Do you want to help your children get along? Keep these things in mind as they grow in order to raise siblings to be friends!
If you had siblings, think back to your own childhood. Did you enjoy time with your brothers or sisters? What do you remember your parents actively doing (or not doing) to foster the relationships between you and your siblings?
I have 2 little girls (ages 4 and 2) and, even though they’re little, I can see that there are things that I am doing right now that will set the stage for them to be friends when they’re older.
Both have very different personalities, but despite the usual sibling squabbles, I can see that they love each other and generally enjoy each other’s company.
You can’t throw this to chance. There are definitely some things you can actively do to raise siblings to be friends:
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1. Set boundaries
One of the first, and in my opinion most important, things to do is set appropriate boundaries and ensure that all of your kids know them and stick with them.
In our home, I do not allow my girls to hurt each other physically (hitting, pushing, pulling hair, etc.) or emotionally (name-calling, put-downs, etc). We often talk about how to treat each other with kindness and respect and I am (constantly!) working on helping them develop healthy conflict resolution skills.
If you allow mean-spiritedness, then your home can become a place where bullying develops. Your kids need to know that they are safe (physically and emotionally) and that you have their back.
2. Be Fair
Don’t compare your kids. I get it – we’re all human. It’s hard to not play favorites at times, or feel a gut reaction to want to compare your children, but don’t.
It’s especially important to be fair and equitable when teaching children how to solve conflicts.
The other day when my girls were in the middle of a squabble, I singled out my 4-year-old only to find out (after taking time to learn the facts) that my 2-year-old was doing something to irritate her. Needless to say, I realized that I need to be fair and consistent (and get the facts straight first!) when helping my girls learn to get along and live together.
3. Encourage activities that all enjoy
If your kids enjoy a particular activity (a game, a sport, a particular outing) then find ways to arrange and foster that activity for them. For example, my girls love arts and crafts and fun science experiments. I try to set aside time weekly (or monthly) for them to do this together.
As a child, I fondly remember certain games we played together as a family (especially with my siblings). People bond easily over shared experiences – this is why we groups like Meetup exist.
4. Let them play without interruption
If your children are happily playing together, don’t interrupt them! Let them enjoy the time and build their bond this way. If they don’t play together, set up an activity they both enjoy and get them involved.
5. Actively teach conflict resolution skills
Instead of taking sides during a squabble, model conflict resolution skills.
- Observe (“It looks like you both want that doll.”)
- Listen (“You were holding it and she came and took it from you.”)
- Express needs (“Can you ask her for a turn with the doll?”)
- Find a solution together (“Can you ask ‘Can you let me use it when you are done?'”)
This sounds tedious (and can be sometimes), but it really is helpful for your kids. My girls are so young, but I’ve modeled this so many times that occasionally they will spontaneously do it themselves (it’s shocking!).
6. Let them argue
If they have started arguing, wait a minute and give them a chance to work it out before interrupting (this works better after you’ve taught them conflict resolution skills first). With smaller children, you will have to intervene often and practice (and model) healthy communication and conflict resolution.
7. Find fun things to do together
As a family, find fun things to do together. Encourage cooperative play. Get up and sing, laugh, and dance together. Play outside. Exercise. Create a family culture and find a way to nurture your family bond through the little, everyday things.
6. Have special activities ready
We all have hard days. On these days, keep a special activity ready to bring out and improve the mood. If your kids love making cookies, you can get together in the kitchen and make some cookies. If they love doing art projects, grab some butcher paper and paints and set up a painting station.
My girls LOVE popcorn and movies. On very difficult days, I’ll suggest a popcorn and movie treat – they snuggle on the couch and share popcorn together.
7. Refer to your family as a TEAM
Use phrases like:
- We are a team.
- We can do this together.
- Let’s find a solution together.
- We can help each other work it out.
8. Make your siblings a TEAM
Encourage teamwork among your kids by having them do things together as a team (instead of in competition), like:
- playing a cooperative game
- cleaning up together
- competing (as a team) against you
- organizing something (game, activity, party)
9. Talk about emotions
Children need to learn what feelings are, how to name them, how to recognize them in others, and how to manage them in a healthy way. This will help them in their relationships with other people, especially each other.
10. Special time
Finally, make a sincere effort to have individual “special time” with each of your kids (one-to-one) each day. This does not have to be fancy – just a simple way to connect and show they are important to you. Take 5-10 minutes a day with each child (read a special book, share a special game or song, listen to them tell their favorite story for the 100th time).
Raising children together in the same family is hard work! Even if you don’t know where to start, you can do things to help raise siblings to be friends for life. Start by creating and nurturing a family culture by setting boundaries and being fair and make sure that you have quality time with each one of your kids to show they are individually valued by you. What do you think? I’d love to hear your tips for raising siblings to be friends!
For further reading, check out these books:
Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish