“It’s my turn to use the computer!”
“Mom said I could sit in the front seat!”

Sound familiar? It can often feel as though siblings argue about just about everything. While such conflicts can feel exhausting and often overwhelming for parents—particularly during extended breaks from our daily routines over the holidays—these moments can also be opportunities to teach your children the skills to better manage emotions and the misunderstandings with others that sometimes ensue. In Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern’s book, Reflective Parenting, the authors provide insights into how to support your children in working through their disagreements and shifting from competitiveness and conflict to cooperation and appreciation.

Here are some tips to foster a more positive relationship between your children:

Model Attentiveness and Compassion

If you have a partner, spouse, or co-parent, keep in mind that your children are keenly aware of how you two are interacting. It is critical during times of increased stress like we are experiencing now that we model for our children what we hope to see in their relationships with their siblings. This could be as simple as listening closely and attentively to what your partner is sharing and showing empathy for how they are feeling. This also means resolving conflicts between you and your partner in a respectful way. Your children will especially notice when you appreciate a perspective that is very different from your own. It is particularly important to notice your own level of anxiety and upset and do your best to find ways to calm yourself because we know that when kids feel tension in the air, they respond to it with their own increased anxiety and will ultimately fight more.

Provide Empathy

If you grew up with a brother or sister, you might remember how annoying they could be at times. Communicate to your child that you understand how frustrating it can be to have a sibling. If there is a disagreement or a conflict, validate and empathize with each of your children’s feelings, communicating to them that you understand why they are upset. It is not easy having a brother or sister with whom you have to share space, toys, and attention. If your children feel understood and validated, they will be much more likely to let go of their resentful feelings towards their sibling. If they feel as though you understand their perspective, they are much more likely to consider the thoughts and feelings of their brother or sister.

Encourage a Different Perspective

Sibling misunderstandings are perfect opportunities to teach your children to recognize and even appreciate the thoughts, feelings, and desires of others. Perspective-taking fosters caring, respect, and fairness and helps children realize that others have minds of their own. When there are disagreements, encourage your child to step into the shoes of their brother or sister by asking questions such as, “How would you feel if …?” Such supportive questions help children stretch beyond themselves and develop an understanding of the minds of others.

Watch and Wait

While it may be tempting to rush in and resolve a conflict between your children (and there are times when you must intervene for reasons of safety), allowing your children to try to work out misunderstandings on their own provides them with opportunities to learn the essential life skills of cooperation and problem-solving. While they may need you to help resolve a conflict, try to wait for your children to work it out on their own. Pay close attention to the disagreement and imagine the perspective of each of your children. This will help you develop an understanding of why your children are arguing, and help you guide them in coming up with solutions.

During the winter break from school and extracurriculars it will also be important to remember that these periods can be filled with tension under the best of social circumstances, so preparing ahead of time will help to alleviate arguments that may be headed your way. These three tips could be useful during this time.

  • Schedule one-on-one time – As difficult as it might be during it is important to find some time to spend with each child alone. This special time can provide extra shoring up for potential stormy weather and allow each child to talk about their feelings in a safe space.
  • Praise the good moments – Positive recognition is always a good thing. If you see a nice moment between your kids take time to recognize it with them.
  • People who feel close and safe with one another will inevitably fight more – It is always important to remember that we typically fight with those we feel the closest to or the safest with. This should give us all some modicum of reassurance that most relationships (especially in our children) will withstand the tension and eventually bring them closer together.

Seeking resources to help your child thrive? Attend a workshop, request a parent consultation, or schedule an assessment with one of our specialists.

By Beth Berkowitz, PsyD, Center for Children and Youth consultant