Fostering good relationships between siblings

Bert asks: How do you recommend fostering good relationships between siblings?

Hi Bert!

Great question!  First, check out my answer to “Why is my brother such a bonehead?”  Showing that to the kids might help.

But next, I’ll start with the bad news: Sibling problems have always existed, and always will.  Old mythologies tell of lots of fights between siblings.  History has so many battles between brothers or sisters.  And in the Bible, one of the first two brothers to ever exist murders the other!  So when your kids are arguing, or even fighting, just know – it could be so much worse!

Now puppies are a perfect example of what siblings are really like.  Have you ever seen a litter go at it?  The first thing we want in the morning might be to be fed by our Mom, but beating up our brothers and sisters comes right after that.  And it lasts all day!  It’s our favorite playtime activity!  Biting, pulling, scratching, kicking – it’s fantastic.  And do I mean that it’s always a fair polite fight and we never gang up on anyone or beat up on the smallest weakest runt in the litter?  No way!  We are vicious!

But then at night, do you see what happens?  We curl up, licking each other’s ears, and fall asleep nestled against one another.  Why?  Because we are best friends.

Now dogs often grow up without remembering who’s their brother or sister and who isn’t, so that relationship doesn’t usually last into our adult lives.  But human children do remember.  Their brains remember all the bad, and their hearts remember all the good.  And you’ll see it so often – adult siblings who just hate each other will suddenly come around and be there for each other in a way no one else will.  And siblings who get along great will, at a time of big stress, suddenly start fighting over petty arguments from forty years before.

So here’s my main advice, to foster good relationships:

First, most sibling rivalry is about the parents’ love and attention.  So try to treat your children equally, in any way you can.   They’ll think the other’s getting treated better anyway, but do all in your power to keep things equal.

Second, set some very clear rules (“No hitting each other with Daddy’s hammer!”), and enforce them strictly.  You don’t want to spend your time negotiating with them, and deep-down they really prefer things to be clear.

And third – relax.  Just like puppies, your kids will fight.  It’s an important part of growing up, and teaches them how to interact with others.  We all have warrior energy inside us, and just as we need to struggle to learn to walk and talk, we have to learn how to argue and fight too.  Getting in the way of that too much will shame your children.  So as long as no one’s getting a 2×4 in the head, whenever you can, it’s best to let them work things out.

In fact, in that regard, I’ll tell you an amazing thing I saw once.  I was in a doctor’s waiting room with Handsome, and there were some children’s toys out on the floor.  And two brothers were playing with it.  The baby was trying to make it work, and his older brother was telling him he was doing it wrong and showing him how to do it right.  The baby whined in frustration, and the boys’ mother came in and scolded the older one and made him stop.  And so, not only was the older brother put down for doing exactly what he should have been doing, but the baby was just miserable.  He had liked the older brother helping him.  Even with the mild insults.  And the well-intending parent had just gotten in the way and ruined his learning experience.

So again, when you can, relax.  If the two really hate each other later on, you can, and should, get some professional help for them.  But till then, the odds are that you just have some squabbling puppies in your house, and not Cain and Abel!

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