Close Sibling Relationships

Updated on May 13, 2016
N.Z. asks from Los Angeles, CA
16 answers

I have a 3.5 year old daughter and a 16 month old son. There are rare instances when they play together, but generally, my daughter is dealing with having a little brother who copies her, bothers her, takes her toys, hits her (usually by accident), takes her food, takes my attention away from her, etc. My son, on the other hand, is dealing with a big sister who tries to control what he does, takes his toys, screams at him, takes my attention away from him, etc.

I understand they're both very young, and their relationship will change and evolve as they get older, but I would like them to grow up having a close relationship and maintain that throughout their adult lives. Of course, if they grow up not being close, that's that and I'll accept it. But if there is anything my husband and I can do to encourage a close relationship, I would like to know what they are so I can keep them in the back of my mind as they get older. I greatly appreciate your suggestions!

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answers from Philadelphia on

Your 16 month old is still a baby so my advice is for when they are a little older.

Don't take sides. I had a no fighting rule in my house. I didn't want to hear it. If my girls were fighting over a tv show I would say you have 10 seconds to work it out or I will shut the tv off.

Don't force the older one to play with the younger one especially if your daughter has friends over.

My daughter's are 5 years apart and very close. My sister and I are 5 years apart and didn't become close until my sister went to college.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You can't control the relationship they will have as adults. You can influence it a bit, by not FORCING them to be "best friends". They must respect each other. But you must respect that she is twice his age and will be for several years. They are not at the same developmental level and "playing together" probably isn't going to work well.

Teach them how to play with each other. If he is taking her toys and hitting her, then correct him. She'll see that you respect her. And vice versa, correct her if she's going over the bossy line.

Respect who they are as individuals. They are who they are and they'll be who they'll be. That's the best thing you can do. Recognize that your dream of their close friendship is YOUR dream, and that it might or might not come true.

I have 2 sisters - one is 2 years younger, one is 20 years older. I have NEVER had a close relationship with my younger sister. We have absolutely nothing in common at all. Love her, but I would not hang out with her, even if we lived close, because while I love her as a sister, I do not like her as a person. I call my older sister several times a week. She's like a 2nd mother. We were not "close" when I was a kid, but we're best buds as adults.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Well my Mom hoped for the same thing between me and my younger sister (by 22 months).
We are as different as day and night - and fought like cats and dogs the whole time we lived together.
Even now, we live in different states - it's a shame we have to share the same time zone - but we have nothing to do with each other.
Our Mom followed Dr Spocks advice - let us sort out our own arguments.
Worst advice EVER.
We BRAWLED - to this day I have no feeling in my scalp from all the hair pulling - and I'm 54 now.

What ever you do - don't force them to always be together.
They'll each have their own friends.
They are their own people and not necessarily compatible.
They might get along and be close - either now or maybe later - or maybe never.
Just relax your expectations and divide and conquer when you need to.
If/when the bickering gets to be too much - everybody to neutral corners (or different rooms of the house) and let them each have their own space away from each other.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Amarillo on

That is something that will happen naturally between the two of them later in life.

Make sure each has appropriate aged toys. Right now they are both a bit jealous of the other with and for your attention.

As to closeness when they are older, they may never be that. It is great if they can be. My two love each other "from a distance" of three separate states. We as parents are in the middle state and they are each in a state in the opposite direction. My son wants my daughter to be near him but it was how he treated her as a child that has made it difficult for that to happen. So they get together now and then like his wedding and my grandson's graduation last year but other than that they do not spend time together.

Whatever you do do, don't make them always be together. Let them have separate friends. We have had posts on here about "if one can't go to the party, the other can't come," even though it was for the older one. This will certainly cause resentment. Your children are not joined at the hip.

May you have a great day.

the other S.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think really the only things you can do are along the lines of not making them resent each other. Things like treating them fairly, respecting boundaries, not letting one get away with bullying or controlling the other, not falling for one manipulating you (the "mom, she/he hit me" with the alleged offender getting punished when she or he actually didn't do anything), etc. Beyond that, they'll either click or not. I am #2 of 5 siblings and we were all born in a span of less than 7 years so age-wise, a lot of us are very close. Our age differences are 23 months, 18 months, 14 months and 22 months. My older sister barely tolerated any of us growing up and is the same now, I am close only with the two youngest, etc. There's really not much you can do if their personalities don't match or if they're very competitive.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I do think there are things you can do (that is to say, you can't make their adult personalities complementary, but I DO think you can help control sibling rivalry and bad behavior, the effects of which can last into adulthood). IMO, oftentimes sibling rivalry comes into play when kids feel that they have to compete for their parents' attention. Thus, I think the most important is to try to give each of them your undivided attention at least once per day. It doesn't have to be for a long time, but it does need to be un-interruptible by the other child. My solution to this is to give each of them time before bed. One at a time, we cuddle, I ask them what the best thing about their day was, and with my little one I read him a bedtime story - with my bigger one, we talk about whatever book he is reading.

