Siblings

Families

Siblings are two or more children with the same parents or that share one parent. They are called ‘brothers and sisters’. 

Barnardo’s understands that having a sibling can possibly be one of the greatest gifts given to a child. Your children are likely to have a special bond together; however we know that there are times when that bond can become strained if conflict occurs. 

This information is intended to guide you through any challenges or issues you may face and has been written by our own Family Support Workers using best practice information, advice and guidance. 

Young siblings holdings hands on a beach

Whether they are the oldest; the youngest; a twin or a sextuplet; how families communicate with each other when dealing with a good or bad situation has an effect on your children’s lives. 

Remember your children not only share a parent, but they also share many experiences and memories with their siblings that will not only shape their personalities but their adult lives too, this will often ensure that their connection lasts a lifetime. 

Expecting a new baby

A new baby can be both very exciting but could also pose a tricky time for children that are trying to cope with and understand the arrival of a new brother or sister. 

Prepare for the questions like "how did the baby get in your tummy?". Consistent messages from the adults around them will stop the child feeling confused or scared.

The thought of sharing their room, toys and their parents can be difficult for children to understand.

How to prepare your children will vary depending upon their ages and level of understanding. 

Barnardo’s recommends that you delay telling younger children initially, as you could fill your child with both high levels of excitement and even anxiety far too soon in your pregnancy. 

As young children often have difficulty in understanding time, it could feel like the toddler on a long car journey repeatedly asking instead of “are we there yet?”, they’re asking “is the baby here yet?”. This has the potential for making your pregnancy feel that it is lasting forever.  

However, when the time comes to share your thrilling news it’s a good idea to show that you’re both happy and excited, they will then know that this is going to be ok and feel reassured. 

Maybe share some story books about babies and talk to them about having a baby brother or sister, and what it will be like for them as a big brother/sister. 

When a new baby is born, we know that it’s common for some children to need support to do things that they were able to do before the new baby arrived. This is common and should only last a short time. If this happens, why not involve your child as much as possible to help reduce any anxieties and feelings of jealousy that they may have. Encourage your child to help out with the new baby, and make sure to give them lots of praise for their assistance. Older children can be involved in many ways. For example, preparing the baby’s room, choosing clothes, buying new toys, but you may want to be extra careful when involving young children when choosing the new baby’s name! You could also ask visitors to make sure they greet the older child(ren) first and then the new baby, so the older ones don’t feel pushed out.

Remember to be open and honest with your child and reassure them that you are there for them should they have any worries or concerns.

Sharing parental attention

Children feel loved and secure when they have individual special time with parents. Our experts have gathered a lot of feedback from families showing that when parents are able to spend quality time with their child, they will often report a reduction in challenging behaviour and do better in school. This can consist of having a minimum 15 minutes per day of good quality child-led play-time with each of your children. Simply allow your child to choose what they would like to play with and follow their lead. Helping each child feel like an only child every day helps them to feel loved and listened to.

Promoting positive behaviour

Young siblings playing Jenga together

If your child finds it difficult to take turns or share, why not try using plenty of praise and describe what it is you like. This approach should help them feel good about themselves and lead to them being more willing to play with others.

You could try role modelling the language you want your children to use:

“Please may I use the blue car next?”

“Thank you for sharing the book with me.”

Notice and praise your child by saying, “It makes me very happy to see you share the crayons with your sister.”

This method not only teaches your children ways to communicate with others in a positive way but also helps them play with others. 

Our research shows that when children are able to problem solve and manage their social skills appropriately, they feel happier and have higher levels of self-confidence and ability to learn.   

Managing sibling conflict

Little gitl crying because sister stole her toys

Firstly, it is important to recognise that sibling conflict or rivalry is perfectly normal, and is important for children to discover ways to resolve their differences - a skill which is much needed throughout their lifetime. 

Children are constantly learning about themselves and about rules that apply to them. It is normal for children to push the boundaries. What we need to do as parents is to help manage sibling conflict in a calm, consistent and fair manner. 

It is a good idea to set some family rules, for example to be kind to each other. You can include your children in setting family rules if they are old enough to take part.

When children are encouraged to participate in setting family rules they are often more likely to follow the rule that they have created.

Think about how many times you have left your children alone playing quietly so you don’t disturb their peaceful time, then minutes later you become a referee as soon as the arguments break out? If this happens, allow your children to have time to resolve issues between themselves, remind them of the family rules they created, although sometimes they may need some help from you in problem-solving and negotiating to ensure arguments don’t turn into physical fights. 

Peaceful times are what we want to encourage, but your children are not mind readers. Notice the quiet playtimes and recognise them by telling your children that you’re happy with this. It may be with a thumbs up, a smile, or by praising them with a “you’re playing so well together”.

If arguments continue or turn physical, you will need to be prepared and have appropriate consequences in place for when the issues aren’t resolved, for example the TV is turned off when the children cannot decide whose turn it is to choose which program to watch. 

Try not to fall into the escalation trap and threaten unreasonable consequences. Getting louder and cancelling special events will not work. You will only feel more deflated. ​​​​​​

Encourage your children to make good choices when they are in a calm place and remember to praise the behaviours you want to see more of. 

Making time for fun with your children can be very rewarding and a valuable way to teach life skills.