How to Create Stronger Bonds Among Siblings

Verywell / Catherine Song

Your children’s relationships with one another are likely the longest and most influential relationships they’ll ever have. Yet there will likely be times when you’ll feel like you’re raising arch enemies, as opposed to loving siblings.

But sibling rivalry is normal; disagreements can be important learning opportunities. And just because siblings fight, doesn’t mean they can’t still be close.

There are several things you can do to foster stronger bonds among siblings, regardless of whether they’re biological siblings, step-siblings, or adopted.

Research on Sibling Bonds

Research shows that siblings are integral in teaching one another how to interact socially.

Laurie Kramer, a professor at the University of Illinois who conducted extensive research on siblings, says, “Parents are better at teaching the social niceties of more formal settings—how to act in public, how not to embarrass oneself at the dinner table, for example. But siblings are better role models of the more informal behaviors—how to act at school or on the street, or, most important, how to act cool around friends—that constitute the bulk of a child’s everyday experiences.”

Fostering close bonds between siblings could help your kids grow up to become best friends—eventually. And even though siblings are going to fight and squabble, working out their differences can help prepare them for adult relationships with one another and other people.

They'll Have Better Social Skills

Research shows kids with siblings have better social skills. A 2013 study published in Journal of Family Issues found that between kindergarten and fifth grade, children with siblings gained more social skills than only children.

Perhaps, kids who learn how to share, cooperate, and compromise with many siblings grow up to become adults with successful social practices.

They'll Be Better Partners

Growing up with siblings may provide skills that help kids become better partners. A 2014 study published in Journal of Family Issues found that kids who grow up with siblings are less likely to divorce. In fact, for each sibling a child has, there’s a 3% decline in the likelihood of divorce.

Studies show that the positive effect of sibling relationships hinges on the quality of those relationships. Kids develop better social skills when they have strong bonds with their siblings.

Tense siblings relationships can be destructive. Siblings who don’t get along with one another may be more likely to experience anxiety and depression during adolescence.

Setting a Positive Example

Strong bonds between siblings can also inspire younger siblings to emulate the older ones. Siblings who feel positively about one another tend to achieve similar levels of education. So an older sibling who goes to college may be influential in inspiring younger siblings to further their education.

Unfortunately, not-so-good choices may also be copied by younger siblings too. Girls are more likely to get pregnant as teens if their older sisters became teenage mothers. Teens are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors if their older siblings did.

So it’s important to foster healthy bonds while also ensuring that older kids set good examples for the younger ones. Here are some strategies that can help your kids grow closer and develop healthier bonds with one another.

Teach Emotion Regulation Skills

You certainly don’t need a study to know that sibling relationships are emotionally charged. Kids say and do things to their siblings that they’d never say or do to their friends.

Whether they’re calling one another names and accusing each other of cheating, or they’re slugging it out over who gets the last cookie, there’s just something about siblings that brings out big feelings. Anger, frustration, jealousy, anxiety, and irritation are just a few emotions that siblings tend to draw out of one another on a regular basis.

When left unchecked, these emotions make it difficult for siblings to have healthy relationships. Fortunately, studies show teaching kids how to regulate their emotions can help them develop closer bonds.

Researchers have found that kids with better emotional regulation skills require less parental direction to control their negative emotions. Better emotion regulation skills also promote prosocial sibling relationships.

These strategies can help your kids learn better emotion regulation skills:

  • Talk about feelings. Use feeling words in your everyday conversations to help kids develop the language they need to talk about their emotions. Read books about feelings, pause movies to discuss characters’ feelings, and point out times when you experience different emotions.
  • Label their emotions. Help your children learn to identify what they’re feeling by putting a name to their emotions in real time. Say things like, “It looks like you’re feeling angry right now. Is that true?” or “I understand you feel scared about this.”
  • Differentiate between feelings and behavior. Make it clear that feelings are always OK, but everyone has choices on how they deal with those feelings. So while it’s OK to feel angry, hitting isn’t acceptable.
  • Identify healthy coping skills. Teach your kids healthy ways to deal with their feelings. Instead of lashing out during a disagreement, taking a few deep breaths or walking away are better ways to manage frustration.
  • Give consequences as needed. When emotions take hold and your kids break the rules, give a consequence. Time-out, loss of a privilege, or restitution may be the best ways to help kids learn from their mistakes so they can be kinder to their siblings in the future.

Don’t Show Favoritism

It can be tempting to favor one of your kids. It’s only natural that you’ll identify more with one—or that you’ll give one the benefit of the doubt more often than the others.

It can also be tempting to point out who is behaving best, saying things like, “Well if you all acted more like your brother, we’d be able to do more fun stuff together.”

