The bond between siblings is one of the most common yet least understood types of relationships. For some, a sister or brother can be a lifelong source of comfort, reassurance, and love. But for just as many others it can be a constant stream of resentment, anger, and rivalry. Differences in temperaments, personalities, interests, and ages can all fuel unrest between siblings, but teaching them how to work through their problems is an excellent way to prepare them for life’s more difficult moments.
One of the simplest ways to prevent rivalry between children is to treat them as individuals. As tempting as it is to want children to be equals, parents sometimes do them a disservice by not nurturing their own unique skills and abilities. If Jack throws a mean curveball but John can barely swing a bat, don’t encourage them both to try out for the Little League team. Instead, praise them for their own special talents. This will boost their self-esteem and help them understand that being different isn’t such a bad thing.
Even if you do encourage siblings to do their own thing, disagreements between them are bound to arise, and the way you intervene in these situations can deeply affect a sibling relationship. Take tattling, for instance. Any sibling rivalry is bound to manifest itself in one child tattling on the other, because, ultimately, they’re both seeking your approval, and sometimes the easiest way to get that approval is to throw a brother or sister under the proverbial bus. When faced with a tattling child, it’s often best to ignore them. This will make it clear that not only is tattling not the way to gain your good graces, but it’s also not an effective way for Sibling A to punish Sibling B.
But tattling goes through an important change when a child tells you not what their sibling did (which is probably exaggerated anyway) but how that action made them feel. In such a case, be respectful of a child’s feelings; listen, and show them their emotions are valid. Then, encourage your child to tell their sibling about their feelings. If a child can respectfully confront their sibling about something they did, it’s a big step in the development of their conflict-resolution skills.
Sibling relationships are often the first time children experience how to work out a conflict independently of you. So don’t just encourage good behavior between siblings; encourage siblings to resolve their conflicts together. The sooner they can do this, the better prepared they’ll be to navigate the unpredictable personalities and tough situations they’ll encounter in school, work, and beyond.