The majority of children have at least one sibling. The sibling bond most likely lasts longer than any other relationship in life and, in fact, the sibling ties developed in childhood define our relationship to ourselves and other people. Therefore, as a parent, how we support the development of a strong sibling bond is not without relevance.
Today, a great deal of research is being conducted into the roles of siblings, the impact of siblings, and even their birth order, on each other’s development. Although there is still a great deal of dispute in that field, it is now safe to say that the sibling bond plays a major role in the development of children, as that relationship helps them learn how to connect with others, handle disagreements or regulate their positive and negative feelings. Therefore, sibling bonds offer numerous opportunities for development.
In the early childhood period, sibling interactions have a great emotional charge, with positive, negative or ambivalent feelings determining the relationship between the children. At that age, sibling bonds are characterised by a high degree of intimacy as they still spend a great deal of time playing together and get to support each other in an emotional and instrumental manner, to better understand each other and naturally, have plenty of conflict. It is also certain that the varying age differences between children often lead to situations of power and control as well as, competition and jealousy, though also to opportunities for mutual support. It is no wonder that emotionally charged and changeable sibling bonds also present challenges for us parents, as well.
The good news is that even in periods of conflict, we can help the development of positive interactions between siblings and thus help our children experience as many benefits of the sibling bond as possible and turn them to their advantage. Here are a few tips on how to deal with, or prevent, conflicts:
Observe and support activities in which they can play together
Research on improving sibling bonds shows that children can have a better relationship if they can share in activities that are enjoyable for both of them. However, it can be hard to identify those activities, particularly if there is a great age difference between them or if they have different fields of interest. Yet, by paying closer attention, we can surely find opportunities that engage them both. Perhaps they both enjoy cooking or baking together, arts and crafts or building forts. Try encouraging at least one shared activity a day.
Do not interrupt happy play
Once they are playing together, help them get everything they need and only interrupt them when absolutely necessary.
Create a routine of putting them to bed at the same time
When preparing them for bedtime, give them the opportunity to say, “good night” or “I love you” to each other. In some families, the older child tells a bedtime story to the younger child, which is a great opportunity to develop bonding.
Support them in caring for each other
What happens if one of them is injured? What does the sibling do? Help by asking them to fetch some bandages or if they would like, accompany their brother/sister to the doctor.
Make them feel they are a part of a team
Support them with family activities in which they can participate together. Give them, for example, a large sheet of paper they can draw on together. Ask them to write a letter to their grandmother together. Organize a treasure hunt in which the children have to help one another instead of competing. Give them tasks to solve together.
Do not blame anyone
Conflict is a part of human relationships and children are just learning how to regulate their strong emotions. We can therefore be sure that siblings will fight with one another from time to time. Our task is to stay out of the conflict as much as possible and not side with either of them, otherwise that will only increase the spirit of competition. Research shows that, if we react differently to their reactions or monitor and warn them in different ways, their relationship will become colder and more confrontational. Instead, try teaching them healthy conflict management skills, for example, show them how to express their needs without attacking their sibling. Seek solutions that are acceptable to everyone.