As part of the Kitchen Table Parents program, I will be offering the teleseminar, “How to Raise Happy Kids Who Care About Each Other” on Tuesday October 25, 2011 at 12pm Eastern. The philosophy behind the Kitchen Table Parents program is that raising a healthy family involves more than just food, and if you have more than one child, chances are that you want them getting along at the family table and everywhere else they may be. Below are some strategies for fostering positive sibling relationships that will last a lifetime. If you can’t join us live for the teleseminar, please feel free to leave any questions in the comments below.
1. Rivalry and conflict between siblings is normal. If you have siblings yourself, take a moment to reflect back on the history of your relationship. We often present our “worst selves” to our family and have the opportunity to work at social skills in the safety of family relationships. While I believe that parents need to develop a comfort level with a certain level of conflict between their children, I also believe that there is much that parents can do to promote a positive relationship between their children.
2. Think before you intervene. If someone is getting hurt (physically or emotionally), I would recommend that a parent intervenes. Otherwise, I would recommend that parents pause to consider whether or not they think their intervention will likely help or escalate the problem or possibly lead to future conflicts behind the parent’s back. Also, think about whether their conflict is bothering you because of your own “stuff” (e.g., history with your own sibling, personality, etc.) or if your children are upset for their own reasons.
3. Coach rather than directly intervene when possible. Parents have a powerful role in helping their children learn how to work things out. One of my pet peeves is when adults tell toddlers to “work it out” between themselves because toddlers really don’t have the skills yet to be able to do this. Preschool age children might have some rudimentary skills to be able to work things out between themselves but might need some suggestions or guidance. Older children have had more opportunities and experiences in managing conflicts and negotiations, but may still need some suggestions and guidance. Often this type of guidance is best received when it is delivered in the form of a question rather than a direct command (e.g., “What do you think would happen if…”)
4. House rules vs. individual behavior. Try to minimize any targeting of an individual child’s behavior. What I mean by that is to say something along the lines of, “We all get the chance to be first sometime in this family,” or “Everyone in this family can have a treat at snack time,” rather than saying something like, “Why do you always have to bully your sister?”
5. Family meetings. Even young children can benefit from family meetings. Family meals can serve as a setting for family discussions or times separate from meals when all family members are available to discuss plans or matters related to family functioning.
6. Fair is not equal. Parents’ interactions with their children should focus on meeting each child’s individual needs rather than on making sure each child is treated exactly the same. For example, your older daughter might have a stronger need for attention than your younger daughter. Try to find ways to meet this need of hers that do not undermine your younger’s daughter’s needs.
7. Notice the positive. Make sure you catch your kids “doing good” and getting along with each other. And make sure that they know that you’ve noticed.
More tips on promoting positive sibling relationships and behavior is available in my downloadable e-workbook, Empowered Parenting: A Workbook for Parents of Toddlers and Preschoolers, Helping You Become the Parent You Want to Be.