to a calmer and more supportive household atmosphere.

For more information about early childhood education and other topics, visit the MSU Extension website.

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