What steps can parents take to improve sibling relationships?

All siblings are bound to fight, tease and tattle on one another at some point. However, you can take active steps to encourage healthy sibling relationships. Consider these tips:

  • Respect each child's unique needs. Treating your children uniformly isn't always practical — and the harder you try, the more your children might look for signs of unfairness. Instead, focus on meeting each child's unique needs. For example, instead of buying both of your children the same gifts to avoid conflict, consider buying them different gifts that reflect their individual interests. Instead of signing up all of your children for soccer or piano lessons, ask for their individual input.
  • Avoid comparisons. Comparing your children's abilities can cause them to feel hurt and insecure. While it's natural to notice the differences between children, avoid discussing them in front of the kids. When praising one of your children, stick to describing his or her action or accomplishment — rather than comparing it to how his or her sibling does it.
  • Set the ground rules. Make sure your children understand what you consider acceptable and unacceptable behavior when it comes to interacting with each other, as well as the consequences of misbehavior.
  • Don't get involved in battles. Encourage your children to settle their own differences. Discourage tattling. While you might need to help younger children resolve disputes, you can still refrain from taking sides. When you need to discipline your children, avoid doing so in front of others — which can cause shame and embarrassment. When possible, take your child aside to discuss his or her behavior. Also, avoid using nicknames for your children that might perpetuate sibling rivalry or repeatedly blaming one child for sibling disputes.
  • Anticipate problems. If your children can't resolve a disagreement by themselves or routinely fight over the same things, consider helping them devise a solution. For example, if you have young children who have trouble sharing, encourage them to each play with their own toys or plan activities that don't require much cooperation — such as listening to music or playing hide and seek. If your children regularly battle over use of the television, shared gaming systems or other gadgets, help them create a weekly schedule. Explain the consequences of not following the schedule.
  • Listen to your children. Being a sibling can be frustrating. Allow your children to vent their negative feelings about each other. Respond by acknowledging their feelings. If you have siblings, share stories of your own childhood conflicts. Consider holding regular family meetings to give your children a chance to talk about and work out sibling issues.
  • Encourage good behavior. When you see your children playing well together or working as a team, be sure to compliment them. A little praise can go a long way.
  • Show your love. Spend time alone with each of your children. Do special activities with each of your children that reflect their interests. Remind your children that they're loved, you're there for them and they can talk about anything with you.

Do twins or other multiples have special sibling issues?

Sibling rivalry often isn't an issue for multiples. While twins or other multiples might compete against each other, the children typically also depend on each other and develop close relationships early on. However, they might have problems maintaining their individuality. Twins are often treated as a unit, rather than two children who have unique personalities. It can be tempting to dress them alike and give them the same toys. If you have multiples, pay attention to their different needs and try to foster individuality.

Other children in a family with multiples might feel left out or jealous since they're not part of this unique relationship and multiples often need and attract lots of attention. If you have multiples and one or more other children, be sure to spend plenty of special one-on-one time with each of your kids. Also, encourage your multiples to play separately with other children. For example, arrange a play date for one of your twins while the other twin plays with a sibling. Your multiples might resist separation, but being able to be apart is a skill your children will benefit from as they get older.

Remember, all siblings fight or argue. Sibling rivalry is normal. However, by treating your children as individuals, listening to them and giving them opportunities to resolve their own problems, you'll lay the groundwork for solid sibling relationships.

Feb. 23, 2012 See more In-depth