8 Ways to Help Young Siblings Have a Loving Relationship

by Charise Rohm Nulsen

Welcome to the August 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Sibling Revelry

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about siblings — their own, their hopes for their kids, and more. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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When I learned that we would be having a second baby who would be only 22-23 months younger than my son, I was of course ecstatic but definitely nervous. Although I have a brother, he is six years younger than me, so I had no idea how having a sister so close in age would affect my son’s life. I also had no idea what it felt like to be a little sister, so I wanted to do everything I could to help my little ones have the best relationship possible.

If you want to know more about how my fears of having a second child measured up to our real life experience, check out 11 Truths I want to Share With Mamas Expecting Their Second Child.

8 Ways to Help Young Siblings Have a Loving RelationshipWe’re now 14 months into having two children, and although there have been various stages in my children’s relationship with each other due to age and development, I have definitely found some key guidelines that help my babies have what I think is a wonderful relationship. Here they are:

1. Model how you hope your children will treat each other.
If you want your children to speak to each other in an affectionate way, the only way they will naturally do it is by following your example. I love to hear my three year old using my phrases and tone of voice in private moments with his sister. Hearing him say things in a kind voice like “It’s okay, little one” or “Don’t worry, baby. I can help you” just melts my heart. When I feel like snapping in a moment of frustration, I always think about how the words and tone I am about to use would sound coming out of one of my kids’ mouths being directed toward the other.

2. Give them space to play together on their own with as little interference from you as possible.
It can be challenging to let little ones play together on their own when you are worried about the littler one getting hurt, but it is amazing to see how even very young children can work through problems and find ways to get along with enough time and space.

3. Spend dedicated one on one time with each child.
I know how crazy life can be with two small children, but I really believe it is the quality of the time – and not the quantity of time – that matters when it comes to one on one time. Whether it’s snuggling and reading books together in the early morning hours while your other child sleeps, or singing songs and playing while changing a diaper, it’s the little moments that count the most. I do at least one real mama and son date a month too. We really look forward to pajama story time at the library and frozen yogurt dates in the summer. When your children feel like they don’t have to compete with their sibling for your attention all the time, they are less likely to transfer negative feelings to their sibling.

4.Let each child have space that is all his or her own.
I don’t force our kids to share everything with each other. My son uses his bedroom as his safe space where he knows he can set up Lego buildings and intricate car parades all over the floor without his sister knocking them down. When he gets to play on his own in his safe space, I find that he is much more likely to share with his sister outside of that space and initiate playing with her.

5. Manage your expectations.
When one of your children is still a baby, it is amazing how your perspective shifts and you start to think of your first child as so much older and more capable than he actually is. Be careful not to have unrealistic expectations for your older child. If she is at the age when sharing is a brand new concept, you can’t expect her to intrinsically want to suddenly share everything with a baby.

6. Put out toys that both children can use equally.
It comes in very handy to have boxes of toys and activities that one child will not always dominate. For example, I leave out boxes of musical instruments (drums, cymbals, shakers, rhythm sticks, etc.), sensory tables filled with wooden blocks, and bags of books that would be eye-catching to both kids. These kinds of toys lend themselves to more natural cooperation and easy fun for children of different ages.

7. Don’t put pressure on your older child.
I think it’s a lot to ask of a young child to be a role model. I personally don’t ask my three year old to be a role model for his sister, but I do like to point out to him whenever he does something that makes my daughter feel happy or when she copies his actions. Children have the propensity and inclination to be kind and responsible when they are not forced. Encouragement and awareness go a long way.

8. Help your children create roles for each other.
When I notice that something my daughter is doing is starting to bother my son, I often step in to create a kind of storyline for what is happening. For instance, my son used to have a really hard time when my daughter would want to touch a little vehicle that he likes to ride, but once I suggested she is a mechanic, he began to naturally incorporate her into his vehicle games. Now, if she approaches his ride on car, he finds all different roles for her, and whether she is a mechanic, gas attendant, or car washer, I can rest easy knowing that what was once a point of contention is now an opportunity for fun for both of them.

How do you encourage your children’s relationship with each other?

