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The Secrets to Sibling Harmony - A must read for parents with more than one child

By Lorraine Thomas, Parenting Expert Sibling Rivalry to Sibling Harmony If you ever wonder why they never seem to get along - you aren't the only one! But even their arguments and fighting can have a silver lining... I will always remember the words of Sonia, a mum I coached and I always quote her when I am running seminars on the subject of Sibling Harmony. “The thing is,” she said to me, “that Tom was really looking forward to having a sister. But a lot of the time he acts as though he really doesn’t like her.  He’s 4 and at nursery. She’s nearly 3 but his behaviour’s really regressed and he’s going through the terrible 2s again. He really doesn’t like it when I am looking after her and can’t give him my attention. Their constant arguing is getting me down. But I suppose it is a bit like my husband bringing back another woman and expecting us all to live in the house together! I think Sonia’s analysis was spot on. Having a son or daughter is one thing. But when you go from one child to two, it’s a whole new experience for all of the family. Learning to handle tantrums, resolve conflict and create sibling harmony is tough but so important for parents and children.


Sharing Mum Means Explosions Are Normal

Tom’s reaction to sharing his sister with mum is totally normal. It’s natural for him to shout and stamp his feet when he has to share mum’s love with his sister. It’s a whole new ball game for him – and like most toddlers he doesn’t like the rules.  This is probably especially true now that he is at nursery and really looking forward to seeing mum at the end of the day. But then he has to share her. It’s a difficult thing for him to come to terms with. So one moment, they may be playing happily together. The next minute war breaks out. This is a normal part of family life.  

The Benefits Of Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is stressful for everyone involved. But it does have its benefits. For brothers and sisters, learning to compromise and negotiate is an important part of growing up. There’s nothing like having to share the TV remote or a favourite toy to put their social and communication skills to the test. These are life skills they’ll use for many years to come.   With good parenting, they’ll learn to pull together and to support each other – and to support you. It will be this powerful family bond that will see all of you any family challenges that lie ahead of you.  

Love Each Of Your Children For Who They Are

Each of your children is unique and they all have their own special qualities. It’s great to spend time together as a family but also spend time with each child on their own.  Use the time to really tune in to what makes them tick as individuals.   It can be very tempting, but don’t compare one child with another in a positive or negative way. Saying to one child “why can’t you be as good as your sister” – is quite likely to have the opposite effect to the one you are hoping for. Avoid saying to your son, you should know better because you are older. Yes he is, but he is still very little. It is not, for example, realistic to expect him to always share his toys with his sister all of the time just because she is younger.  

Be Fair and Avoid Favouritism

Establish fair family rules and be consistent.   Start as you mean to go on.   Focus on the solution to the argument - not on every detail of “she did this” and “he did that”. Blame isn’t helpful. You want them to learn how to sort it out and play together. If they both want to watch different things on TV or both sit at the tap end of the bath, show them how to work out a way that is fair to everyone so that they learn to take it in turns. Encourage them to compromise and get them involved in ideas of ways to do this.  

When It Is Important To Interfere

Do interfere if an argument between siblings gets physical. Your children must learn that hitting or biting or kicking is unacceptable behaviour. Never leave a toddler alone with an infant. Even the most loving toddler can accidentally hurt a brother or sister with an over-enthusiastic hug.  

Set A Good Example

The very best way to teach your children to negotiate, compromise and see each other’s perspective is to make sure that you do it yourself.   So if you want to watch Sky sport and dad wants to watch a soap you will have to compromise. If you ask your children to do anything you’re not prepared to do yourself – it won’t happen. Your family will learn what to do from watching you.  

‘Love Bomb’ Each Child

Finally, it is great to have time together as a family. It is also great to have one-to-one time with each of your children. This takes organising – but the experience is priceless. It gives you an opportunity to really tune in to your toddler. You can’t be 100% mum all of the time. But you can be 100% some of the time. Those times are precious.   As well as having fun together, you can really get into their shoes and see the world through their eyes. It will help you to understand what makes them behave in certain ways, especially when they are with their siblings. Understanding what makes your toddler behave in a certain way will help you to handle them. Good luck!  

*Lorraine's Sibling Harmony Top Tips*

Here are some practical ideas to encourage teamwork:
  1. Acknowledge his feelings. When he says “I hate my sister” – don’t rebuke him with “You don’t mean that” because in the heat of that moment he probably does.  Don’t make him feel guilty for emotions that are perfectly normal – help him to deal with them.
  2. Give him a practical tool to use if he gets angry or frustrated. He can, for example come to you or he can leave the room and count to 10 – a really good use of ‘Time Out’ so that he can respond to her instead of react.
  3. Go with your gut instinct about when is the right time to interfere. When they argue, don’t step in right away. Wait a few minutes to see if they resolve it themselves.
  4. Explain how you want them to play together – instead of how you don’t. Instead of saying “Don’t argue” say “I want you to play together and take turns so you kick the ball and then you kick the ball”.
  5. Give them attention for working as a team, not attention for arguing.
  6. Give specific praise for behaviour you want to encourage. Say “you’re being a great brother helping your sister by holding her hand as we walk” instead of “Good boy”. Behaviour that gets attention gets repeated.
  7. Encourage them to do things together like team games, cooking with you, laying the table or putting their toys away. Set them challenges to complete as a team.
  8. Have fun together. It’s the very best way to create sibling harmony.

  Lorraine ThomasLorraine Thomas is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is the Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy and author of ‘Brilliantly Behaved Toddler’. She runs workshops for working parents with clients including Marks & Spencer, Morgan Stanley, Novartis and Barclays. She is used as a parenting expert by Tesco.