Eight Ideas for Solving Sibling Problems


My husband and I have our kids through the miracle of adoption. Our son was one when our three-year-old daughter had to immediately adjust to the idea of sharing everything with him. Her mommy and daddy, her toys, and her extended family were seemingly up for grabs. I can’t imagine a situation with a three year old and a new one year old in which it would not be brutal. And it was.

The truth of the matter is sometimes sibling dynamics take over the entire house. Sometimes as parents we can get lost in their drama, their inability to cope, or their insecurity. We can beat our heads against the wall attempting to fix their sibling relationship as we try to force them to be close.

However, as I’ve seen my kids’ relationship blossom, I have been struck with how hands-off I’ve needed to be in order for them to get along. My two are now best friends, and our home is peaceful again.

I want to share the following ideas with you because I believe in them, and hopefully save the sanity of a mommy who is on the brink.

Solving sibling problems is hard but possible.
Photo by Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash

How to Foster Sibling Relationships 

  1. Recognize when they’re putting you in the middle, and refuse to play that game. As much as possible, stay out of it. Let them solve their own dilemmas because they’re triangulating when they place you in the middle, Mama. It’s a power move: Mom is mine; watch her defend me! But people aren’t for claiming, and parents shouldn’t pick sides. It is best if some tension can be allowed for a minute, which can allow the kids to work it out on their own. To me, unless there is physical harm happening, trust your kids enough to allow them to find a compromise.
  2. Talk to them when they’re calm (and possibly when they’re not together) about expectations about their behavior. Say things using words such as “if” and “then.” For example: If you throw your toys at her, then those toys go to the top of my closet for a week. I’d recommend saying this calmly and proactively, without shame. Think of yourself as their helper because you are their coach. Keep a calm expectation of them so it minimizes the problem before it arises.
  3. Separate your kids for periods of time each day. Children need to know and appreciate the value of “me time,” and you can teach them how. It gives them a break from having to constantly share/compromise. If you happen to notice that every day they tend to fight right after lunch, let that be the time of day that each kid goes to a special part of the house for some alone time. One funny example of this also happens to work on my two dogs. Usually they growl over dog food and generally could care less about each other. But when we separate them for any reason and they get back together, they wag tails and act like they haven’t seen one another in a month.
  4. Have them serve somebody together (even if it’s you). There is power in altruism. Let them love on a mutual person or group of people who is in need. Let it be their thing. Not only will they develop empathy, but they will also become better humans together. Suddenly, whoever gets their book read to them first seems trivial.
  5. Articulate the commonalities you see in them. Reflect aloud when you notice similarities. “You like your sandwich cut in triangles, too. Both of you like that a lot!” In my house, we sometimes say, “twinsies!” after a comment like that. It’s a little celebration of similarities.
  6. Point out when one of them doesn’t like something the other is doing. “Oh, I can tell by the look on your face that you don’t like it when she bounces that on your head.” So, rather than correcting the child in question, which projects shame and doesn’t allow for genuine learning, just try commenting. Notice it out loud so the sibling hears how the mom interprets his or her actions. Rather than forcing an apology, you’ll most likely hear one happen naturally. (Forcing an apology, though tempting, is not a great way to get kids to connect. What they’re REALLY saying deep down when we force it is, “I hate you right now so much, I hate that mom is making me do this and humiliate myself!”)
  7. Model what compromise looks like. Let them know when you have to compromise on something you want. We used to call it, “back and forth playing.” I would do a little back and forth between both kids who wanted me to be doing different things. But now, as they’re older, I only have to talk about how I compromise what I want to do as well. “Well, I really wanted to go bowling tomorrow night with your Grandma, but since she’s tired from her trip, I’m compromising and we will go this weekend.”
  8. Understand that sibling rivalry is normal. It takes time to foster close relationships, and there will probably be certain ages when your whole crew just doesn’t click. It’s okay. Wait a bit longer, don’t give up on it, and do a few of these ideas in the meantime. It will take time, so hang in there.


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