Sibling Cooperation

Two brothers playing together on the floor
Yuri Arcurs/

Sometimes in the day-to-day conflict of siblings, you may think that sibling rivalry is just the way family life has to be. But it doesn't. Here are some ideas that other parents have had to train children to treat their siblings well

Top Secret Service

I challenged my kids to serve their siblings for a week in a top-secret sort of way. The goal was to do something nice without the recipient identifying who had done it. Throughout the week, my children giggled and crept around the house, stealthily leaving notes for each other, making a sibling's bed or picking up after each other. At the end of the week, we talked about which acts of kindness no one knew who did. It was fun for kids to avoid revealing their hidden acts of kindness because some secrets are worth keeping.

—Evie Lynne Palmer

Play Stations

When my four children need time apart, I set up stations around the house with different activities. At the kitchen counter is Play-Doh with cutters and mats. In the living room are blankets and pillows with a basket of books. In a bedroom is a bin of LEGO blocks, and in the upstairs hallway are a beanbag chair and an electronic device. Healthy snacks are at the kitchen table. My kids, who range from toddlers to tweens, draw numbers to determine the station where they start. Then I set the timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, they rotate to the next station.

—Tannis Oliveri

Celebrating Sibling Success

When one of our three sons received an award or a treat for good behavior, my wife and I had the other two sons practice saying, "Congratulations." Although they simply went through the motions at first, their words eventually became a sincere celebration of their brothers' achievements. This helped stave off jealousy and infighting in our family. An unexpected outcome was that sometimes one of the boys would come home with a treat or prize and share it with his brothers.

—Augustine Rene Sanchez

Sneaky Acts of Kindness

My husband and I bought a couple of fairy wands from a dollar store and tagged each as a "random acts of kindness" wand. Our kids could place them in certain locations after doing small tasks for each other. For example, our girls might place one on a brother's pillow after making his bed, or our 5-year-old might tape one on the dishwasher after doing a sister's chore. Then that child would pass it on with another act of kindness to another family member. This gave them permission to be sneaky — in a good way.

—Sara Hague

"Mom, He's Wrecking Everything!"

My two daughters had been playing nicely when their little brother gleefully barged in and snatched their dolls. The playroom turned into a battleground.

How do we teach sibling cooperation when the older kids need space and the youngest often feels left out, pushing and shoving until he's included?

I've started explaining to my girls that their brother sometimes needs an opportunity to learn how to play nicely. I encourage them to teach him how to stack blocks or scoot the doll car around. The girls cooperate with this plan as long as I take action when their brother's destructive side takes over. If he repeatedly runs off with toys or knocks over their creations, I step in to show my girls that, while I respect their efforts, I don't expect them to deal with unreasonable behavior.

The mutual understanding has helped my girls have a better attitude about playing with their energetic younger brother.

—Marcia Mishchenko

The Share Room

After talking with our four children about generosity, my husband and I renamed our playroom the Share Room. When arguments break out, we remind them that this room is where we play together and share. If they are not in the mood to share or just need some space, we offer them a chance to play elsewhere. The children own particular toys, which they can play with alone or together. Giving our children a choice helps them see that, as hard as sharing may be, having a playmate is often better than having all your toys to yourself.

—Nicole Burke

Sibling Rivalry

When two or more siblings have trouble getting along at our house, there is only one place to go — the couch.

"Aw, Mom. Do we have to?"

"Yes, you know the rule. Sit on the couch and hold hands until you can get along."

"Hold hands with her?"

"Yes, hold hands with your sister. And if that doesn't help, you can sit there and hug for 15 minutes."

"Fifteen minutes?"

"Yes, and if you don't love each other at the end of 15 minutes, you can sit there and kiss her cheek."<

"Yikes! Both children looked at each other and quickly grabbed hands.

Needless to say, this method of discipline rarely got past the hand-holding stage.

—Linda Gilden

"Stand Up for Your Sibling”

While I typically stay out of my children's squabbles to let them work out their disagreements, I inevitably repeat the same litany:

"Your sister or brother is your very best friend. We are a family. It is your job to defend one another against the world, not tear each other down. If a dispute takes place, it should be in defense of one another. Do you understand?"

They didn't. Or at least I didn't think so.

You can imagine my surprise when at the first parent-teacher conference their teacher raved about how well my children got along. "It is obvious they love each other very much. They are always standing up for each other on the playground and encouraging one another in class."

My effort to instill in my children a respect for one another was fruitful. Their loving actions spoke louder than words.

—Jamie Driggers

"Top Secret Service," "Play Stations" and "Celebrating Sibling Success" first appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Sneaky Acts of Kindness" first appeared in the June/July 2016 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. ” ‘Mom, He's Wrecking Everything!’ “ first appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. “The Share Room” first appeared in the August/September 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. ”Sibling Rivalry” first appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. " 'Stand Up for Your Sibling' ” first appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

"Top Secret Service" © 2018 by Evie Lynne Palmer. "Play Stations" © 2018 by Tannis Oliveri. "Celebrating Sibling Success" © 2018 by Augustine Rene Sanchez. "Sneaky Acts of Kindness" © 2016 by Sara Hague. " 'Mom, He's Wrecking Everything!' " © 2012 by Marcia Mishchenko. “The Share Room” © 2015 by Nicole Burke. ”Sibling Rivalry” © 2010 by Linda Gilden. " 'Stand Up for Your Sibling' ” © 2010 by Jamie Driggers. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: When Siblings Engage in Combat

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