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13 Ways Busy Parents Support Sibling Relationships

  1. Find small, meaningful ways for older brother or sister to be involved from the start. Talk about his or her role and how important siblings are.

  2. Expect the unexpected.

  3. Avoid comparing siblings. Each child is their own person and one strategy may not work for both kids. It is important that they feel they’ve been treated fairly (even if differential).

  4. Role-play positive responses to conflict. Inevitably, siblings will have conflicts that they need to manage, and research shows that when kids are actively taught certain conflict management techniques, the quality of their sibling relationships does improve. The first goal is to help them NOT respond impulsively toward a slight, but to take the all-important first step in conflict-resolution: taking a big, deep breath. Ultimately, we want to teach kids how to respond in emotionally charged situations—to calmly communicate their individual needs and point of view to their sibling. This is best taught and practiced in neutral role-playing situations rather than in the heat of a fight. It takes lots and lots of practice and hearing this message many times (and hopefully we are modeling positive communication and conflict management for our kids when dealing with conflict between parents!)… *This is often a reason that parents reach out to me, to address unproductive communication patterns in the family.

  5. Give them downtime/unstructured time to play. Positive play experiences help siblings lay a foundation for a life-long bond. Even kids who seemingly have nothing in common or with very wide age spreads can find ways to enjoy each other's company. Most kids will argue when playing together at some point; the key is to make sure that the number of positive experiences outweighs the negative. If your calendar is too full with activities/classes outside of school hours, reevaluate from a "quantity vs. quality" perspective.

  6. Give specific encouragement when you notice effort, consideration for feelings of others, patience, etc.

  7. Stay in touch with your stress points and take care of yourself. Take deep breaths when you don’t have time for anything else.

  8. Find ways to laugh when things get hectic. Then simplify where you can. Let go of extraneous tasks in favor of a fulfilling moment.

  9. Accept imperfection and your current reality. Embrace it. Your kids and partner will thank you for it.

  10. Involve your kids in tasks to prepare for the next day (don’t get rattled when it’s not done right, but do model completing the task with all of its steps and allow him/her to practice). Use your judgment about WHEN to do this (if feeling pressed for time, you’re probably not in the right mindset- but plan for when you’ll be ready to get back to it).

  11. If your budget can allow it, invest in a house cleaning service and grocery delivery (at least for short-term to get through a rough period).

  12. Allow other adults in your life to help. Be specific with what you need and allow them to have special time with your kids too.

  13. When in doubt, connect with your child. Take time to look him or her in the eye with a loving energy and have a quiet moment. Both of you may benefit from hitting the “reset” button.

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