How to Foster Sibling Friendships

Let’s face it. Siblings will not always get along. From squabbles over a toy to frustrations over privacy, children of all ages do not always long to be best friends with their brothers or sisters. However, sibling rivalry does not have to disrupt your household.

In order to help your children bond and form friendships with each other, it’s important to set the stage for a friendly environment. Launching games and activities that will help them see the benefits of getting along can only encourage a friendship that will last a lifetime.

Understanding the Rivalry

In order to help your children form friendships with each other, it’s key to understand why your little ones test the boundaries, launch competitions with each other and argue over every little thing when together.

“If we look at children’s behaviors, they are testing boundaries and limits often within the safety of relationships where they feel comfortable,” says Dr. Laura Dessauer, Florida-based child and family therapist and founder of The Creativity Queen. “This is why you’ll often see behavior from children at home that they would never exhibit with peers or in social situations, due to the fear of being out casted from the ‘tribe’ of their peers or classmates.”

One way to curb the rivalry is to help each child see the other’s likes and dislikes. “As sibling relationships are microcosm testing grounds for other relationships, a child learns to adapt to another’s needs and wants as a way of building and sustaining relationships,” says Dessauer. “We see developmentally, children move from egocentric speech and activity, to understanding others and that others have separate wants, needs and desires.”

By helping your children understand the preferences of her siblings, this sets the stage for thriving in social development as your child matures, says Dessauer.

Let the Games Begin

To lay the foundation for a lifelong friendship, encourage siblings to engage in play together. “Hands-on games and activities that promote not only self-awareness but also games that help siblings learn about each other with a focus on outdoor play work best,” says Dessauer. “I love flexible, creative games, which allows for more opportunity for the children to explore, build and create together without as many rules – therefore, there are more opportunities for compromise, communication and understanding because there are fewer rules and structure.”

For example, ask the siblings to use blocks and build something together or create a fort from sticks in the backyard. Make sure, too, that the children have a say in the games you encourage them to play.

“The ideas are often what the children choose and allow for more investment,” says Dessauer. If your little one is mesmerized by super heroes or Star Wars games, you can facilitate these ideas by asking the children to pick a favorite Star Wars character or comic book character and make a world together that they live in. Break out the Legos, modeling clay, markers, paper and pipe cleaners and ask the children to make an island they live on, or a school, a world, a planet or even virtual video game.

The key is to encourage your children to engage in activities that produce an end product – something they were able to accomplish together. For example, set the stage for a play production and ask the siblings to act it out together. Or, have them brainstorm a music video, choreography or even a feature film that you can record and share with the family.

A game of charades will also prompt your children to work together and communicate with body language – an important skill that helps them learn more about each other when they are guessing and interpreting each other’s cues.

“You can do any of these activities indoors or outdoors, but regardless, they allow lots of flexibility for learning about each other and how to communicate what they like and don’t like,” says Dessauer.

Even though it may be tempting to step in and moderate disagreements as they happen, resist the urge to take over, says Dessauer. “As a parent or nanny, allow your children an opportunity to work through their problems before stepping in and allow the space to get messy (as this allows for a child to get messy with her emotions as well) and be there to support them as they work through compromise and communication,” she says.

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