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7 Tips to Encourage Good Sibling Relationships

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Healthy relationships don’t just happen. Good sibling relationships develop as a result of hard work and deliberate effort on the part of parents and children. As a mom of 6 children, and one of 4 siblings, I’ve learned some tips for encouraging positive, healthy relationships between brothers and sisters.

Girl and boy looking at each other with toddler in front. Encouraging good sibling relationships.

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Full Video Transcript

[Note: I’ve made some minor edits to enhance readability.]

How can you help your kids become each other’s best friends? 

I’ve seen so many terrible sibling relationships: kids who grew up in the same house, who were raised by loving parents. The parents seemed to do the right things, and yet the kids, when they become adults, they are not able to be friends with each other, not able to be close. 

I wondered, “How can I prevent that from happening with my kids?

I’ve also seen some siblings who are clearly very close, and spend a lot of time together, and enjoy spending time together. That was what I wanted for my kids. 

Sisters with climbing gear. good sibling relationships.

Here are some of the things that we found that seem to be really making a difference. 

1. Teach Conflict Resolution

Number one: you need to teach your kids conflict resolution directly. Many of us, when we wanted our parents to get involved in our sibling conflicts, they would come in as a judge. You might hear both sides of the story and then they would hand down their judgment. 

That’s a quick and rapid way to make sure that the situation is resolved but it tends to create resentment. There is usually some abuse of power that ends up happening. Where the parent will simply tell one child, or the other, after hearing only a part of the story, “Oh you need to do this.”

Boy and girl eating s'mores.

And that’s the end of it. And it doesn’t teach the siblings any conflict resolution and it leads to a lot of hurt feelings. 

My own childhood experiences

Growing up, I was the oldest. So frequently, the answer to conflict between myself and the younger sibling would be, “You’re the oldest and so you need to be mature and handle things.” 

As I’ve gotten into adulthood that pattern continues. They are full adults now, but I’m still expected to let them behave whatever way they want to. And they aren’t expected to grow in maturity. 

@dinkumtribe Yes. They are my family. And they have repeatedly abused and bullied me, and I gave them years of warnings and second chances. They don’t care. So now I’m choosing to prioritize my safety and mental health. @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel #toxicparent #nocontactwithparent #abusiveparent #toxicfamily ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel

Not a quick fix

That’s something that we’ve done differently with our kids. Conflict resolution takes time and it takes energy and it takes some skills. 

We had to help our children understand, what is it to have a fair fight? What is it to have a fair argument? How can I learn to listen to what the other person is saying? How can we both come up with something that we’re both happy with?

That’s going to mean a lot of mediation with your kids. It’s going to mean you sit there with them while they’re talking to each other. You help them to do things in a healthy way and help them to communicate in a healthy way. 

@dinkumtribe This isn’t the way I was raised, but it’s the way I’m trying to raise my kids. @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel #parentingtips #parentingdoneright #parentingadvice #howtoparent ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel

Results of teaching conflict resolution

And it takes a lot of time! But as we’ve done this with our kids we’ve seen how they learn empathy. They learn conflict resolution skills. They become a lot more willing to try to compromise. 

They have the skills they need to get into fewer arguments. And now as we have teenagers, we’re seeing that our teenagers, when they and their sibling are in a conflict a lot of times they can work it out without us having to be involved. 

And they both will come out of it happy and still friends with each other. So teaching conflict resolution is a really huge skill that helps your kids to eventually be able to be better friends with each other. 

Kids sitting on a playground ladder. good sibling relationships.

2. No bullying allowed

Second really important key point—I think a lot of families miss this one. There is no bullying allowed. 

Many of us grew up in families where teasing and poking fun at each other, sarcasm, and biting comments—those were the norms. And they were ways that families communicated with each other, and in some ways how they communicated affection and love. 

Hurt feelings guaranteed

And the difficulty with that, is that there are always going to be hurt feelings with those situations, especially with littler kids. Little kids don’t understand conflict. They don’t understand irony. 

And even at 13 years they’re still starting to…they’re still learning how to understand how humor works. They’re learning how sarcasm works, irony… These are all subtle communication styles that even a teenager is still just learning. 

girl and boys laying on the floor.

Manipulation and bullying are banned

We’ve made it a rule in our house that you are not allowed to be a bully to your siblings—we don’t permit our kids to get away with manipulating each other. 

We don’t permit them to speak to each other in a harsh tone, we don’t permit them to speak to each other in biting words. 

We don’t allow insults, we don’t allow name-calling… Any of these things that can be considered bullying or manipulative behaviors, we put a stop to it. 

