To some extent, how well siblings get on with one another is just luck of the draw, but personality traits, level of hardship experienced, age gaps, and the number of children all play a role. All parents dream of creating a family in which their adult children remain close and support each other through life. Sadly, but not surprisingly, sibling rivalry is very common and the competitiveness and resentment can last way into adulthood. Although there is no guaranteed formula for preventing family feuds, there are some ways to promote sibling harmony:
- Give children the chance to sort out their own squabbles. As long as it’s not getting too rough or abusive in any way, kids can be fighting one minute and giggling the next. When we jump in too quickly, we risk dividing them rather than allowing them to come together.
- Try not to reward disloyalty. Call it dobbing or telling tales – but if we act on the word of one child over the other, we reinforce this behaviour and another opportunity for them to sort it out for themselves goes begging. If one child tells you that they have been hurt in some way, encourage them to stand up for themselves. If a child is dobbing on a sibling for some wrong doing, remind them that you’re the parent and they needn’t worry about policing their brother or sister’s behaviour.
- Don’t give one power over the other. Unless there’s a large age gap, giving an older child the responsibility of looking after the younger children can lead to resentment. Instead, it’s good to give them all age-appropriate responsibilities.
- Encourage siblings to advise each other. Family dinners provide the perfect opportunity to workshop various dilemmas. If one child is having problems with a teacher or a friend, encourage the other children to offer their advice on what to do. They often have far better ideas on what works in the classroom or in the playground than we do.
- Be proud when they are united against you. Whenever you hear one child sticking up for another, know that you’re doing a good job. When you hear them say Don’t listen to Mum or Dad – that won’t work, try this …., be pleased. You might still overrule any class action your children attempt to take against you, but at least you know that their relationship with each other is getting stronger and stronger.
- Never divide and conquer. If you complain to one child about another, then you can unconsciously be aligning them to you by making them feel special. Instead, model empathy and compassion by expressing concern about a child who is acting out and vent to your partner or close friends instead.