Raising siblings: How do I get my children to get along?

By Alvina Chin

When she first met him after he entered the world, she planted a light kiss on his cheek.

Reality only hit on his first night home with us. She quickly changed her mind about him and said: “Send him back.”

My then 2-year-old soon discovered that her little brother came with a “no-return, no-exchange” policy.

Many children around the world have at least one sibling, and sibling relationships are known to be the longest-lasting relationship in a person’s lifetime.

Siblings hold versions of family memories and are often witnesses of each other’s endless list of weird habits, victories, struggles and even failed attempt.

Like most parents, we try our best to give our children a good start to life, and along the way, support them to create better opportunities for their future.

As a parent, it is my hope that my children’s future will include their siblings – to count on for support, advice and simply to walk through life with.

These bonds don’t happen by chance. Like any worthwhile relationships, they need conscious effort, and as it is with most aspects of child development, starting early is always ideal.

It matters how siblings see each other.

In the early years, a child may consider whether their sibling is a threat or a welcomed addition.

Being too young to understand what having a baby brother meant for her, the closest thing my daughter could relate to, at the time, was that it would resemble having a baby doll around the house.

There are numerous ideas on the Internet on how parents can ease their children into preparing for a sibling: Looking through old baby photos, reading picture books about a new baby, having a “welcome gift” exchange upon the birth of the newborn.

But sometimes, despite our best efforts, the practical adjustments and demands still cause some tension. My daughter was perfectly fine with the idea of sharing things – but sharing her parent’s time and affection proved to be a different challenge.

Here are some simple steps that may help your child feel secure even as they welcomes a sibling into their life: Reassure your child how much you still love them. A hug, a cuddle, and a warm “I love you” as part of their bedtime routine can go a long way.

Use the opportunity for your older child to spend time with Dad. This is a great way for fathers to continue to bond with their children while Mum meets the immediate needs of the newborn.

Remind relatives and friends who come to visit to also spend some time with your older child. Older siblings who often feel left out in all the excitement will appreciate the attention given.

It matters how siblings treat each other.

Hitting, biting, pinching, yelling, and other forms of aggression, such as breaking toys, need to be taken seriously.

It is important for the parent to set clear expectations on how siblings should treat one another.

A popular short-term solution may be to buy two of everything (an unsustainable strategy) or to lean towards convincing your older child to give in (often in resentful compliance).

Playing the family “referee” is exhausting. A better use of time would be to focus on teaching our children how to express their frustrations as well as how to make amends.

Encourage children to verbalise their feelings. This requires active listening and modelling from our part to guide our children through naming their emotions particularly at such a young age.

The better they get at identifying and communicating their feelings, the easier it will be to think of practical solutions.

Provide different ways to apologise. A verbal “I’m sorry for…” is the most common form of apology.

Other alternatives may involve expressing themselves through a hug, a drawing or even a meaningful peace offering to replace a broken toy, for example.

Over time, the sibling squabbles will revolve around other matters (including ridiculous ones) that can escalate from something as trivial as “who got to press the lift button first”.

The time spent encouraging our children to demonstrate the useful techniques of diplomacy, compromise, and even negotiation will help them to adopt effective problem-solving skills between themselves.

Resolving arguments will also teach siblings that they can still love each other even if they fight from time to time.

It matters how siblings spend time with each other.

Be intentional about creating occasions for siblings to bond.

Optimise the time and space shared between them. Family nature walks, playing games, eating meals together (device-free) allow family members to spend quality time with one another.

Playtime is a fun way to encourage loving relationships between siblings.

Even though their skills and idea of fun may vary at their age, your young children can still enjoy bonding with their siblings in low-cost, no-frills activities such as:
• Blowing bubbles
• Playing music and dancing together
• Co-creating a collage of flowers and leaves found during nature walks

Living under one roof doesn’t guarantee a sense of belonging or closeness. Healthy relationships and the bond between siblings need to be encouraged and nurtured over time.

Seeing my three children (now teenagers) come together to bake a cake, perform a silly skit, solve a math problem or to comfort each other warms my heart and assures me that they will be fine because they will always have one another.

The days do feel numbingly long sometimes, but the years really are so short. So, let’s remember to be intentional about the things that matter.

Alvina Chin is a mother of three children and a family life educator with MUMs for Life. This article was first published on ParentWise.