Girls in front of red fall leaves.

And we don’t let our kids continue in them. If we hear it happening or if it’s reported to us if that’s what happened we take it seriously. And we communicate about it. 

The parent’s responsibility 

And we don’t let our kids continue to do this, because these are the kinds of things that tear down relationships. Kids don’t know that. They don’t have the foresight to recognize that these things are damaging to relationships. 

They need us, as adults and parents, to step in and say, “Hey that’s not going to build the kind of relationship you’re going to want with your sibling in 15, 20 years.”

Teens with their arms around each other. good sibling relationships.

Hurt that lasts

There’s a really important saying that goes along with this. Sometimes we’re tempted to think that these harsh comments are not important. Or that speaking to someone in anger is something that’s easily forgotten. 

But the truth of the matter is, that “The tree remembers; and the ax doesn’t.” 

The person who’s saying the really harsh, or mean, or unkind things—they forget about it even seconds later. The person who hears it, it can go in and it can be deep. 

3. Expect kindness

The third point which is expecting kindness towards each other. We expect, and we teach our kids how to be kind to each other. How to think of another person before themselves. 

And some of this is manners. Some of it is, you know, saying please and thank you, or speaking in a ‘kind request voice.’ Or offering someone the last piece of food, or checking to see if anybody else wants the last cookie on the plate before we help ourselves to it. 

Toddler and baby smiling.

Some of these are just things that we teach our kids as a way of thinking of someone else first. They’re naturally designed to get their needs met, and not necessarily think about anyone else. And so we do have to train them to do that. 

We have to train them to think kindly to think about what someone else would be feeling in that situation, to teach them empathy. 

So that’s something we take time to teach our kids. 

4. Teamwork and play together

The fourth thing that we do, we give them opportunities to work together and we give them opportunities to play together. 

Now, play time is easier because we give them a lot of free playing. So that’s not so much a big deal, but we also give them opportunities to do jobs together. 

@dinkumtribe Happy days with our boys. Being mom to these kids is such a gift!🥰🥰🥰@DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel @DinkumTribe ADHD family travel #skateparks #playtimeatthepark #adhdfamilytravel #homeschoolfamily ♬ Live Your Beautiful Life

Chores and work

We do things as a family. Sometimes we’ll have a garden day—we’re all gardening together. Sometimes we will have a spring cleaning and everyone in the house is expected to help. 

Everyone has chores they do to contribute. And sometimes their chores are one that they have to work on with the sibling. I assign those deliberately, so that my kids can learn how to work together with each other. 

Boys at playground. good sibling relationships.

Sharing rooms can help with this too, because you have to work with someone else to learn how to share a space effectively. 

Make it work for your family

And it’s okay to switch things around too! You may find that some kids, their relationship is NOT improved by spending more time together or by doing certain jobs together. So it’s better to assign them separately. 

But we do create these opportunities where they do need to work with each other or where they do need to accomplish something together, and that does tend to build relationships. 

Family bonding

And then of course we spend time doing fun things together as a family where everyone’s involved. 

Girls holding lit sparklers.

So creating those opportunities to work together and to play together, it helps them to build relationships that are connected based on shared positive experiences. “We accomplished this task together!” Or, “We did this fun thing together!” 

Those kinds of experiences bond kids and families together. 

5. No triangulation

The fifth thing that we are very careful about is, we don’t allow any kind of triangulation. This goes along with the conflict resolution. 

One of the major things that people tend to do when they haven’t been taught how to resolve conflict appropriately, is they talk about what their problem is with another person with everyone EXCEPT that person. 

And they try to get someone else to get to work on that person instead of just going and directly communicating it with that person! We don’t permit this in our family either. 

Coaching our kids through conflicts

kids smiling with a birthday cake.

If our kids are having a problem with one of their siblings, or even with their dad or I… If they’re having a problem with someone we expect that they will go to that person and try to resolve it first before they ask for help. 

This takes wisdom too, because they’re kids and still learning. So sometimes they will come straight to us, and that’s fine. And we remind them, “Did you say this is what you wanted? Did you communicate what you were trying to do?”

And especially when they’re younger, but sometimes if they’re just emotionally flooded they didn’t communicate it in any way that was appropriate.

Encouraging safe relationships

Boys making goofy faces at a pumpkin patch

And so we start there. We encourage our kids to communicate to the person they need to, and not to talk about it with other people. And then once it’s been handled, we encourage them not to mention it again to other people. 

This is a really important part of helping people feel safe in their relationships—that they’re not going to have something they did that was a mistake or that was not good repeated to other people who it doesn’t involve. 

