How to Get Your Siblings to Get Along

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by Noël Janis-Norton

When I ask parents what they wish could be different at home, one of the first things they mention is that they wish their children didn’t bicker, tattle and compete so much. It’s not surprising they bring this up because it’s stressful being around siblings who are constantly niggling each other, putting one another down, teasing or contradicting each other.

The main reason most siblings argue and tattle is to get our attention, and it does get our attention! Our natural reaction is to intervene and referee in a he said/she said situation in an attempt to create peace. We may also be tempted to scold, reason, take sides or blame. But when we react in these ways, we are giving our kids a lot of attention for bickering. So unfortunately, when we get pulled into sibling dramas and referee, we end up reinforcing the tattling and bickering.

It’s important to understand that a small amount of sibling competitiveness and bickering is natural, normal, inevitable and healthy. Sibling interactions are an important arena in which children can learn about peer relationships and about their impact on others. Even though we know that it’s too much to expect siblings to always get along, we do want them to be nice to each other most of the time. What we can realistically aim for is siblings who learn to play together, respect each other and each other’s belongings, to share and be kind to each other, most of the time.

So what you can do when they come to you complaining and tattling? The first thing to do is to stay out of it! It doesn’t work to ask what happened because you will never really find out; each child will tell you a version of reality that makes him look good and the sibling look bad. And the more we give advice and suggest solutions, the more our children will assume they need an adult to be judge and jury.

So instead of trying to sort things out for them or with them, respond with a simple technique called Reflective Listening. This is one of the core skills we teach in the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting program because it helps kids work through upsets and big emotions more quickly, helping them to feel heard and understood so that they can move towards problem solving. And that’s what we want our kids to learn to do with their siblings – work out their own problems.

When you reflectively listen, you’ll simply take a second to stop whatever you are doing and look at your child and listen. Then imagine what he is feeling and reflect that feeling back to your child in words. For example, when one of them comes to you complaining about the other, you could say, “It sounds like you are really frustrated with your sister.” Or “You probably wish you didn’t have to share the bathroom with your brother. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in our family had their own bathroom?” As you empathize, each child will feel heard, but since you are not getting involved, they will both get the clear message that you trust them to find a way to get along together. They can!

Learning how to respond in this empathetic way (Reflective Listening) can have almost magical results. The bickering and tattling soon lose their appeal when we no longer give them attention.

And don’t forget to carve out some “Special Time” to spend with each child separately. Kids do not vie for their parents’ attention nearly so much when they are getting the positive individual attention they crave. Even just 10 – 15 minutes will make a difference!

Noël Janis-Norton is an internationally recognized expert on child behavior and the author of six books, CDs and DVDs for parents and teachers, including the international bestseller, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting: Five Strategies That End the Daily Battles and Get Kids to Listen the First Time (Plume, 2013). For more than 40 years, Noël has been lecturing internationally, sharing her tried and tested techniques that prevent misbehavior and motivate kids to cooperate 90% of the time. Noël is the Founder and Director of The Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Centre in London.

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Posted in: Communication, Behavioral Issues, Expert Advice, Discipline, Family, Modern Parenting, Siblings