Monday, January 11, 2010

Siblings Who Get Along?

The Question:

It is very important to me that my boys are kind to each other. I want them to be friends for years to come and I want to get off to a good start. They have been fighting more lately and this concerns me. What things can I do now to instill in them a love for each other? What should I do and what should I avoid when helping them to resolve their arguments?

The Answer: A Peaceful Home

My sister Susan used to say that children (especially boys) reminded her of puppies—playing and romping one minute, then growling and fighting the next, then back to playing and romping. My other sister, Judy, instituted a program one summer in which she charged her children a small fee for her services in settling their disputes—one price for acting as referee, slightly more for judge and jury and the maximum to play the executioner. It was all in fun, but it was comforting to remember their efforts when I began raising my own children, who occasionally disagreed about things—ok, often.

And I’m sad to report that there is almost nothing that I’ve found to entirely eliminate contention. But here are a few suggestions.

1. Make sure children are rested and fed. (Remember how combative you are when you're low on either of these things.)

2. Establish a hard and fast rule that there will be absolutely no, under any circumstances, angry physical contact. No hitting, biting, scratching, kicking, pushing, etc. Respond quickly when any of these things occur—even before you know all that led up to it. Look straight into your child’s eyes and say, “We never hit. Never.” and remove them from the situation. I also draw the line at name-calling or words that belittle or demean. There is plenty of that in other places. Home should be safe. This teaches children a valuable lesson—that they may not agree, and there will always be conflicts, but these can be settled with a degree of civility and care for the feelings of the other person.

3. Compliment them often when they share, cooperate, help one another, say kind words and exercise self-control when conflicts arise. Comment on what good friends they are.

4. Set an example for them in the way you settle conflicts with your husband, friends and especially with them. Address the problem without attacking.

5. Don’t force children to share things that are theirs. Let them have complete ownership. “I’m sorry. That belongs to Peter. He doesn’t have to share it with anyone unless he wants to.” Nine times out of ten, they will share after a minute or two when the choice is truly theirs. If there is a community toy that is causing contention, I sometimes use a timer, but often, I take it away altogether. I just say, “This toy is ruining your friendship right now. Let’s put it away for a while. Being friends is the most important thing we can do.”

6. Teach them to serve one another, secretly or openly. Make a simple sticker chart and let them add a smiley face every time they do something for a sibling—get a diaper for the baby, help a toddler up, share a treat.

Try to establish a warm, generous, loving culture in your home. As your children mature, incidents of contention will nearly disappear, and they will emerge friends because you didn’t allow them to cross lines that might have left scars.


  1. "This toy is ruining your friendship right now." I will have to remember this for my grandchildren. I can just see them thinking, "oh that's right, he's my friend."

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I love the positive reinforcement and setting clear rules about hitting and name calling. Another tip you gave to me a while ago was to be in the room with them as much as possible when trying to change behavior. Don't just call "stop that!" from the next room when you hear things going bad. Be there, help them learn how to appropriately handle situations as they arise.

  3. I love this. I was just talking with someone who believed (sadly) that it was impossible for siblings to get along when they were young; that friendship grew when they got older. I know this is not the case, and yet worry about my own ability to stive for an overall "celestial" tone in my home. Thanks for the advice!


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