5 Ways to Strengthen the Bond Between Siblings
“I’ll take care of the bike. You take care of each other.” This is what I said to my children as we rushed onto the East River ferry with my bike + bike trailer. My son was anxious that the boat would leave without us and this was my way of reassuring him. I want him to trust that I can handle the gear and the travel logistics during our "Camp Mama" adventures. His priority -and his sister’s priority- can simply be each other.
As parents, it’s natural to rely on our older children to “keep an eye” on their younger siblings. It’s certainly something I’ve asked of my older son from time-to-time. However, I typically encourage my children (4.5 and 2.5) to support and watch over one another. Expecting one sibling to consistently play the role of protector can lead to resentment and stress. Some older siblings feel immense pressure to keep younger siblings happy and safe, while younger siblings often desire more independence and wish that their own strengths and abilities were acknowledged.
At 2.5, my younger daughter has discovered some meaningful strategies to support her big brother. When he’s upset, she brings him his favorite stuffed animal. When he’s scooting close to the edge of the sidewalk, she puts a gentle hand on his back to guide him away from the street. When he settles back into bed after a bad dream, she whispers from across their shared bedroom, “You OK? You feel better?”
As I observe my children’s interactions, I’m grateful for the bond that they share. Camp Mama is in full swing over here. Though some days are tougher than others, I try to consistently emphasize one thing: together, you make a great team.
Here are 5 Ways to Strengthen the Bond Between Siblings:
Give them space.
The moment you notice the beginning stages of collaboration, take a physical step back. When I overhear my children gathering their favorite building materials or chatting about their next pretend play scenario, I make myself busy in a nearby space. This allows them to play, problem-solve, and navigate conflicts without me present. If they truly need my support, I pop in and encourage them to speak directly to one another about what they want or need.
Examples: “Tell him, ‘I’m still using this dump truck. You can have it when I’m finished.’”
“It sounds like you really want to build this runway by yourself. Tell her about the other parts of the airport that she can help you build.”
Let them lead together.
Earlier this summer, I challenged my preschooler and toddler to take turns leading the way whenever we headed to a familiar “nature spot” in Central Park. Now, I encourage them to lead together. I’ll say, “Dada hasn’t been to our favorite waterfall in a long time. I bet you can work together to find it, even without Dada checking a map.” As they navigate together, they point out natural details for my husband, “This is where we practice rock climbing… We saw a cardinal on this tree yesterday.” Siblings can also teach parents a new game, prepare a simple snack or meal together, or describe the block structure or imaginary world they’ve just created.
Celebrate experiences that are new for all.
It’s exciting for siblings to share new experiences! This summer, my children have bonded over preparing their first homemade pizza, riding a carousel for the first time since COVID, and visiting some epic new-to-us playgrounds. When we chat about our shared experiences I remind them, “This was new for both of you. You had never been there/done that and now you’ve been there/done that… together!”
Embrace open-ended play materials.
Open-ended play materials are toys that can be used in many different ways by children of all ages. Think play silks, loose parts, and balance boards. Siblings might play collaboratively or simply play beside one another. My family’s collection of blocks and playdough are getting lots of post-adventure love right now! Check out our collection of Open-Ended All Stars to support meaningful play experiences for the whole family.
Encourage shared storytelling.
Every Friday evening, our family of four gathers for “Picture Night”. We shut off the lights, cuddle up on the couch, and watch a slideshow of photos I’ve snapped throughout the week. This is an opportunity for my children to share their weekday adventures with my husband. At 4.5 and 2.5, they focus on different details but often turn to one another and ask, “Remember when….?” After a long week, it’s refreshing to come together in this way and reflect on all that we’ve experienced.
Reality check: it’s not all rainbows and ferry rides over here. All this togetherness provides my children with daily opportunities to work through the tough stuff, too. Feel like you’re in need of some new sibling strategies? Check out our webinars, Positive Language Strategies to Support Sibling Interactions and Enhancing Family Connection Through Play. You'll also find helpful tips in our bestselling Guide to Positive Language Strategies.
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