But no one wins when you pick a favorite. Studies show that perceived favoritism increases conflict among siblings. It can have a lifelong effect that prevents them from bonding as adults—even long after you quit playing favorites. Research shows recollections of childhood favoritism prevent siblings from having a close bond during adulthood.

Harmful favoritism may involve showing more warmth and affection toward one child or giving special privileges just because that child causes you less stress.

Avoid saying things like, “But your sister is able to clean her room before dinner. Why can’t you?” or “When your brother was your age, I never had to remind him to do his homework.” These types of comments will fuel resentment and anger among children.

Don’t confuse fairness with favoritism however. It’s OK for kids to think that things are unfair at times. You don’t have to treat everyone equal.

Kids should earn privileges based on their maturity level, and your disciplinary strategies should match your child’s learning style. While kids may occasionally complain that it’s unfair an older sibling gets a later bedtime, this doesn’t mean you’re showing unhealthy favoritism.

Promote Positive Time Together

People grow closer by having positive experiences together. So it’s important to create opportunities for siblings to have fun with one another.

Whether they enjoy coloring together or they like playing in the park, take note of the activities they enjoy and the times when they play well together. Then, purposely schedule more of these activities to help them bond.

This can be a bit tricky when you’ve got big gaps in age or when your kids have vastly different interests. But there are always ways to promote positive time together—you just might need to get a little creative.

When kids are laughing and having fun, they experience more positive feelings. And when they experience these positive feelings alongside their siblings, they’ll feel more positive about one another.

So schedule regular activities that will help your kids bond. And make sure you time it just right. Expecting them to play nicely when they’re overtired, hungry, or cranky may backfire.

Encourage Cooperation Over Competition

While you might feel like the family is able to be more productive when you say things like, “Let’s see who can clean their room the fastest,” pitting the kids against each other is a bad idea.

Focus on cooperation rather than competition. Talk about how you’re all on the same team and you have opportunities to help one another. When you work together as a family, everyone can learn to cooperate.

So you might say things like, “Let’s see how we can all get out the door on time this morning,” rather than, “Let’s not be the last person out the door!”

You might also give them projects they can work on together, like decorating a card for Grandma or completing a scavenger hunt. Help them see that they perform better when they work as a team and they don’t have to compete for your attention.

Praise their cooperation and effort instead of their outcomes. Avoid saying whose picture looks the best or who scored the most points. Instead, say things like, “I really like the way you are working together” or “I appreciate that you’re helping your brother with this project. That’s kind of you.”

Model Healthy Conflict Resolution

From anger management to negotiation tactics, squabbles among siblings are excellent opportunities for kids to sharpen their skills.

Allow them to practice compromising, sharing, and listening when it’s healthy to do so. Sometimes, it’s best to sit back and allow them to work things out rather than referee every disagreement.

But it is important to step in if one child is being picked on or taken advantage of. Being bullied by a sibling is a serious problem. Studies show sibling bullying takes a serious psychological toll—and even increases the likelihood that a teen will engage in self-harm.

So don’t just yell “Stop fighting!” from the other room. Turn their disagreements into teachable moments.

When you need to step in, model healthy conflict resolution skills. Problem-solve healthy solutions together.

You might get in the middle of them and say, “You both want to play with the same toy. What can you do?” Then, you might decide each person gets to play with it for 10 minutes. Or you may decide that they are going to play with the toy together.

Create a Family Mission Statement

A simple family mission statement can help the whole family remember what’s important in life. It can also remind the kids that they’ve got a common goal.

Your mission statement might be as simple as, “Our family treats other people with kindness. And we work hard, even when things are tough,” or, “The Smith family doesn’t give up.”

Write down your mission statement, and hang it on the wall. Repeat it often, and point out examples of how you’re working together on your mission.

Ask the kids to share their examples from everyday life too. The whole family can feel like a more cohesive unit when you share a common mission.

Establish Rituals

A study published in Journal of Family Psychology found that family rituals or traditions were associated with higher levels of marital satisfaction, a greater sense of personal identity during adolescence, and stronger family relationships.

Family rituals are what separates your family from the rest of the world. Whether you enjoy “Taco Tuesdays” together or you celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolate pancakes, establishing rituals can help everyone feel closer.

Family rituals are also a great way to create lasting memories. The kids will always remember how they had movie night every Friday or how the family always went to the beach on the first day of summer.

A Word From Verywell

Encouraging healthy bonds between siblings can feel like an uphill battle sometimes. But fostering healthy relationships is well worth the effort. Your kids can learn a lot from each other, and with some guidance, you can help them establish lifelong bonds that will serve them well.

11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.