EXPERT Q&A

How do we help our child be more compassionate toward her siblings?

Siblings don’t always get along, but there are some tools to try to help them become more compassionate toward one another. Read more from expert Shenley Seabrook to learn how to build healthy sibling relationships.

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Question

Our daughter is becoming increasingly bossy to her younger siblings. We ask her to say things more nicely and give examples for her to follow, but this doesn’t quite seem to work. What can we do to help instill more compassion and kindness in her?

Answer

Siblings too often don’t get along, and I’m sure many of us with siblings have our own stories about how our siblings—especially our older siblings—have treated us. If only we can easily find a solution to sibling rivalry!

Well, asking your daughter to say things more nicely and offering suggestions and examples is a great start! But it can be tough to be an older sibling and balance between being helpful and being bossy. Here are some suggestions on ways to minimize your daughter’s bossy behavior and cultivate more positive sibling relationships.

  • Set good examples. As the caregiver, if you ask for the task to be completed while using a bossy tone, the children will pick up on this. Try to remember to use words like “please” and “thank you” when asking for tasks to be completed. You can also try to give choices as much as possible throughout the day. This helps children feel less bossed around and sets the example for the older child on ways to interact with their younger siblings.
  • Encourage role modeling. Have a discussion with your older child about being a positive role model for their younger siblings. This can give them a sense of responsibility and duty. For example, when you notice they are being bossy, you can ask if they think their tone and words make them a good role model or if they would like to try a different tone or use different words. A simple “Please use a kind voice when speaking to your brother” is a good redirection.
  • Praise the positive! It is great when older siblings try to be leaders in the home, but make sure they understand what a “good leader” looks and sounds like. You will also want to praise “good leader” behavior when you recognize it. Praising other positive sibling interactions is also helpful. Try to make it a habit to find at least 3 to 5 interactions a day to praise. It is also a good idea to avoid unhealthy sibling competition and comparison, as this can breed rivalry.
  • Provide specific instructions. If you want an older child to help their younger sibling, first show them how to help and give them specific instructions. This can sound like, “I’d like you to start helping your sister put her shoes on when we leave. I’ll show you how I’d like this done. We will say, ‘Time for shoes!’ in a cheerful voice and then bring the shoes to her and help her put them on. If she starts to whine, we will say calmly, ‘We need shoes on so we can go have fun. If she is still giving you a hard time, please come get me.”
  • Lead with empathy. Promoting empathy in your children is extremely important. Work with your child to help her understand the perspectives of her younger siblings. When she’s feeling frustrated with them, ask her to place herself in their shoes. How might they be feeling? And how can she better navigate the situation?
  • Maintain authority. It can be tempting, but if you allow older children to correct or even dole out consequences to their younger siblings, you are teaching them that you are fine with them being in charge. Ensure the older child knows that it is not their responsibility to give consequences, solve arguments, or make final decisions about the day.

We hope these tips help, and please reach out to the CareNectar team with other questions. We’re here for you!

Meet The Expert


Shenley Seabrook

Shenley Seabrook is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who works primarily with children and adolescents in a private practice setting. She is also a foster parent and lives with her husband and daughter in Indiana. Shenley recently wrote her first children’s book, We Have the Same Heart, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and community service.