I also think that it's important to let both of your kids have their own alone time. Big sis should have a space where she can play with toys that she doesn't want little bro to break. Little bro should have some time without her around so he can make his own decisions without having everything dictated by big sis. Forcing them together all the time makes it more likely they'll start to annoy each other.

As for some of the other stuff you mention, that's just teaching and modeling polite behavior to both over and over again (don't take sis's food, it's not nice. don't yell at bro, yelling at people isn't allowed.)

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answers from Portland on

My best advice - don't interfere. Let them sort out their frustrations and annoyances on their own.

I don't step in. I also don't make the older ones include the younger.

My kids like to play together. Not always. But compared to other kids whose parents solved all their problems - mine have sorted that out. And know how to. My two teens get that if they want the other one to co-operate, they have to be kind. If they want that sibling to allow them to come to the skate park too with their friends - they better be agreeable.

I grew up this way. I am the youngest of a lot of siblings and my mother never made them include me. I learned that if I got to hang out and play with my older sisters' Barbies, I had to put up with being bossed around a bit. I had to do favors sometimes. But my sisters are my best pals. And as I got older, I got bossier too and it all evened out.

My husband on the other hand was always told to give in to his younger sibling. Always told to play nice, share, take him along with him wherever he went. He resented that and to this day, they are not close. His mother still does that to him - makes it so it's my husband's responsibility. No. And in 20 years, he's called his brother once to hang out and it didn't work. They get along but he will always be the younger brother - not my husband's friend.

Hope that helps :)

ETA: I should include I make them play fair. But that's a house rule. So they work out sharing on their own first - but if it escalates, I separate them.
And I agree, plenty of time apart. And one on one time. We switched up who put them to bed each night and gave them time to talk and to be read to. Same if we take them out to do errands - we have a snack with that kid, turn it into a fun trip. One on one time.
I think sibling rivalry can stem from a kid feeling jealous. One of mine went through a very jealous period. So he and I read Harry Potter series at night. That was *our* thing and that made him feel special. Just little things like that help.

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answers from Jacksonville on

I have a girl and boy who are 3 years apart in age. My son is the older one. They have been very close as they grew up, but have developed a little distance in the teen years (understandable, she's a freshman and he's graduating...). Patricia is correct. You cannot force them to be friends, or even like each other. Maybe they will one day, but for now, he isn't really old enough to participate in a friendship. He's a baby, barely a toddler. She's almost preschool aged.

What you can do is respect them equally. She should be encouraged to be kind and thoughtful towards her little brother. He's family. Her brother. And she should be concerned with his well being simply b/c he's part of your family. They have a bond unlike any other she will have. They will share a childhood, with the same parents and household. Something no other best friend she'll ever have will share. Same for him. They will share experiences and memories of childhood when they are older. From the child's perspective (not yours or their dad's).

Your son also should be encouraged to be kind (in general). You have to teach it. Little people are inherently selfish (they want what they want, when they want it, without restraint). Teach him it isn't nice to hit. Especially her, b/c she's his sister. Teach him how to take turns (this is a developmental stage), and show her how to help him learn this skill, so she can participate in it.

When they get a little older there will be sibling arguments all the time. And you won't know who started them b/c you won't have actually seen it all with your own eyes. Even if you "think" you know what went on, often one kid can tease another under the radar. So, when they fight, take away the object and separate them. BOTH have consequences.

I found that when I was objective and removed them BOTH from the *scene* and separated them from each other, that they got over it faster, and one always would want to apologize to the other so that they could play together again. Because alone, well, it can be not as fun.

There is no predicting whether they will be close, or will remain close. But you can avoid pitting them against each other, and taking sides, and showing favoritism. One child may seem *easier* than the other, too, at times. But no child is perfect or without fault, and they all take some work. Be fair. Be as objective as you can when they disagree. Do not allow them to speak rudely to each other, or call names. (They shouldn't do these things at all, of course, but for some reason people tend to accept it amongst siblings... don't.)

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answers from Baton Rouge on

Their behavior at their current ages is developmentally right on target.
As they grow, they will either become close or they won't - that is entirely up to them.
All you can (or should) do is ensure that even if they don't like each other,. they are civil to one another.

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answers from Los Angeles on

If you want your kids to get along the best thing you can do is make sure they get enough time apart. Set up playdates so that one goes to play at a friends house and the other invites a friend to play. Enroll them in different activities. Let one spend the day with dad while the other spends the day with you. Invite a friend for each of them along for outings and activities so they have someone to hang out with other than each other. I know they are young for a few of these suggestions now, but you could enroll the older one in a nursery school program. The less time they are forced to spend together the more they might appreciate each others company.

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answers from Albany on

Only thing I can add, is model being close to YOUR sibs (if you have any).

It's been my experience with my own 4 sibs (ages 50-60), and my 3 kids (ages 19-23), the only sure thing is it will change, then change again, then change again.


