How to encourage siblings to be friends

Tips to foster a respectful relationship between your children.
Tips to foster a respectful relationship between your children. Photo: Getty

I've always been extremely lucky. Throughout school I never had to search for a best friend for life, nor have I ever felt incomplete without a soul mate. I've always had two of each: two best friends, two soul mates. I have two amazing sisters who I've had the pleasure of growing up with.

Since we were little, we've always been close. Perhaps it was because we were all born within three years. It couldn't have been easy for Mum and Dad, having three children under the age of three. We weren't exactly angels either. But being so close in age meant we played the same games, we often liked the same things and we all reached the same milestones in rather quick succession. Somewhere along the line, we became best friends.

But it wasn't always smiles and roses. Sometimes we fought, and I’m talking big fights, too. And there were times when they made me cry. But I promise you, they've helped wipe away far more tears than they've ever caused.

Just like you can count on the sun rising tomorrow, no matter the circumstances of today, I can always count on these two girls; no matter what.

They’re like two co-pilots, two supporting actors who never get written in and out of the script, two cheerleaders standing on the sideline always routing for me to win. They’re always there; helping me navigate this crazy thing called life. And I couldn't imagine it any other way.

But I know not all siblings grow up like this and there can be many reasons why. Some siblings have significant age differences, which might make it harder for them to bond over similar interests. Such is the case with Pip Murphy’s children. Pip has three children aged between seven years and seven months and her two eldest children, aged seven and four, don’t always see eye-to-eye.

“At this stage of the game, [their fights] are about sharing, or the eldest one getting frustrated with his little sister because she doesn't understand the rules of a game,” Pip explains. “He gets angry and retaliates.”

Pip admits she is hopeful, yet unsure, of her children growing out of this type of bickering as the years pass by. She also hopes one day, when they transition into adulthood, they’ll develop a strong relationship based on respect for one another.

“I don’t think you can ask two people to grow up and be best friends,” Pip says. “But I do hope they grow up as individuals who support each other and enjoy spending time together.”

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So if you’re like Pip and want to foster a respectful relationship between your children, here are some tips:

Celebrate the Individual

It’s important for parents to celebrate the individuality of each of their children.

“Children are born with personality traits,” Ruth Taylor, Relationship Educator at Relationships Australia, explains. “And they need their parents to accept them and value their strengths, as well as support and [give] encouragement to modify their behaviours in their own best interest.”

Ruth also goes on to explain how some siblings will never feel close to their other siblings because their personalities and interests are too different. But despite this, Ruth still says, siblings can learn and continue to show respect towards each other.

Hold Family Meetings to Discuss Rules

Another important aspect is minimising rivalry. This means carefully choosing your tone and language when disciplining siblings, so you’re not perceived as favouring one sibling over the other.

“Family meetings can be introduced early in the children’s lives for airing grievances and finding solutions to problems, making changes in household jobs or rules etc.,” Ruth says. “Adults are then in a stronger place when they remind the children of the rules and can deliver consequences in a calm ‘policeman’ way.”

Complement Sibling Activities

Kimberley O'Brien, Child Psychologist at Quirky Kids Clinic, explains how parents can encourage siblings to get along by complementing activities or toys. When talking about children with a significant age gap, she gives the example of getting an older sibling to read to a younger sibling.

And with siblings who are rather close in age, Kimberley shares the example of giving complementing Christmas presents, such as giving one sibling a dolls house and the other some dolls. This way they are encouraged to share and play together.

As for the big fights my sisters and I had growing up? Ruth explains that sibling rivalry is natural and can be healthy for development. “Children have innate drives to find their place in a group, so disagreeing, competing and fighting are naturally going to happen as they work out who they are and where they fit.”

However, Kimberley also mentions that external factors in children’s lives, such as being bullied at school or having learning difficulties, may lead to them taking out their anger and frustrations on their siblings. And this is something parents should be mindful of.

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