Sometimes kids do need to have coaching or help with the situation where they’ve tried to communicate something that’s not working. They do need us as parents to step in there and help them with that. So of course we’re ready to do that. 

Boys being silly. good sibling relationships.

6. No comparison

The last one that I feel like is really important—and I’m grateful to Jon over at Whole Parent for reminding me about this one. But it’s, do not compare your siblings to each other. Just don’t! And it can be really hard! 

Kids naturally compare themselves to other people around them. So it’s super important as parents that you don’t compare them. 

And this can be comparing in good and bad ways. Like sometimes we make this only about the, “Well, this person does things so much better than you.” That’s not the only way we compare kids. 

Sometimes it’s this person always getting a compliment for this particular thing, and this child never getting a compliment for it. So it’s a fine line and you have to figure out how to do it well. 

Boys reading magazines on a couch.

The most important thing

It’s super important to communicate to each of your kids regularly and verbally “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.” And that needs to be sent to every one of your kids regularly by both parents. You may think they know but they do need to hear it a lot for it to sink in. 

Making sure that we praise good things we see in them, and making sure that we don’t do it in a way that is a comparison to someone else or to a sibling especially. So that’s another really important way that we found that helps our kids build friendships. 

7. Stick together

girl giving toddler a piggyback ride. good sibling relationships.

The last thing I want to mention, which isn’t necessarily obvious, but is something that I think too many of us forget is… Teaching our kids directly that, aside from their parents, their siblings are people who are going to probably be in their life for their whole life. 

They will always be connected to their sibling. We regularly remind our kids that when they are in conflict—or even if they’re just playing with friends, doesn’t have to be conflict sometimes just playing. We regularly remind them that their sibling is important, and they should stick up for their brother, stick up for their sister. 

Protect each other

And they should not be teaming up with others against their brother or their sister, because it’s really important that kids learn to protect their siblings. Protect their brother, protect their sister from other people as well.

Boys in climbing helmets being goofy.

It’s a huge betrayal for a brother or a sister to join other people who are bullying their brother or sister. Kids feel this deeply. And sometimes we don’t feel like it’s a big deal as adults, but it is a big deal.

Not that you can’t be on opposite teams, but the moment it starts becoming hurt… Well the moment you see that it’s hurting someone you need to stop.

And that’s something else we communicate with our kids. 

We’re not experts, just doing our best

These are some of the tips that we’ve found that help our kids build good relationships with each other.

Girl showing toddler boy a red flower. good sibling relationships.

And again—I said this in a previous video and I’ll say it again here—we’re not experts. We don’t have adult children yet. 

We do have a lot of experience in the kind of family dynamics that don’t work because we both came from families that had a lot of trauma and had a lot of emotionally unhealthy situations.

Our best tips for good sibling relationships

These are some of the things that we’ve found, that we feel like help our kids have good relationships with each other. 

And it’s not that they never fight. Of course they do pretty much every day! There’s disagreements, there’s arguments, there’s fights… Sometimes there’s physical violence, because little kids are impulsive and they don’t always remember not to be violent. 

But generally speaking our kids get along really well and they love each other and they’re there for each other. And that’s one of the best gifts we can give our kids as parents is the gift of good relationships with their siblings. 

Girl laughing with toddler boy. good sibling relationships.

The work and the payoff

We’re really thankful that our kids generally get along pretty well. And it’s taken a lot of communication and a lot of work to teach them how to communicate well. To teach them how to resolve conflict well. 

But it has paid off in having kids who have good relationships with each other and who know how to have good relationships with people outside the family.

END TRANSCRIPT

©️ Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2023

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About the author

I’m Jenn Warren, Co-Founder and Content Creator for Dinkum Tribe. I'm a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica and California, married to my college sweetheart. I've been a missionary kid, pastor’s kid and (former) pastor’s wife. My husband and I traveled as pastors for 12 years throughout the United States and Canada before becoming travel content creators.

I love living in Oregon and exploring new places with my family. We’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the United States and Western Canada with our six children since their infancy. Prior to our marriage, I also lived in Spain for a summer and spent another summer in Mexico.

I’ve homeschooled our six children for over 10 years, and served on the board of a homeschool co-op for 4 years. Several members of our family are neurodivergent (gifted, ADHD, cPTSD), and I’ve spent 5+ years learning how to accommodate neurodivergent needs as well as supporting the resultant mental health challenges (anxiety, depression).

I’ve also served as a support group leader and co-director of Pure Life Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports families struggling with sexual addiction.

I write about family travel and road trips, millennial marriage, general parenting, homeschooling, parenting neurodivergent children, grief, and abuse recovery.

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