You may have fond memories of your children playing together—spending hours building forts or ruling imaginary kingdoms, but now that they’re tweens and teens, all they do is bicker and battle. What happened? During their tween and teen years, kids start looking to carve out an identity. Their newfound ability to think abstractly expands their views of the world and of themselves as individuals. Now they want to be identified alone, not in association with one another, which can lead siblings close in age to feel especially competitive.
Big brothers and sisters may start ignoring and even dismissing their younger sibs. After all, how could this naive person possibly understand where they’re coming from? They’re so immature—not to mention annoying and embarrassing. So how can you revive the sibling solidarity, or at least keep them from clobbering each other?
These tips, rooted in psychological science, can help.
- Reinforce each sibling’s strengths. You might compliment one child’s soccer prowess and celebrate another child’s science fair win. Feeling validated boosts kids’ self-confidence as individuals, which lessens their need to compete with one another.
- Avoid making direct comparisons between siblings or asking one child to help the other do a task at which she’s less skilled. It could send the message that one sibling is superior. Instead, play to each child’s strengths.
- Promote kindness. Encourage siblings to offer to help each other, and praise them when they do, as lending a helping hand builds good will. Model the behavior with your spouse—“Do you want a glass of water while I’m up?”—to set a good example.
- Book alone time with each sibling. Whether you go to the movies or just play ball in the yard, special time with your child conveys that he is loved and valued as an individual.
- Encourage sibling time. Older kids often fail to realize how much their younger brother or sister looks up to them. When parents help siblings understand the important role they play in each other’s lives, they feel empowered and are more likely to want to interact.
- Schedule quality time. Family dinners and regularly planned family time—to eat dinner, play board games or go hiking—helps build bonds between siblings.
Sibling rivalry can wreak havoc at home. Parents play a pivotal role in encouraging peace and mutual admiration among siblings. When tweens and teens feel valued as unique individuals they’re better able to both appreciate their sibling’s strengths and engage in a deeply beneficial relationship. Few connections compare to the intense bond between brothers and sisters.