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • The Damage of Comparing Siblings — Comparing siblings can lead to hurt feelings and poor relationships. What Jana Falls has learned and why she hopes for more for her son.
  • Connecting Through Sibling Rivalry — With four children who are spaced so that each child grows up in a pair, Destany at They are All of Me shares her method for minimizing the competition so her children can focus on bonding, rather than besting each other.
  • Sibling Revelry — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud shares the two-week transition that happens every summer as her kids transform from bickering to learning how to play.
  • Baby Brother born from an OceanAbby Jaramillo describes how her toddler connects in a possibly mystical way with her new baby brother and his birth at home, and Abby draws parallels with her own sister’s new baby.
  • Hard, But Worth It — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl discusses how difficult having two children can be, but how it’s definitely worth it.
  • Raising Attached Siblings — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy and her husband are making conscious choices about how they raise their children to foster sibling connection and attachment.
  • It’s Complicated — Henrietta at Angel Wings and Herb Tea reflects on how life’s twists and turns have taken her from a childhood with no siblings to a constantly changing family life with five children, including one in spirit.
  • Supportsustainablemum reflects on how the differences between her relationship with her siblings and her husband’s have affected their family and at a time of need.
  • Peas in a Pod — Kellie at Our Mindful Life enjoys the special relationship her oldest two children share.
  • Lessening the competitive enviornment in the homeLisa at The Squishable Baby discusses how downplaying competition in the home has led to cooperation, not competition.
  • The complex and wonderful world of siblings — Lauren at Hobo Mamareflects on her choices to have not too many children, spaced far apart — and how that’s maybe limited how close their sibling relationship can be.
  • 5 Ways to Help Young Siblings Have a Loving Relationship — Charise I Thought I Knew Mama shares the strategies that help her three year old and 14 month old have a somewhat beautiful relationship and aid in keeping peace in their home.
  • 4 Steps to Encourage Sibling Revelry, even in Hot Moments of Rivalry — Sheila Pai of A Living Family share 4 Steps she uses to shift hot moments of sibling rivalry towards connected moments of sibling revelry and human compassion.
  • Twins Are Fun — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot witnesses the development of her twins’ sibling bond.
  • Growing Up Together- Sibling Revelry in Our House — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work realizes that there is great utility in raising siblings that are close in age, and is grateful to have been blessed with healthy siblings that both love and challenge one another every day.
  • Top 5 Ways to Reduce Sibling Rivalry — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares ideas that helped her two children be best friends along with Montessori resources for peace education and conflict resolution.
  • Sibling Uncertainty — Alisha at Cinnamon and Sassafras wonders how her children’s relationship will change now that the baby is mobile.
  • Living with the Longing — Rachael at The Variegated Life sees that she can live with her longing for another — without changing her plans.
  • For My One and Only DaughterPlaying for Peace mommy reflects on her choice to not have more children in order to focus on other dreams.
  • Siblings: A Crash Course in Relationship Training — How have your siblings prepared you for later relationships? One of Dionna at Code Name: Mama’s top priorities as mama of siblings is to help them learn how to navigate relationships.
  • The Joys of Siblings: An Inside Joke — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the a glimpse into the joys of having siblings through sharing a perplexing yet hilarious inside joke betwixt her and her own.
  • Sibling Support, even in the potty! — Even though Laura at Pug in the Kitchen‘s children didn’t start out best friends, they are joined at the hip these days, including cheering each other on with potty successes!
  • Don’t Seek What Isn’t There – On Sibling Jealousy — Laura from Authentic Parenting analyzes the seeming desire people harbor for seeking out hints of sibling jealousy.
  • Sibling Love / Sibling Hate?Momma Jorje speculates whether her children will have a different sibling experience than her own. Did she make the right choices based on her own history?

This post is linked up at the Honest Voices linkup, Simply Natural Saturday, and the Tender Moments with Toddlers and Preschoolers linkup.

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dionna @ Code Name: Mama August 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

such great tips, Charise! I need to do more to have dedicated space that is separate for K&A. Right now I do make sure that Kieran has time alone in the toy room (I keep Ailia out with me), but I think he’d feel better if he had dedicated space.
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2 Lauren @ Hobo Mama August 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm

These are excellent tips! We’ve definitely had to do #4; for us, it’s not space since — well, we don’t have any extra space, lol. For him, it’s specific belongings, since Mikko tends to be possessive of his. We’ve endorsed his rule that anything he bought with his allowance is his to choose whether it’s used by someone else — and, conversely, hearing us back him up on that often leads to his sharing more than if we forced it.

I’m trying not to put pressure on him (#7) to be more mature than he is, but it’s definitely a temptation, particularly when I can see them egging each other on, to call on him to be the “big kid.” I’m trying to curb that tendency in me.

