I often get asked “How do your kids get along so well?” My two children are a little over two years apart, and they’re together with me all day every day. Yet they adore each other, watching over each other and exemplifying kindness and compassion. While I don’t pretend to know exactly how this worked out so well, I racked my brain for some ideas that parents can use to help their children get along better with their siblings.
My son is four years old and my daughter will be two years old in October. We are active in our playgroup and we run errands multiple times a week, but otherwise we’re all stuck in this little house all the time together.
I think it’s important that parents set the standards, as well as teach and model, how siblings should treat each other. This goes way beyond just randomly yelling “Be nice to your sister!” while watching TV.
We parents need to give our kids the tools they need to learn to get along with others, and then let them work things out on their own. And then we must continue to reteach and remind our children of the tools they have, and then back away again so they can figure things out.
I think that my mentality here is more of an old-school one, like letting the kids go play outside on their own until dark. But I do feel like I’m a conservative parent in a lot of ways; it’s just how parenting speaks to me, and these are the choices which make my heart confident and proud. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve tried going against my gut before and it’s never ended well. So now my husband and I parent the way that we feel is best for our kids, and it’s usually pretty harmonious.
Teach Your Oldest Child How to Treat The Younger Siblings
I think the big thing here is to start talking to your oldest child about “How to treat our siblings” as soon as possible: for us, it was when I was pregnant with his little sister. Of course the dialogue will change as the baby grows and is able to play more (and I would never ever leave a child alone with a baby), but once the baby is mobile then the conversations need to start for sure.
Now we remind our oldest of things that his sister can and cannot do, and that he is her role model. It puts pressure on him in a way so we have to be careful that we also teach him (and don’t expect him to be the babysitter or a perfect example: he’s only four years old and still learning too).
We need to set them both up for success in this way: no toys in the playroom that aren’t safe for even the youngest child; furniture bolted to the walls; encouraging imagination and pretending on things like a dress-up box and blocks; limited time with toys which they both want to play with all the time, until they learn to take turns well. Oh, and supervise them. All. The. Time.
But What About When They Fight?
Our kids do have little verbal disputes sometimes, and I’ll admit that it can be annoying as hell. I have my hands in the middle of chopping a raw onion for dinner and my youngest (a feisty, loud, don’t-take-crap-from-nobody 1.5 year old girl) does her token “Big brother is being mean!” yell. I’ll wait a second to see if it’s resolved on its own, but sometimes even now I have to go play referee.
I’m the oldest in my family so I know how it feels to always be the guilty party; I keep that in mind as I calmly walk into the playroom. I ask what happened and give my kids the tools to resolve it. Who had the toy first? Is there a way you can play together? How did that make her feel? How does he feel now that you hit him? I’m big into empathy if you couldn’t tell, and this is how I talk to my child when they’ve made a bad choice.
The point is that I try to let them resolve it without me even showing my face; but if I do need to intervene, I don’t decide what happens. It’s up to the kids to find a solution which is fair. That’s a lot more meaningful long-term than me just doling out a punishment and walking away again.
I will say that my kids don’t physically fight, at least not yet. There will be more severe consequences and loss of privilege if that happens.
Sharing Not Required
Now that you have an idea of how to get your kids to resolve issues on their own, I need to tell you that I don’t make my kids share. I truly believe that their actions will be sincere when they’re self-guided, instead of them handing over a toy because I say so.
What does that look like? Well, honestly, it means that usually my kids will choose to share because they adore playing together. But they also don’t have to share all the time. Part of getting your kids to get along means that they set the boundaries of what’s ok, what they want to do, who they want to play with and when. It’s fine if they want to play alone sometimes, and it’s not fair for me to swoop in and declare that they have to hand over a toy if they had it first.
Each of my kids also have a few special toys which they never have to share: for my toddler, it’s a few little stuffed animals, and for my son it’s a few more advanced toys which aren’t safe for his little sister. (So those stayed put up and away when not in use.)
Again, sharing is meaningless when it’s a threat and a punishment, as your kids will start to see sharing as the consequence of arguing with each other, instead of something that is fun and enjoyable. If you really want to encourage sharing, don’t make your kids share all the time.
See Your Kids As Individuals
I need to remember that my kids are similar in some ways but quite different in others.
My son is compassionate, cautious, and considerate. So I like to compliment him for watching over his sister, giving her a turn when he can tell she wants to play, or for remembering that “Rules keep us safe.” I tell him frequently that he has a kind heart and he’s a wonderful person, and I want him to remember those things.
My daughter is brilliant but also a nonconformist who likes to push limits and challenge rules. I compliment her for being so clever, and try to give her opportunities to figure out puzzles or find hidden things to keep her crafty mind occupied. I know that my daughter’s strong will can help her as she grows up in this beautiful but difficult world, especially as a woman.
I want to make sure that each of my kids knows that they are special and loved, in their own way.
Make One-On-One Time for Each Child
Lastly, I think it’s important that each child get some quality time with each parent on a regular basis. It’s refreshing and fun to get to spend some time with just my son, where we can read “big kid” books or do something without his little sister.
I get plenty of time alone with my toddler since she bedshares and breastfeeds, so I work to make sure she gets some one-on-one time with Daddy as well.
Switching up our time with each other helps the kids to feel strengthened by each parent, and helps the kids get along when they’re back together again.
I hope that this has given you some ideas to help your kids grow to love their siblings! It can be really challenging to get your kids to get along, especially when they seem to fight all the time. But put some strategies in place and talk about these strategies with them when they’re calm, and I promise you’ll start to see a difference!
Tell me what works in your house with your kids! And as always, thanks for sharing!