“The most important skill to teach a child for long-term happiness is empathy,” Ms. Jacobs said.
That ability to understand another’s point of view — and to regard others’ needs as equally important as your own — can be difficult to master. Dr. Kramer’s program walks parents through steps to help kids become more empathetic to their siblings — from not assuming their sibling had a negative intent in an interaction, to a broader goal of learning that each child can have distinct likes and dislikes, and these differences are perfectly O.K.
She also encourages parents to help their kids build a more precise emotional vocabulary. “Sibling relationships tend to be very emotional,” Dr. Kramer points out. Giving kids robust language to calmly express themselves can be the difference between “I hate you!” and “It makes me angry when you take my dolls,” or “I know you love hanging out with your new high school friends, but I miss spending time with you.”
Focus on the Fun
When conflicts inevitably arise, encourage children to use the “Stop, Think and Talk” approach. Above all, focus on making your family time together as joyful as possible, and keep building upon those happy interactions with more of the same.
In our home, with our 3- and 5-year-olds whose fights over toys and turns were becoming more frequent, my husband and I have put these ideas to use with promising progress. After we slept in one recent Saturday morning, we crept downstairs to find our son and daughter snuggled together under blankets on the couch, watching our daughter’s favorite Netflix Barbie show, which also happens to be among our son’s least favorite.