I love the idea of creating roles (#8)! I’m going to see where I can incorporate that into their squabbles over toys.
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3 TJ August 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Good tips! I especially like the first–people don’t always consider that. :-)
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4 Cyndie August 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I think the making time for each child is importatnt

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5 Kylie August 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Love this! Great post + list of resources – pinning. I feel like our oldest DS could not have done better with welcoming a little brother – baby is a year old now and we have never really had any issue. They just love each other. I got lucky!! Hopefully number 3 arrives with the same loving welcome. :)
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6 Alicia Taylor August 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Modeling respect and respecting boundaries are the two primary rules in our house. Basically “Treat others the way you want to be treated”.
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7 Sheila Pai August 13, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Powerful tips. As I say with A Living Family: It’s not easy; it’s worth the effort. #1 in particular has been tough when I get intensely heated. (Hence MY post on what to do in the heated moments.) Thanks for sharing what has worked for you. They are helpful tips for all of us.
~sheila
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8 Kristin August 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Great tips! My husband and I have to set the example for my kids to know how to treat each other and themselves. We are the role models. Love each other as you love yourself. :)
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9 Beth August 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for the great tips :) I agree that having a sibling is really important!

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10 brett August 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm

great tips. we’ve actually had to make toys that ours Don’t have to share — they are so close in age they need something of their own you know?
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11 Christine Luken August 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I don’t have kids, but when my brother and I were little, my mom used to make us hug for five minutes as a punishment for fighting.
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12 Amy W. August 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm

These are fantastic tips! I know that I am guilty of putting too much pressure on Abbey to be a “big girl” about things. I really need to work on that.
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13 Malia August 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Great tips! One on one time is so important.
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14 Debra August 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Great tips! We always try to spend dedicated time with each of our children individually. It gives them a chance to share with us and we can help nurture their likes/dislikes.
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15 Taylor August 13, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Such great tips! When I had my last baby, I was nervous that there would be a lot of jealousy. To my surprise, my (then) toddler was thrilled to be able to help. As they are getting older though and starting to fight over my time, I think its important that they each have that individual time.
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16 Healy Harpster August 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I love this post! Thanks for the great tips, very applicable to my situation. I have two kids age 6 years old and 17 months old.
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17 Ashley August 13, 2013 at 11:54 pm

This is a great post! I have two siblings, a younger brother 2 years younger and a half-sister 14 years younger. I don’t have a relationship with my sister because we didn’t grow up in the same household and our lives were completely different; my brother on the other hand is a pain in the butt ;)
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18 mommy2jam (Adrianne) August 14, 2013 at 1:31 am

Wow I needed to read this. My boys are constantly fighting and I am at my wits end. This page has been bookmarked. Thank you

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19 christy karch August 14, 2013 at 2:07 am

My first 2 were 3yrs apart, my last 2 were 3yrs apart… ohh how I wish I had a sibling growing up that I could have grown up with..it looks like so much fun!!

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20 Mercy August 14, 2013 at 4:43 am

These are some great ideas. I especially like #’s 1, 5, and 8. With 3 kids very close in age (all 18 mo. apart), I need to remember these things.
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21 Melanie a/k/a CrazyMom August 14, 2013 at 6:51 am

Great tips and soooo true.. as a Mom of a 5 year old, 14 year old and 18 year old we have our ups and downs but in the end they love each other; giving each space is a big thing but also being together whether it is watching a movie or a playing a game is very important… Thanks for sharing…
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22 Giveaways 4 Mom August 14, 2013 at 8:08 am

This is a great post with great tips. Thanks so much for sharing.
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23 Kristyn August 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

Great tips!!! I have a 3 yr old and a 5 yr old and I will certainly share these tips with my husband too! :-)

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24 Jenny August 14, 2013 at 9:30 am

great post :) little late in my case and i don’t have a second child but still awesome!
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25 Liz August 14, 2013 at 9:52 am

I do think the modeling is key. If we treat each other with respect, the kids will follow suit for the most part.
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26 Dawn Lopez August 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm

These are great tips to help foster a healthy and loving relationship. I think more families should try these ideas… it seems too many siblings end up hating each other.. at least for a few years! I was an only child and after seeing some of my friends and their siblings.. I felt lucky at times!
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27 Shannon@MishmashMama August 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm

