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The secret to raising siblings who get along

Sibling rivalry doesn’t have to be the norm.

The secret to raising siblings who get along

I am an only child. Sibling rivalry was something I heard about and watched on television, not something I experienced in real life. I had fanciful ideas of living in harmony with a built-in forever friend, a bestie for life. Due in part to my limited experience with sibling relationships, and also in part to my idealistic nature, I imagined my children would walk hand-in-hand through life, giggling together all along the way.


Then I actually had two sons. My firstborn ignored the very existence of his baby brother for all of eight months. It became apparent to me that a positive sibling relationship wasn’t something that was just going to happen; I had to cultivate it. I think parents often tolerate sibling rivalry as “par for the course.” While it is normal for children living under the same roof to have disagreements, we do not have to accept that it is the norm for them to tease, pick at, and constantly provoke each other.

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Part of creating positive, peaceful homes and families is teaching our children to love and honor one another.

When it comes to sibling rivalry, we parents often unwittingly spark the fires we spend days and even years trying to extinguish. I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes along the way in fueling sibling squabbles, but I’ve also since learned how to create more peace.

Here’s what to avoid based on my own mistakes:

Don’t compare

Sometimes we think comparison is a motivator. We believe if we point out how good their brother or sister is at something, they’ll want to aim higher to achieve the same status or result. For some children, this may be true, but either way, comparison fuels rivalry. If it doesn’t serve as a motivator, the child is left feeling inadequate and inferior to her sibling. This fosters feelings of resentment. If it does motivate the child to aim higher, it becomes a competition—a fight for who’s better—and this doesn’t exactly cultivate harmony in the relationship.

Even the sibling who receives the favorable comparison is now entered into a competition to maintain her status.

To avoid the pitfall of comparison, state what you’d like to see happen or stop happening without bringing the other child up in the conversation. Simply, “I’d like to see you work a bit harder at your piano practice,” rather than, “Why don’t you put in the same effort your sister does?”

Don’t label

I unintentionally labeled one of my boys as “the funny one.” It apparently happened rather covertly, simply because I laughed at him more and said things like, “You are so funny!” His brother would always pipe up with, “Hey, am I funny too?” Then he frequently sought to measure up with performances meant to make us laugh just as much. While not a terrible cause for concern, I think it’s wise to watch the labels we stick on our kids and be careful not to label one “the smart one,” or another “the pretty one,” for example.

This gets tricky when celebrating the strengths and accomplishments of our children, which I don’t think should be avoided in order to save the other from feeling inferior. In fact, it’s good for children to learn that there is a time to honor and celebrate others.

I think the key to avoiding the pitfall of labeling is to celebrate each child, making sure they individually feel loved enough and valued enough.

The fix for us was not to stop laughing at my child’s hilariousness, but to find something about his brother that we brought equally to the light and celebrated.

Now for my victories on what did cultivate strong sibling bonds:

Create a team atmosphere

When my children were young, chore charts fueled rivalry as they were forever arguing about who had more check marks. So I created a team chart instead where I encouraged them to tackle chores together to get them done faster.

Weekly family meetings are also beneficial in creating a team atmosphere, because they give everyone equal opportunity to weigh in on family planning, problems, and solutions.

Finally, I made sure they honored and celebrated each other by getting them involved in such activities as cheering at brother’s ball game or attending plays the other was in. Helping to decorate for the other’s birthday party, and encouraging them to speak kind, affirming words to one another set the standard of building up rather than tearing down each other, in addition to asking that they speak their appreciations to each other at our family meetings.

Set clear limits

I believe that all children deserve to feel safe and comfortable in their own homes. Home is a haven where you are celebrated and where you can be yourself, without fear of ridicule or unacceptance.

Unchecked sibling rivalry can make the home feel like anything but a safe haven.

I don’t expect my children to get along perfectly all the time, but I do expect them to avoid resorting to violence, taunting, or name-calling. For sibling disputes, I used the peace table for many months to teach them peaceful conflict resolution skills. I stopped using it when they began saying, “We can work it out peacefully, Mom.”

When one young brother resorted to hitting another, I used a calm-down corner (also known as time-in) to get him calm, then explained that hitting was unacceptable and asked him how he planned to repair the relationship with his brother. I used to tell them that each act of aggression or harsh word spoken was like breaking one of the strings connecting their hearts, and that the string needed to be repaired to keep their relationship strong, because too many broken strings resulted in a broken bond. Then I encouraged apologies in the form of words, written notes, or kind gestures.

All healthy relationships take work, and sibling relationships are no exception. If we are proactive at cultivating harmonious relationships from the start, we can help our children grow up happy together in a peaceful home.

This post was adapted from chapter 6 of Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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