Don’t Force Siblings to Play Together


How hard should parents try to encourage their children to get along?

Q: My boys are 6 and 4. My older son prefers playing by himself, and when I require him to share with his younger brother, he will just quit what he is doing and go to something else. When I suggest they take turns shooting baskets, my 6-year-old will either quit or go get another kind of ball so he doesn't have to share. Should I let him quit, or should I force him to share?

I think this problem is going to work itself out. From the point of view of a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old brother almost qualifies as a baby. Within a few years, the age difference will narrow and he's probably going to become more accepting of his little brother as a playmate.

In the meantime, leave this alone. The more you try to force or even suggest that he share, the worse this is likely to get. It would be good for your mental health if you were to stop feeling like you need to manage their play and leave your boys to their own devices. The likelihood is that they'll work this out, and if they don't, well, so be it. The fact that an older sibling doesn't like to play with a younger one doesn't predict future social problems.

I've been recommending a "hands off" approach to sibling conflict since I began writing this newspaper column in 1976. As is the case with any parenting policy, this one is not absolute. There are sibling conflict situations that require parental intervention; when one sibling is being purposefully cruel to another who is much younger, for example.

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