Sibling Relationships and Family Rules – Helping Everyone Get Along

Information compiled by Linda N. Stuhlman, Early Education and Care Consultant for Parent Workshop

It is the role of parents to teach children how to get along by establishing rules about behavior and by encouraging children to be responsible within their families. Although infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are not developmentally ready to be responsible for their own behavior and need constant adult guidance, a baseline is established. Once a child feels secure in their family relationships and protected by the adults in their lives, a child will learn from others outside the family.

Milestones in emotional development:

  • Infants: bonding/attachment, trust, exploring the world
  • Toddlers: autonomy/independence; self-help frustration, testing limits
  • Preschoolers: initiative, self-regulation, learning to get along with others, development of imagination

Family Rules and Routines (parents please discuss and agree!)

  • Do what is the right thing morally.  Examples: Tell the truth. Be kind and helpful to each other.
  • Determine what your values are.  Examples: If education is important, then homework should be done. If saving money is important, let the children know how they can help.
  • Establish health and safety standards.  Examples: Eat breakfast. Ask permission before you go somewhere.
  • Express emotions so that feelings and bodies are not hurt.  Examples: No breaking things or hitting things when we are angry. Use words when upset. Use deep breathing.
  • Establish rules about respect, sharing, neatness, and manners.  Examples: Treat each other with respect. No yelling, hitting, name calling or put downs. No arguing with parents. Ask permission before you use something that doesn’t belong to you. Put things away that you take out. Eat at the table.

Sibling Relationships

  • Accept feelings.
    • Consider that you need to respond to the message of the
    • behavior rather than the behavior itself.
    • Avoid telling children to deal totally on their own with fighting.
    • Don’t ignore tension between siblings.
    • Help preschoolers with the birth of a new baby.
    • Make peace with your own siblings.
  • Give each child time and space
    • Encourage individuality and uniqueness.
    • Provide private space for each child.
    • Schedule some time with each child.
    • Children know they get attention when they fight
    • Children need some control over their daily lives.
  • Avoid casting roles
    • Children put labels on themselves when they hear themselves described a certain way over and over.
    • Avoid calling child bad when it is their behavior that is mistaken. Help them know what to do by teaching appropriate behavior.
  • Resist urge to compare
    • Avoid “why aren’t you like your brother?”
    • Find nice things to say about every child’s progress
    • Different rules for different children.
  • Deal with fighting
    • The goal is to help children learn to do on their own.
    • Avoid demanding “you stop fighting right now!”
    • Avoid the blame game, instead describe what you see or feel,
    • what needs to be done, what you hope will happen.
    • Older preschoolers and school age children can be taught to use conflict resolution steps 1.each child tells his story; other child restates what heard 2.children think of a solution 3.children agree to a solution and make a plan.

When to worry about sibling relationships

  • When a child hurts his/her sibling
  • Children who plan to hurt or destroy
  • Children who exert excessive control over siblings
  • When children who fight at home also fight at school

Where to go to get help

  • Child and Family Agency, Essex, 1-860-767-0147
  • Early Childhood Consultation Project, 203-235-2815
  • Help Me Grow:, 1-800-505-7000
  • Kidsteps: (go to services sidebar), Madison, 203-318-3692
  • Pediatrician, will review history and do referrals to private therapists
  • Yale Conduct Clinic, 203-432-9993

More information or more suggestions for resources and referrals is available by calling Linda N. Stuhlman, 669-7246 or Kim Brown, 664-6501.

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