siblingrevelryPretend you’re on the game show Family Feud. The host tells you they asked one hundred people the following question, and the top three answers are on the board:

Name a word that follows “sibling.”

Think fast! What do you think is up there?

We’re guessing that a lot of people surveyed would say “rivalry,” “jealousy,” “fight,” or even just “ugh” (depending on how recently they had to break up their children’s latest brawl). And that’s not surprising, as preschool through elementary school-aged siblings experience an average of between four and eight spats every hour.

Much of the advice that parents receive about sibling relationships centers directly on this conflict, giving tips for how you can prevent fights, or escape fights that have already started, with everyone’s feelings — and faces — intact.

But a study from the University of Illinois suggests we may be spending too much time focusing on all this fighting. That’s because these researchers found that it’s actually the amount of positive interactions siblings experience which determines the quality of their relationship — regardless of the number of fights they have.

Did you catch that?

It doesn’t really matter that your kids do a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots impression every time you leave the room as long as they’re also able to kiss, make up and make some happy memories in between bouts.

So rather than breaking our backs trying to shut down every conflict which comes our kids’ way, perhaps we should spend a little more effort increasing the fun they have together instead!

Here are a few tips for doing just that:

Prioritize playtime. Because sibling relationships benefit so much from frequent positive interactions, make sure you give your kids plenty of chances to play together. Carve out time for fun, find activities that siblings of all ages can enjoy together and identify optimal times of day when everybody is alert, in a good mood and ready to create relationship-building memories.

Get your kids face-to-face. “Quick, show us a surprised face! How about a frowny face? Now a silly face!” Making faces together is not just uproarious family fun, it’s also a great way to raise your kids’ awareness of each other’s facial expressions and their meanings. Because the more your kids understand feelings, the better they will be at recognizing and reacting to the emotions of their brothers and sisters during everyday interactions.

Be your kids’ wingman. Help your kids become besties by talking them up to each other regularly. Saying things like, “You are so lucky to have such a helpful big brother!” and “Your little sister sure is funny!” can reinforce your children’s positive feelings toward one another.

Let them know they’re in this thing together. There’s an obvious divide between adults and children in every family. So use that separation from you to highlight how close your kids are to each other. Talk about how cool it is that the kids in your family get special seats together in the back of the car. Create a special kitchen drawer that only their plates and cups go in, or a special area where only they get to play. And even though bunk beds will crush your will to live every time you need to change the sheets, having your kids share a bedroom is an amazing way for them to bond – how couldn’t they, when they get to have a slumber party together every night!

Force your kids to get along in order to get what they want. Help your youngsters develop skills in problem solving, negotiation and teamwork by encouraging them to make decisions together. Instead of letting them duke it out over whose favorite TV show gets played, make seeing any show contingent on their cooperation. Say, “If you guys can agree on a show to watch, we’ll watch one after lunch,” then see how quickly they come to a consensus.

Play pretend. Pretend play is one of the best ways to practice basic social skills and build friendships, because in order to create pretend scenarios, kids have to pay attention to each other’s actions, incorporate everyone’s ideas and negotiate control. Plus, it’s totally fun!

Gush over good behavior. It’s easy to let your children know when they’re doing something bad that you want them to stop! RIGHT!! NOW!!! But don’t forget to be equally free with your positive feedback. When the kids are working especially well together, point it out. Tell them how proud you are of them. And they’ll start feeling proud of themselves, too.

Studies indicate that people with warmer sibling relationships benefit well into adulthood, enjoying improved relationships with peers, more skill in conflict resolution, better emotional adjustment and greater feelings of well-being. Research also shows that sibling relationships stay surprising stable throughout the years. So pumping up positive interactions early and often not only benefits your children’s development now, but it will also build happy, healthy sibling bonds to last a lifetime.

And when it comes to what parents really want for their kids, that should be the number one answer on all of our boards.

Do you have any tricks for turning family feuds into family fun? Share them below!

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  • mccsmagistra

    I refused to let my kids fight. Sure, they had disagreements. But having grown up with an abusive sibling relationship, I placed a premium on forgiveness and peaceful, kind interactions. Not an option (fighting) is an option. They are wonderful friends as adults.

    • Terri

      Need the “how” on that. If I simply don’t allow fighting, they don’t interact, end of story. Two competitive brothers. What I need is a dangerous bonding experience where they have to cooperate to live and Mom is the enemy — that would bring them closer together than anything! :)

      • mccsmagistra

        Hilarious! What I meant is that I didn’t allow my kids to say hateful things, yell, hit, etc. without consequences. I didn’t buy into the old “Oh, let ‘em fight. Kids do that.” kind of thinking. When they did they had to go to the offended sibling, name their offense, and ask forgiveness, e.g. “It was wrong of me to hit you. Will you forgive me?” Then the offended sibling would say, “I forgive you.” This had to be done with clear and sincere words, not grumbled or with an attitude. I started this when they were really young so they got used to it! It takes a lot of thinking about, figuring out the best way to do this with your family, and continual interaction from parents. Definitely more intense and tiring, but in my opinion, worth it.