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Brothers and Sisters: Friend or Foe?

Initially, the thought of having a sibling join a family can be exciting and something a child will look forward to. However, it’s natural over time that your child realizes it’s perhaps not as joyous in reality as they had expected it to be.

At one time, your child had all of mom and dad’s attention and suddenly, in one fell swoop, they have to share everything, including parents’ attention. Mom and dad have someone else to tend to and it’s natural for your child to wonder if things will ever be the same again.

Sibling relationships can be complicated. Left to their own devices, children don’t necessarily naturally know how to be kind, share and treat the other with respect. The health of a sibling relationship is largely dependent upon the nurturing of their parents. Often times, parents expect children to automatically get along and not only that, but thrive as best friends. This is definitely a wonderful goal to have, but it takes intentional plans and actions on the part of the parents.

When little five-year-old Jimmy has a sweet natural inclination to give his little one-year-old brother a toy to play with, he doesn’t necessarily know how to respond in the best way when that little brother takes the toy and bonks him on the head with it. He needs to have the guidance of mom, dad, grandma or baby-sitter to help him understand that younger siblings need patience and grace as well as gentle teaching. He needs someone to teach him to take a step back, evaluate the situation and respond with gentle correction of the situation. Without this assistance, it is easy for Jimmy to strike back automatically and hurt his little brother without really thinking about the consequences of his strength against a little brother.

Often times it takes quite a bit of time to teach children some basic values and attitudes toward their siblings and it can be discouraging in the short-term, especially when it seems there is no evidence of change. However, in the long-run, the payoff will be big with siblings who love and care for each other… even on their own initiative.

Our family has some basic rules that help to guide and shape sibling relationships. Each rule was slowly introduced into our family due to certain situations that warranted some guidance. When each was initially introduced, we spent time practicing applying the rules and after much trial and error, we found new helpful habits were formed that really aided in the nurturing of best friends between siblings.

1. Speak and think highly of each other – Making a habit of noticing and speaking highly of each other puts attention on the positive. Parents can model this and children will follow suit.

2. Help only if a person wants and agrees to help – Often times, younger siblings do not want to be ‘helped’ without solicitation. Requiring getting consent helps to avoid problems in this area.

3. Know the difference between ‘tattling’ and ‘telling’ – When danger or help is needed, you can ‘tell’ an adult. When the goal is to get someone ‘in trouble,’ then you are tattling. Telling is allowed.

4. Pay attention to feelings and validate each person – Learn to share your feelings without accusation and validate other’s feelings even if you don’t understand or agree.

5. It’s fair but not equal – Children do not need to have the exact same thing at the exact same time in the exact same amount every day. When one child needs new shoes, not everyone will get their own pair just because they happen to be in the store.


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