Family activities. Having a relationship requires interacting with each other. If your kids don’t get along well or easily, do things as a family (movies, trips, board games, cooking, volunteering, etc.). Everyone has to interact but there isn’t a spotlight on the kids’ relationships with each other. Remind them they must be pleasant and act like they are getting along otherwise they will be assigned cooperative work activities to complete. (See Cooperative Activities above and Cooperative Discipline below.)
Require them to respect each other’s property and space. Kids need a personal space they can call their own. That can be anywhere from a small box or container to a bedroom. Personal property and space should be sacrosanct! Siblings who won’t stay out of other’s stuff can be a major source of conflict and ill will. Violation of privacy by siblings should be treated as a major offense, every time.
Require them to share. Don’t get each of your kids “their own” of something important. Make some big purchases that require them to share (e.g., video games, laptop computer, etc.). Don’t purchase separate versions until they have demonstrated that they can cooperate, work together and share fairly and peacefully for a predetermined period of time (e.g., month).
Only parents can punish kids in the family. A major source of conflict for siblings can arise when they take punishment into their own hands. They will hit each other, be annoying or otherwise impose consequences when they think mom and dad aren’t really addressing the misdeed. (I’ve written more extensively about addressing sibling conflict in a chapter of my book.) Therefore, parents are the only judge and jury in the house. And, it helps to be clear about this with your kids. Here’s a formula.
- When there is a conflict, BOTH kids must come to the parent.
- The perpetrator gets punished EVERY TIME (so the wronged kid won’t feel like their sibling got off with just a “stop bothering your brother” slap on the wrist).
- If the wronged sibling tries to deal with it themselves (e.g., hits the perpetrator), they get punished for taking things into their own hands.
Protect them from each other. Kids need to be protected from each other at times. Older sibs can be too rough and younger sibs can be incredibly annoying and intrusive.
- Older annoyed by younger. Younger sibs idolize older siblings and want to be with the big kids. Make a deal with your older kid that if they will spend some time with their younger sibling (negotiated to the minute) you will make it worth their while in another way. Then, peel your younger kid off their older sibling at the designated time. It can help if you then do something with your younger kid, substituting parent quality time for sibling quality time.
- Younger bullied by older. Older siblings can be too harsh with, easily annoyed by or actually enjoy tormenting their younger sibling. The most frequent instance of this kind of abuse of power is muscling them out of the way or calling them demeaning names (e.g., idiot, retard, gay, etc.). While occasional (and relatively mild) instances of this can be a growth opportunity for the youngest sib (e.g., dealing with a mean person, not getting upset about every little injustice or harassment, etc.), frequent or intense forms of abuse of power can cause real damage to your younger kid’s sense of self. Require your older child to be loving and encouraging to their younger sibling. Forbid (and deal harshly with) put downs or physical intimidation/assault. Be sure to keep an eye on the younger sibling for taking advantage of your protection by trying to set up their older sibling to get in trouble.
Next: Fostering sibling relationships, part 3