Family, Kids & Relationships

How to cultivate compassion between siblings

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It’s beyond frustrating for parents when siblings are constantly hurting each other, bickering, or whining about what the other sibling gets to do. Why can’t they just get along?

Kids may simply need a lot of support in learning how to treat their siblings with kindness and respect. It may not come naturally, so kids need to see lots of positive examples, and they need to be given specific language and tools for compassion.

Fostering compassion and empathy between siblings will not only cut down on the tension and fighting at home, it’ll also prepare kids to have better relationships with others in the future, and to be a positive force in the community and the world!

Teaching your kids compassion addresses many parenting problems…

  • Sibling rivalry
  • Fighting between siblings
  • Conflicts about sharing
  • Whining about what the other sibling has
  • Teasing, taunting, annoying each other on purpose
  • Constant bickering and petty disagreements
  • Siblings feeling excluded

Here are a few ways you can help cultivate it…

Have family meetings.

Whenever there’s a family conflict—or even as a regularly scheduled thing—have a family meeting where everyone gets a chance to share their viewpoint. Kids will get practice listening to and considering their siblings’ feelings and ideas.

Ask for their help.

Let kids weigh in on real-life ethical dilemmas. For example, ask them what you should do if you heard your boss say something disrespectful to your coworker. It’s a chance for kids to think deeply about other people’s conflicts and also to listen to their sibling’s opinions.

Give them models.

When a friend or family member, or even a random stranger, shows compassion and kindness towards you or someone else, point that behavior out to your kids and tell them how it makes you feel.

Support them nurturing each other.

When one child is hurt or having a tough time, encourage all the other siblings to find small ways to help—like going to get a bandaid or water, or setting up a comforting environment for the child who is suffering. 

This is especially helpful for any child who played a part in their sibling being upset; it puts them back in the role of helper rather than hurter.

Encourage helping the community.

Have siblings work together toward a greater cause, like gathering items to donate to a homeless shelter, or setting up a lemonade stand to raise money for a community organization. It creates an opportunity for bonding and practicing kindness—and reminds siblings that there are more important things than their petty disagreements.

Help them make amends.

Support kids in repairing harm after they’ve hurt a sibling. Ask how they think they can help make their sib feel better or how they might fix the situation, to get the wheels turning. Then follow through and support them in taking real action toward doing so. Afterwards, ask them how it went.

Here are some more ways to spark compassion in your kids, along with a helpful script for specific things you can say, from our friends at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center:

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.