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On the Value of Sibling Play for Nurturing Empathy - #IDG2013

This week, I'm pleased to be hosting Sheila of Pennies of Time as she shares her thoughts on the way that sibling play and positive sibling relationships can nurture kindness, compassion and empathy. She and I both agree on the profound importance of raising children who are empathic. I wanted to specifically focus on the importance of empathy in today's sibling play post since today is the International Day of the Girl, and raising empathic, compassionate and caring children is a major way to contribute to providing a better world for girls. She wrote specifically about this when she shared about how she talks to her sons about modern day slavery and engaged in an act of service with them for Free the Girls. Sheila and I both have two boys, but we know that raising our boys to be kind, compassionate, and respectful of girls is an important way to nurture a better world for girls. She also shared this article from Yes!: A New Dad Asks, If Male Violence is the Biggest Threat to Women-How Do I Raise A Kind Son?

A big thanks to Sheila for her wonderful words: 

Our siblings are our first playmates.  Our brothers and sisters are the ones we learn to play together, learn to work alongside, and learn to fight and make-up.  It is through the relationships within the family that we have "learning labs" to start understanding what it is like to be in another person's shoes, to develop empathy.  We typically see another person's perspective *after* an argument or fight that was caused by a misunderstanding.  "You were saying that I had a dumb idea!"  "No, I was saying that the other ideas were dumb."

Our goal is to learn to see and communicate with others in a way where we can interact empathetically at the beginning, not just when conflict arises.

I find that the best way to build relationships between siblings is to build empathy within the family.  We serve one another with our Kindness Crocodile, we give compliments to each other during our bedtime routine, and we don't tolerate dissension amongst family members.

We give the boys time to work out a conflict, but when we see that it isn't resolving, we step in and show them the steps to come to peace.  We talk about why the other person is upset, a better way to do it next time, and then we figure out a way to resolve the concern right then.  

The "bigger" guy is not allowed to assert power over another to win an argument or fight.  In fact, we don't talk about "winning" in that way, we talk about feeling peace in the situation as we try and make sure that everyone's needs are met.

And, we find, as parents, that we need to intervene less because we have been modeling the steps to resolution, focusing on being empathetic.

How do you nurture empathy between siblings? Do you give your children opportunities to resolve conflicts among themselves? Have you written something about teaching children empathy and/or compassion? Please share your thoughts and resources by leaving a comment here or on The Good Long Road Facebook page. My Be the Change Pinboard this month is focused on teaching empathy and compassion. Make sure you're following it, and if you share a resource, I'll pin it for others to read as well. Sharing this at The Sunday Parenting Party.
You might also like:
On Raising Boys to Be Good Men for Int'l Day of Girl 2012
Girl Rising-Educating Girls Matters


  1. A powerful blog post Jennifer. I love how you teach that winning is more about being at peace for everyone involved! I love and admire that thought.
    In our family when there is a "moment" we let everyone calm down before the conversation can happen in normal low tones. We also like to keep it respectful.. at least we work towards that as a goal.


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