In many sitcoms and movies, it is almost taken for granted that the siblings of any family hate each and throw snide words at each other. Like this is normal, and good. Like it is better to like friends more than your own flesh and blood. Like it is better to not want your brother or sister around.
My children have gone through definite phases of needing more space from one another, partly due to age differences (16 down to age 8), and partly due to personality differences. To me, those phases are kind of like a little dust storm or a big rainstorm. I may not be able to see my destination clearly, through the sand or rain, but I know it is there. And the big destination for me is to make sure my children adore each other and take care of each other. I want to make sure they know that when my husband and I are gone, they will be there for each other. There will be things between them that my husband and I will never know, because siblings are the best bond ever.
As an only child, I often wondered if it was a big fabrication in my head that I built up that having siblings is truly wonderful (especially when they were fighting!). However, I can say without hesitation in watching our own children, even through the phases of more distance, that yes, yes it is truly that wonderful. Every time I see them all playing together, helping each other, doing fun things together, I feel that flush of happiness for them.
How do you get help them get that close bond? Here are some of my top ways, in no particular order:
Don’t ever let them treat their friends better than they treat their siblings. Call them out on that. Every. Single. Time. Part of being with friends includes being nice to a brother or sister if friends are at our house, and part of being with friends includes being nice to a brother or sister when you are home. If you cannot do that and handle your relationships at home with kindness and love, then you are not ready for much in the way of friendships outside the home.
Make interdependence happen. Help the children learn to work as a team in whatever way that happens in your home – cleaning up, having fun, taking a trip together, making food. Part of this is also making sure that activities outside the home don’t trump spending time with siblings and family. It is all part of being a family, and part of learning what makes relationships tick is learning these first relationships at home. All relationships, if you want them to last, require time well-spent, and kindness.
At the same time, allow for space. Some developmental phases just simply require more space than others. And like other relationships in life, sometimes one sibling feels rejected, the other just needs space, some siblings are closer at one point or another, etc. Space and individuality are important, and it makes interdependence work. I find when an older child is 10 or so and has younger siblings that sometimes they just simply need space away from the siblings. Teenagers who are 14-17 sometimes have a hard time relating to younger siblings as well, especially those aged 8-12, and may need help to remember what it was like to be younger.
Encourage that equal doesn’t equate to fair. I find this idea of things having to be “fair” usually peaks for children between 7-10 years of age. Usually the best thing you can do is empathize with whomever is upset, and have solid reasoning behind what boundaries you are setting and why. Sometimes having “this is just the age you can do X thing in our family” is helpful because it is a more generalized rule. For younger children where things like taking turns or who gets to hold the special toy are problematic, I find using a timer or counting aloud for “fair turns” is usually helpful.
In sibling fighting and drama, for younger children, I usually start with helping the victim of the situation without much attention to the aggressor. Sometimes just not giving attention for negative behavior helps. Usually the aggressor has to help the victim by doing something nice for the victim :). Kindness wins.
In sibling fighting and drama for older children, I try to listen to both sides with active listening techniques and empathy but then help guide them toward problem-solving the challenge themselves. Stock phrases usually include, “What would you like to see happen?” “How would that work out for your brother or sister?” “How could we have an agreement that both of you would like?”
Take the hard knocks in stride. Just because they don’t like each other at this moment, doesn’t mean they never will! Keep working toward fun and positivity and help them see each other’s needs are valid.
I would love to hear your best suggestions for helping siblings get along!
Blessings and love,