Always gently leading, instructing, unconditional loving.
But lately I’ve been wrangling together every tactic I can think of to keep that sibling love from dissolving into a giant sea of misery and frustration.
So it was fitting that I got this question from a blog reader the other day:
I am embarrassed to say that I can’t find the email this came from now and don’t know if I responded or not, so hopefully this will count as my response!
I think this is such a great deliberate parenting question to ponder because we all worry about this to some degree, right? Sibling relationships have so much power. And helping kids learn to love each other and have genuine respect for one another is essential in raising strong families.
One more story before I get to some concrete ideas and thoughts:
So, after pondering over this for a little, and discussing with my sisters and sister-in-laws, Dave, and this friend, here are some ideas to help build those sibling bonds:
1) Build in proactive systems into family life to help kids learn to love each other (ideas below). Don’t just wait until you’re in the midst of a downward spiral of squabbling (like I am :).
2) Kids mimic what their parents do. Build a culture of respect and love. If we, as parents, give kids the benefit of the doubt, our kids will do the same to each other. I think it’s interesting that I have been a little impatient with Lucy lately. I’m not really frustrated at her, I think I just get frustrated at the situation sometimes (mostly due to her not being able to see things…SO not her fault…but I struggle to know how to deal with each new version of reality and sometimes it comes out as frustration). And when I stop to think about that I wonder if my frustration is fueling Claire’s somehow? I don’t know, but I know that I need to be a better example.
3) Figure out a plan to put phones and technology aside every now and again. I have SO much more to say about technology soon in a post of it’s own on this topic, because in some ways I think phones are ruining so much in society. (sure they’re good to a certain extent, but they are harming a bunch too…more on that later). But for today, I’m telling you I think phones take so much away from sibling relationships! If phones are out of the picture, at least for a little while, perhaps daily, perhaps just on Sundays, there is so much more time to communicate and just BE. And just BEing helps kids to develop relationships so much better.
4) Repenting Bench. I explained what this is back HERE, but basically kids who are arguing sit here (it can be a bench or a stair or two chairs…anything set aside for the purpose of being a “repenting bench”). The two that are “tangling” sit in this spot together and think about what THEY did wrong (yes, it’s easy peasy for them to think of what the other person did wrong, a little tougher to let go of their pride and admit their own wrong-doing). Once they figure out what they did wrong (sometimes it takes a while, but there’s always something), they exchange explanations of their wrong-doing, tell them they’re sorry, and commit to try not to do it again (I say try for obvious reasons…promising they won’t do it again would just be a lie. Ha!).
In my opinion this bench idea, (from my wise parents), is the single most important thing to help build strong relationships because those kids are going to fight whether we like it or not. The repenting bench is a built-in way to help build communication, knock down pride, teach repentance and forgiveness. Things we all need for positive relationships to flourish throughout life.
5) Family Testimony Meetings. (talked a little bit about these back HERE)…Call them what you want, but I think my sis-in-law Kristi said it best: “I think it’s so great to have a time or place where you can be vulnerable with your feelings in a safe environment and hear and share what’s in each other’s hearts while everyone is learning to respect and learn from those shared feelings.” Growing up we did this every Fast Sunday. We met in our Living Room and had the opportunity to share whatever we wanted. About the gospel, about each other, about our relationship with Christ. And the air was thick with love. I think that’s where I learned to adore my siblings so much. We do this with our family now and I feel that same thick love in such a beautiful way. Often growing up siblings would actually say one thing they loved about every sibling in the room. This took a while, but man did it ever strengthen relationships!
6) On that same note, Family Dinner and Family Home Evening work wonders on sibling relationships! We live in a society that is so hustle and bustle, and setting aside TIME to just be together and talk makes such a huge difference. The other night (the first day of school) when we finally sat down together, just us, for the first time in so long, there was the most beautiful feeling in our kitchen. I had the opportunity to tell the story of how Bo, Claire and I walked to meet Lucy at the bus stop, and how when that dog saw that Lucy girl she went WILD and how Claire was able to ask all about Lucy’s day and the girls had a chance to explain all that they did during that day. There is nothing like having a time set aside each day (or at least once a week), to develop relationships and bond.
7) This is one for bigger kids, but I have LOVED having the opportunity as these girls grow up to let one be an advisor for another. As kids have struggled with this or that, I’ve asked them to ask so-and-so for advice, or I’ve let one girl know what their sister is going through and asked if they could give some extra love and attention to that sister. Elle has been extra awesome at this being away at college, and has built those little sisters up a bunch from clear over in Hawaii. Growing up my dad asked me a lot to keep an eye out for certain siblings he was worried about, and we did Tutors and Tutees (back HERE). When you serve someone, especially a sibling, you grow love for them exponentially.
8) Compliment kids in front of each other, and make sure to relay any kindness one kid may say about another to that child. Tiny example: Elle and Grace were looking at a picture of Claire the other day, admiring her beauty. Claire was not around to hear those nice words, but is in the throes of junior high and needs some encouragement from time to time. So I made sure to let her know. To which news of course she beamed. Along with this I think it’s so important to have zero tolerance for anyone speaking unkindly of anyone else in the family. Ever. We are all a team, a team of builders. And we need to remember that. I love that on birthdays growing up we always had the opportunity at the dinner table to go around and say what we loved specifically about the birthday person. We still do it now in our family and it’s such a great way for kids to look for the best in their siblings and let them know.
9) Family Mission Statements (or Family Mottos)…nothing like all working together for the same cause to bond. All about mission statements back HERE.
10) Realize you’re not a failure if there isn’t peace and harmony all the time. That would be impossible. We try to do all these built-in things and we still have the squabbling. But that’s ok. Fighting and disagreeing in a safe environment helps train kids for future disagreements with colleagues, spouses, friends, future children, you name it. We all just need to be trained, (I’m still being trained for crying out loud…over and over and over), and what a better place to learn than in our own homes?