This was so so good, and very realistic. Sometimes, as a mom of 4, I feel like posts about siblings are really unrealistic, especially when written by moms of two little ones. Sibling relationships get more complex with age and more kids. Your tips are really great for any age, and any size family. Thank you!
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28 Mercedes August 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

As I kept reading down the list, I kept agreeing more and more! I think modeling is so important for me in particular. My sister is here visiting and even though we are having a great time I have noticed that we still snap at each other occasionally like we did when we were younger. Habits are hard to break. I defeinitely don’t want my twins to pick up those communication skills! And also, spending individual time with each child. This is one area that I think will be a challenge as the twins get older, and if we have any more children, but I know how valuable it is. What a great reference! Thanks for sharing.
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29 Ave August 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I just have one kid, but these tips are useful for the future! Thanks for sharing! Btw, your kids are really cute! :)
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30 Janeane Davis August 14, 2013 at 11:44 pm

This is a great post. I have four children and will be using some of your tips immediately.
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31 Caroline Murphy August 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

I struggle with this. My daughters are almost 7 and 2. They play well together but it’s tough to get the 7 year old to understand that we have different expectations of her little sister.
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32 Joanne August 15, 2013 at 12:08 pm

For me, one of the best tools has beeb modeling the behavior I want. Also, keeping in mind how old they are and that developmentally they may doing the best they can at that moment.
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33 Lalitha Prakash August 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I constantly try to build a great rapo between my two children. Great tips.
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34 Michele Brosius August 15, 2013 at 7:12 pm

You have some great tips. Siblings are such a complicated relationship, but one that you will always treasure no matter what your age.
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35 Danielle @ We Have It All August 15, 2013 at 10:15 pm

We have 6 kids and I think all of these tips you listed are great!

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36 Mariana August 16, 2013 at 11:02 am

Great advice! I’m lucky that my daughters love each other SO much and get along incredibly well. I have a similar relationship with my sister.
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37 Almost Supermom August 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

well said! As the momma of 6, all stair stepped every two years, I agree wholeheartedly with your tips. My kids are the best of friends and have each other’s back all the time.
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38 Motherhood on the Rocks August 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I only have one, but these will be great if we ever have a second.
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39 Jennifer Hoffman August 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Love this. And this may sound crazy, but one very simple thing we did from the time my second was born, we helped him “talk” to his big sister. Both my husband and I do it. For example, if she comes in as he’s waking up in the morning and says “Hey there little fella!” I might say (in a special voice), “Hey sister. I’m so happy to see you.” It really helped her connect and bond with him.

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40 Emerald August 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm

My parents made us hug it out. We could be frustrated but not without reasoning with one another.
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41 Debi@ The Spring Mount 6 Pack August 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm

My boys who are teens and 12 months a part, are just getting back to liking each other. SO I am hopefully they can get back to being friends as they get past the teen trouble. My girls who are several years a part just asked to spend the summer in the same room and turn the other room into a playroom. I love seeing them play together so much, but we are ready for when they are tired of it and need some space.
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42 Melissa Ryan August 20, 2013 at 8:17 am

I featured this post on this week’s Tuesday Baby link up. I hope to be able to foster a great relationship between my kiddos. These tips are really awesome.
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43 Anna @ The Measured Mom August 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Great post! I have four kids who do their fair share of bickering – these are some good reminders. One book I love is called “Siblings without Rivalry,” — I need to reread it!
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44 Rachel August 21, 2013 at 4:15 am

Love your blog, just found it this morning. Special thanks for the last tip on this post, making the younger child a mechanic when they approach the car the older child is playing with – deffo going to be pinching that one off you!. And agree, there are few things more lovely than hearing the older child use your words to comfort their sibling – my boy says “aw babes.. it’s ok Lucy”

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45 Deb E October 20, 2013 at 9:14 pm

I think “Manage Your Expectations” is a big one. Moms can feel so anxious that they’re doing it right, creating such tension. Just doesn’t need to be that big of a deal and it tends to work out naturally. Sometimes I think there’s so much advice out there; no one way is perfect. Don’t sweat the small stuff seems to work here.

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46 Maryann D. November 11, 2013 at 7:12 am

Super advice for all parents. I am lucky that most of the time my children got along well or didn’t bother each other when young. I did try to do many of the things you listed.

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47 Hilary Robertson March 21, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Such great tips! Always important to give each kid special one on one time!

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