Ask Dr. Meg: Helping siblings get along

By |2018-01-24T15:33:14-05:00May 20th, 2011|Age: 0-2, Articles, MOTHERS, PARENTING, Raising Daughters, Self Help|3 Comments

Dear Dr. Meg,

My question for you is:  How can I teach my children to get along and to build strong relationships with each other?

I have 4 siblings, but we fought all the time growing up and really have no relationship now as adults.  I do not want this for my two daughters who are currently 4 and 18 months.  I want them to be friends for life.  I know that they will fight a little, but I don’t want it to last into their adult years.


Mom of 2

Dear Mom of 2:

I hear you. It’s important that your kids grow up to love and respect one another. The best things that you can do are: model respectful, loving speech. Kids usually mimic what they see, eventually. Second, as they grow older, take them to do things together that require fun and cooperation- camping is a great way to help siblngs bond. Third, talk positively about their relationship. Rather than let them know that you don’t want them to end up like you and your sibs, tell them that one of the best parts about being in a famiily like yours is is that you will always “have one another’s backs.” Speak to them as though you fully expect this to happen.

So- balance positive instruction and example with reprimand. When my kids were growing up in our home, I told them that they had the freedom to be mad, but they were never allowed to say mean things, swear or break someone else’s stuff when they were mad. The rules applied to everyone. So- if one child was cruel to another, consequences were given.

Be patient because usually many years are required in order for some siblings to grow close. And what I have found, is that when adult siblings don’t get along, there’s usually some parental-family dynamic that is really off. It isn’t just a matter of the kids not liking each other b/c they fought when they were little.

One fun story. A friend of mine was driving when her three kids- ages 8,10 an 11 started fighting. They wouldn’t stop, so she pulled the car to the side of the road and told them that she wouldn’t drive again until each kid said something that he liked about the others. When it got to her 10 year old son’s turn, he said that he liked the way his 11 year old sister looked when she got egg salad stuck in her braces. He was serious but everyone cracked up.

So remember to let kids laugh at themsleves a bit.

Dr. Meg

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  1. Peacemaker May 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Dr. Meg:

    When adult siblings do not get along, perhaps due to a parental-family dynamic, what can an adult child involved do to bring peace – especially when the root issues remain hidden?



    • Meg May 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm


      Sadly, your situation is all too common. Many adult siblings don’t get along because unhealthy dynamics were established during childhood and those dynamics persist. The problem is, most of us don’t see those patterns when we’re right in the middle. During divorce, for instance, children take on very distinct roles. One child may support the father, one the mother, and this can persist into adulthood. Or, one parent may favor one child, thereby pitting the other siblings against him. If a parent is an alcoholic, one sibling may become surrogate parent while the other child works his angst out by drinking or becoming belligerent.

      The most important thing that you can do as an adult is to tease apart these unhealthy dynamics. Get to the root of them yourself. Don’t worry if your siblings do or do not understand. Untangle the unhealthy patterns that you were pulled into and then try to see how your siblings were involved in their own ways.

      Second, get your own thinking straight. In other words, reflect on the dysfunction and ask yourself how you should have been treated. What did you need as a child and didn’t get? What did your siblings need and didn’t get? How were you pitted against your siblings? This is extremely important because you will begin to see that the way you relate to one another as siblings now began many years ago and a pattern was established that you didn’t like. This isn’t your fault or theirs; it is all that you knew.

      Determine now that you will forgive any offenses that were done to you. I know this is tough, but it’s extremely important. Work on this. If the offenses were small, include those. This isn’t meant to turn you into a self-centered person; it is meant to free you to change old behaviors into new, healthier ones.

      Then, live like a grown up. If your parents continue to suck you all into a vortex of crazy thinking and behavior, stay strong. Decide how you should think and act and then follow through. If you have a very domineering mother, for instance, who continues to try and control you and your siblings and make you feel guilty, decide what you will and will not do and stand your ground in a loving peaceful manner. Live truthfully and lovingly but act as an adult, not as an adult child. Don’t worry how your siblings respond to you, do this for yourself. A peculiar thing happens when one family member begins to act, speak and think in a healthy, adult way- others change the way they respond to you.

      Much adult sibling pain comes from hidden childhood patterns of thinking, feeling and responding to one another. But you are not a child anymore. So, in every situation with your siblings, don’t get drawn back into responding as a child. (Again, you can’t see that you are responding as a child unless you take the time to untangle long established, unhealthy ways of relating.) Respond as a healthy, strong adult. And always take the high road.

      Most family feuds are over trivial things like money or jealousy. No matter what the central issue, stand up as the biggest in the group. Refuse to be jealous because jealousy takes you to a very bad place. Refuse to fight over money, because relationships are always more important than the green stuff.

      You get it- regardless what it is, stand above it and act like the grown up in the group. And get ready, you may stand alone. But, at least you’ll be the healthy one.

  2. Mandee August 13, 2011 at 2:45 am

    Hi Dr. Meg, your lessons are very helpful. My husband and I have 5 kids age 4-11. They seem to be fighting with one another all the time. What are some of the consequences you talk about in this article? We feel like we are at our wits end and I don’t want to set the example that yelling is ok. Thank you for your time.


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