Sibling relationships have a large influence on our identity and on other relationships in our lives. After all, through sibling relationships we learn how to share, resolve conflict, play cooperatively, and develop emotions such as empathy. In many cases the longest-standing relationships we have in our lifetime are with our siblings, and with that comes a lot to be learned about partnerships and connections.
Establishing and supporting a healthy relationship between toddlers, or a toddler and older child, requires a good amount of modeling, patience, and perseverance on the part of the parent or caregiver. You are sure to encounter a few hurdles along the way since toddlers are still learning how to share and understand feelings outside themselves. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you determine the best approach for your parenting style:
Support cooperative play. Allow time for unstructured play and for siblings to explore toys, puzzles, and games in the same space. There is no need to force interaction, but instead support an invitation to play together with free choice. It is also important in these play scenarios to allow siblings the chance to resolve conflicts on their own. If the situation escalates an adult can help coach the siblings through possible resolutions.
Teach each child to respect the differences between one another. Each person is an individual with his/her own likes and dislikes. It is easy to consider siblings as like-minded or to share similar interests because they come from the same family, but in reality one of the best ways to support a healthy sibling relationship is to help one child see the strengths in the other that are different from their own. Similarly, older siblings can learn from their younger counterpart just as younger children tend to learn from their big brother(s)/sister(s).
Talk through poor behavior with each child to promote understanding in difficult situations. Children learn a tremendous amount through observation and watching your reaction to a sibling's tantrum speaks volumes. Depending on your parenting style, make time to explain to an older sibling how a toddler might not have the words to say what is bothering them or that they have difficulty sharing. Likewise, taking a moment after to explain "why Mommy asked your brother/sister to take a time out?" or "why Daddy asked your bother/sister to stop poking you with the block?" will establish consistent rules for appropriate behavior and help all children in the family learn the vocabulary to describe situations they encounter.
Give each child individual attention away from his/her sibling. With today's busy schedules it can be difficult to set aside time for individual excursions or activities with each child; however, this is another important way to support a healthy sibling relationship. The individual attention does not have to be extravagant and can be as simple as a trip to the library with one child and a trip to the park with another. It is about spending time with a parent separate from the sibling and engaging in an activity that is of their choosing or based on their interest.
Remember that modeling healthy relationships includes validating each child's feelings from time to time. If one sibling expresses something as being "not fair" take time to understand this comment further. Oftentimes when a child expresses feelings about fairness they are really expressing concern over inequality. Validating this feeling will promote open communication within the family and allow an opportunity for the adult to clarify any misperceptions that may exist.
How have you promoted a healthy sibling relationship in your family? What would you encourage parents to consider?
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families and design ideas based on our adventures building a home from the ground up.
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