Our kids have a pretty tight bond, thus far in life. Maybe it's because they're born within four years of each other, or because they share a bedroom and almost all of their time, space, and possessions with one another. But I hope we've done a few things to foster their relationship as well.
Here are a few things we've learned from other parents, or developed ourselves in this parenting journey, to foster sibling relationships. I'd love to hear things you've done as well!
- Your sibling is your best friend. Period. This is a mantra of sorts, and we say it to them all.the.time. It's a joyous statement when things are going well, it's a correction when someone has been unkind, it's an encouragement when they're struggling to treat each other well. Say something enough and they'll believe it, so they say.
- Making sure they get a lot of time together. This became especially important when Lily started school last year and they weren't together all day every day anymore. It's easy to pack your kid's schedules with birthday parties and activities but we are really intentional in keeping it light and open. We say no to a lot of things so the three of them can be together more. They probably won't remember the names of half the kids they went to kindergarten with, but their siblings will be there for the long haul, so that's the relationship we want to focus on.
- Plant the idea of service and giving in their hearts towards their siblings. Kids are naturally selfish (like all of us!) and probably won't think of these things on their own, so give them the ideas. If I'm doing groceries with Oli, for example, I might ask him, "hey what's a food that Lily especially loves? Why don't you go pick it out and we'll surprise her with it". Or before they start their nightly show, I'll whisper in Lily's ear, "wouldn't it be nice to let Oli pick the show tonight, even though it's your turn? That would be so loving and special!". They usually get really excited about it once you get them going.
- Zero tolerance policy for meanness. I had friends growing up who were completely awful to their siblings, and somehow it was just accepted by their parents and never punished. And we've all seen the movies where the big brother is a total bully to his younger brother, and there seems to be no one really caring or putting a stop to it. Our kids get immediate time outs if they say a mean comment to their siblings, hurt them in some way, or are acting unkind toward one another. These things do happen! It's easy to catch since they're together so often, so we try to nip it in the bud early on.
- Target the heart, not behaviour. It's easy to just say, "no hitting!" and punish it in such a way that they no longer hit. But has their heart towards their sibling changed? Instead of focusing on the outward behaviour, we try to focus on the character and the heart that is wayward. Hitting a sibling is wrong, but the root issue is anger, jealousy, selfishness, or a plethora of other sins. We try to target the root issue instead of the outward behaviour, and point them back to the God who rescues us from our sinful selves, by sending Jesus in our place. We don't want them to view their siblings as a reason that they got punished, either, so disciplining them this way helps in that respect because it ends with grace and reconciliation, not shame and punishment.