I was born the youngest of four children. A lot of my childhood memories are of desperately and unsuccessfully trying to keep up with my older siblings.Being one of the four was, and, in many ways still is , a huge part of my identity.
Even when Kevin was a newborn , I thought of him as my ‘eldest’ child. The plan has always been a ‘large’ family (by today’s standards) and so raising siblings that appreciate and respect each other has long since been high on my list of priorities. Even going so far as to making vision boards of ‘Charlie and Lola’ type relationships when I was pregnant with Laura. Truth is I needn’t have worried , Kevin fell head over heels in love with Laura the first second he cast eyes on her and he has been an exceptional brother to both Laura and Lili ever since.
There have of course been ups and downs though . And there’s definitely an element of competition, perhaps even a hint of sibling rivalry between my two girls especially, but within them all really.
For me , the aim isn’t that my children never argue , or have conflict. They’re human! And honestly , conflict free does not equal a close knit relationship.It is important though , to impress upon them that their relationships with their siblings are some of the most important relationships they’ll ever have . Blood runs thicker than water.
Learning to respect their differences , to get to know each other on that deeper level , how to communicate with their sibling in the way that is right for the sibling at that moment , and getting to do so in an environment of second , third and one hundredth chances , can be paralleled to none.
So , here is what’s working so far in our young family. I cant guarantee following these steps will lead to adult siblings who love and respect each other , (I think we’ve a good chance that it will though).And I can honestly say , that with applying these principles in our home , my three kids play together eagerly , resolve conflict between themselves with respect , and enjoy and actively seek out each others company.
When our children see us responding with our spouse/partner with love and respect , when they see us speaking kindly and respectfully to our friends and directly to our children themselves they learn how to be respectful to others. If we shout at them , snatch things , wag fingers and point out their short comings you can be sure they’ll do the same with their siblings.
- We also explain that we know of course there’ll be times when they are angry , conflicts will happen , but it’s NEVER acceptable to hurt each other.It’s no more acceptable to hurt a sibling than it is to hurt a parent , teacher or friend from down the street.
- Regular Family meetings – to stay connected on what’s working and what’s not
-Model active listening , turn taking , not interrupting
- Teach appropriate ways to express anger (finding a quiet space , deep breaths, drink a cold glass of water , count to ten , remind yourself of a keyword that will trigger a calm state for you ,etc)and appropriate things to say(for example , using ‘I’ statements) to express yourself and your opinion freely without hurting anybody.
Accompany modelling with a willingness to allow your children to work through their disputes. With younger children you may need to mediate , but be mindful to allow them to find their own solution to the issue and to apologise organically if they so choose. A forced apology holds little meaning for either party. With small children I might suggest , depending on the situation , ‘Do you feel sorry? Maybe it would help if you told her how you feel?’ However , instructing a child to apologise when they don’t feel sorry , in my opinion , will do more harm than good.
Be mindful of patterns in the dynamic between the children. Does one child choose all the games /take all the turns etc . Call them out on it and remind them to ‘treat others as you’d like to be treated’ followed by ‘I trust you to solve this together’ to prevent mindless habits becoming lifelong resentments.
Encourage their friendship and togetherness
A huge part of adoring each other is truly knowing each other.
Of course , as siblings they’ll know each other , they share a house , maybe even a room , they live in each others pockets so they know each other ,yes, but I mean , encourage them to get to know each other deeper. Do they know what makes their brother tic? What excites their sister? What are their hopes and dreams? What are they afraid of?Encourage them to open up to each other. To be each others confidant.
Choose whole family toys and games.They’ll each have a few special things that are theirs and theirs alone , but blocks and jigsaws and books are for sharing and belong to the whole family equally. For outside , sandpits , swing sets , footballs are suitable for a wide age range and encourage togetherness. If friends call around remind your child that brothers and sisters play too , in this house no-one gets left out unless ,they choose themselves to not take part.
And lastly , talk about how close they are.
Frequently , casually recall the special moments they’ve shared together. ‘Do you remember when we went to the open farm and you helped your sister climb the fence?’ or ‘O gosh don’t you remember how you and your brother used to rock out in the kitchen while I made dinner , we should do that again soon’.
I don’t know what it is , maybe a little bit of the law of attraction at work or something like that , but talking about the good times , attracts more good times.
Noticing when they play nicely together or resolve an issue well together , furthers these behaviours and before you know it , it’s just the norm in your home.