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answers from Springfield on

You have YEARS to help them foster a relationship. This is not the time to focus on that. You can, however, consider the teachable moments that you do have, right now, with your daughter. At 3 1/2 you can't expect perfect behavior from her. She's only just learning sharing and taking turns being kind towards others. Generally speaking, she's only beginning to learn that other people have feelings and actually matter. And this is when you really begin teaching her little by little, incident by incident how better to behave. When she takes her brother's toys or screams at him or whatever, that's when you can have the most impact on her. Also, notice all the ways that she is learning and the many times she is kind and gentle with her brother. You have to keep that wonderful balance between making sure you give her enough attention to know that she is special and loved and that her brother is not the center of the universe and making sure that she knows that her brother matters too and she is not the center of the universe.

The things you do today do matter. Lots of little things we all do really do matter and really do have a big impact. But we also need to remember that lots of the little things we do have that impact, so screwing up a few here and there are not going to undo all the wonderful little moments that we get right :-)

Just keep loving both of them and teaching both of them and encouraging the good behavior and discouraging the bad behavior and loving them (did I mention loving them?). All of that will shape them and form them and guide them to be loving towards each other.

And don't forget what we all tell our kids. You don't always have to like each other. There will be times when you're not going to like each other. That's ok. But you do have to love each other always. My son and my niece were in the same class this year. My SIL and I told our kids the same thing. You don't always have to like your cousin. There will, no doubt, be days when you don't. That's ok. But you will always love your cousin, you will never be mean to your cousin (ok, not realistic, but we both said it), and you will always be there for them.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Kids don't even "play" together until they're closer to 3 years of age. Even then they can still do a lot of parallel play. Playing similar things side by side but not together.

With her being over age 3 and him being under 3 your expectation of them playing together, with the same toys, concerns me.

Surely you aren't making your pre-school child play with baby toys to appease her younger brother and you aren't allowing a toddler to play with toys specifically meant for kids over the age of 3? Are you keeping their toys separate? He should never ever have access to her toys. Even Barbie shoes can be a choke hazard. Little wheels on Hot Wheels or other toys like them have dangerous parts than can break off and choke your child.

She should be playing with educational toys and have a wonderful pretend play area with dolls, dress up clothes, dishes, a play kitchen, hats, purses, shoes, and more: 4-10 piece puzzles, art with paint and crayons and markers, blocks, have tons of books to board books to read and some paper books if she's good with them, and she should be able to have a sensory table or something similar...outside is good for this sort of thing too.

He should have toys that have NO pieces that are smaller than a toilet paper cardboard roll. Nothing at all that would fit between his teeth if his mouth was fully open. Even a big wheel can come off and be put in the mouth.

So I am wondering about what you mean when you say play together. With their age difference I can't imagine her wanting to play with his things.

I kept the kids toys in their own room. If they came out of their room the toy got put in time out for the rest of the day. Our girl had a gate in her doorway so that her younger brother wouldn't be able to go in her room. If she wanted her door shut we would allow that too. We had a baby monitor on top of the shelf in the hallway so we could hear anything going on in both kids bedrooms.

I know you want your kids to be close, that's not what I addressed with my comments. Trying to make them play together at this age isn't going to be something they are cognitively ready for. You can google side by side play and parallel play to see how that works and what it is a stepping stone for.

As for them being close, spending time together as a family doing fun activities they both enjoy is a good way to foster that love. Being a role model to her when you speak to them is the best way, in my opinion. If she is constantly hearing "He's a brat" or "He kept me up all night again last time and I'm exhausted" then you can't play with her because you're too tired...that makes her mad at him and then she starts to resent him. So speak positive things about both kids in front of the other one. Show that they each have strengths and they are separate, where they are still family but have independent strengths.

Overall I would think by the time he's 3.5 they'll be a lot closer.

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answers from Boston on

My brother was born on my 2nd birthday. I was not happy about it at all! As he grew toward being a toddler, my mother couldn't understand why I paid no attention to him, when she herself thought babies and little children were lovable and fascinating! We did gradually warm up to each other; but the magic key was the birth of our little sister, when I was 5 and my brother was 3. All of a sudden, we had someone we could both tease and take advantage of! From that moment, my brother and I were a team. He was an expert at psychological warfare, and I was along for the ride.

Our little sister was not allowed to join our team until - you guessed it - our final little brother was born, and became the new Opponent.

Many years later, my mother talked with my sister (then an adult with her own kids) about the teasing our brother had treated her to. Sister (the world's sweetest person) assured Mother that she had not really minded it. "I looked at it this way," she said. "It meant that he was paying attention to me!"

Now that we are all out of the nest, we feel loving and close, though distance prevents us from seeing each other often.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

I agree with Patricia 100%.


answers from Washington DC on

I am close with all 4 of my siblings and my 3 kids are close as well. They are also close to their cousins on my side.

I don't know what we did or didn't do for them to be close. We are big into family and do a lot with our extended family (my side - due to location), so that might help. They have always played fairly well together and support each other.

What you're describing is typical happens. Help guide them to get over it and move on, don't dwell on it.

Otherwise I agree with the advice to model behavior here. Show them how to treat others and that might help. Make sure they are independent people and allow them to grow as such. That should help too.

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