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Sibling Relationships

Experiencing healthy relationships with family and peers at a young age produces positive benefits for children throughout their lives. Helping your children form these healthy relationships is a primary role for parents. Positive relationships are built on positive behaviors; a child must learn to be generous, cooperative, to feel for others, and express his/her own feelings in an appropriate, socially acceptable manner (e.g., no kicking, no biting).

Raising socially competent children—children who are generous, kind, and who feel for others and feel good about themselves—goes a long way in helping children form strong, lasting relationships, which is a primary protective factor. Children first learn these qualities from their caregivers, who must be counted upon to model the behavior they want to see in their children.

However, younger children will also imitate the behavior they see in their big brother or big sister. This is especially true if the age difference between them is 6 years or more. Inevitably, the younger child will look upon the older child as another parent. Help children learn to take responsibility within the family and learn to be dependable and trustworthy when helping with younger siblings.


Begin early to help your children be responsible for one another and see being responsible as a joy and a privilege, rather than as an unpleasant job.

  • Prepare your older child for the arrival of the new one. Emphasize the positive aspects of this arrival; the new baby will become a friend. Impart the importance of becoming a big brother or sister.
  • Invite the older child’s involvement with the sibling, rather than assign tasks. DON’T force the older child to be caretaker of the younger. Instead, ask what he/she would like to do for and with the younger child. Too much responsibility breeds resentment. Depending on his or her age, your older child could hold the baby, get the powder for a diaper change, and/or play with the younger child to give you time to complete a task.
  • Praise the older child for his/her efforts, regardless of how minor. Make sure to show your appreciation.
  • Set aside “alone time” with each child every day so that each child knows he/she is valued.
  • Be impartial; do not favor one child over another. This breeds resentment among siblings. Sibling rivalry can’t be helped; it comes with the territory. But, learning how to play cooperatively will help defuse the competition that often arises between sisters and brothers.
Family Activities: I'm the Big Sister(or Brother)

Educator Activity: Buddy Up!

Quiz for Parents: Older Child, Younger Child


"Getting Along Together: Developing Social Competence in Young Children" from PBS Home Programs: give parents tools to help children form satisfying relationships.

"Sibling Rivalry” from KidsHealth: discusses why kids fight and what you can do to help them get along."

From Gerber: Start Healthy, Stay Healthy:
Getting Siblings Involved with Baby” provides ideas for helping a young child deal with the arrival of a new addition; suggests ways for child to help.
Helping With Baby: Siblings Lend a Hand” gives more ways for young children to help with younger siblings.

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Updated on 5/1/2012