Sibling Harmony? Is It Possible?

huggingThere is no secret to why siblings fight. Babies aren’t born with great conflict resolution skills. They enter this world fairly self centered by necessity in order to survive.

Just as a child begins to develop a sense of emotional security, a sense of self, compassion and all of the more sophisticated feelings that come with age, along comes a sibling.  The world of your first born is rearranged. Like when you thought you were done spring cleaning. You sit there content with everything in perfect order when your spouse shows up with five large boxes from the attic, wondering why you’re not curious and excited to see what’s inside.

How to Prevent Sibling Rivalry Ahead of Time

When it comes to promoting sibling harmony, it all starts with you and it all starts early.

1. Before your second baby is born, start referring to the baby as “your brother” or “your sister” when talking to your child about the baby.

2. Also, refrain from making any large changes a few months before the baby arrives. You don’t want your older child to associate the arrival of a sibling with him being moved to a different room or a different bed for instance.

3. If the mother is the primary care giver, have dad play a larger role in the child’s life, long before the baby is born.

4. Once the baby is here, take lots of pictures of the two siblings alone. Place these pictures around the house as a constant reminder that they belong together. I even had pictures of my two girls on a shelf in their bathroom. They spent a lot of time in there so it made sense to me.

5. Involve the older one in smaller decisions regarding the baby, and praise positive actions.

6. Make sure to spend private time with the older one each and every day to instill the fact that he didn’t lose a parent when he gained a sibling.

How to Promote Sibling Harmony As Kids Get Older

OK, but what do you do if your kids are older, and you missed the opportunity to begin early? As the children become verbal and spend more time together, the real work begins. ( Click here for more on how to deal with fights.)

1. When my kids were growing up, the rule was simple: Don’t tell on each other unless there’s an emergency. I didn’t want siblings gaining ground by stepping on each other.So while they could let me know that they were having a problem, they soon learned to rephrase the first impulsive outburst before they reached me.

2. Positive behavior was sometimes rewarded with small surprises. I sometimes interrupted with a trip to the ice  cream store for instance. While I wouldn’t recommend bribing, rewarding good behavior sporadically is perfectly fine, as long as it isn’t done regularly. You don’t want kids to expect a treat each time they play nicely.

3. It’s never a good idea to compare two siblings . Even such innocent sounding statements as “this is my reader”  or “he is my quiet child” are damaging. You couldn’t ruin a sibling relationship faster if you placed them on different continents.

4. Oh wait; there is one way to ruin a sibling relationship faster — playing favorites. How could I almost forget that one?

5. Now and then, when the family are all together, have each person say what they like best about another family member. Showing and modeling appreciation is like super glue for a sibling relationship.

6. With siblings, there is a potential for a lifelong friendship. This doesn’t mean that there will not be times when their relationship will be tested. As your kids grow up, refrain from taking sides when they’re going through difficulties.  If you even mention the word “maybe” (as in “maybe she didn’t mean to…”) you, as a parent, have gone too far. Instead, listen, and ask if you can help. If the answer is no, back off. Waaaaay off—into the next county.

I always said that I rather have my kids upset with me than with each other. I think I succeeded. I know– be careful what you wish for. No, to tell the truth, I  found it to be quite touching when I saw my kids defend one another, even if that meant they were both upset with me. No matter how wrong I felt they were at the time, I sometimes gave in just because I valued the way they came to each other’s aid in times of struggle. And I just loved to see the look of surprise, victory and appreciation for each other in their eyes when they won the argument. So they got a cookie right before dinner or they got to stay up half an hour later than usual now and then. If the argument made sense, I told them so, and  I gave in. Sometimes when you lose as a parent, your reward becomes larger.