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Five Tips for Cultivating Sibling Friendships

Posted by Patience on September 10, 2010 at 5:00 AM in Siblings
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The sibling relationship can be one of the most powerful in our lives. The road to growing up together can make you the strongest allies or bitter enemies, depending on the moment. I want, more than anything, when I leave this world for my children to have a tight bond with each other. While the road is rocky at times, I am learning some things along the way. Here are some ideas for cultivating sibling friendships.

Create opportunities for kids to help each other. Give siblings the opportunities to help each other in practical ways. Older siblings can help younger kids get dressed, get a glass of water, find their shoes. Younger siblings can deliver things, or even help an older brother or sister clean up a room.
It is important to invite younger kids to also do things for older children and not ask the older sibling to do more than their share. We wander into the land of asking our oldest children to parent when we rely on them too much.
These helping moments teach care and consideration for the other person.

Let them play crazy games together. There are often times when my kids are playing really loud, boisterous games all together. My instinct is to "bring it down" a notch or two but those are often big sibling bonding times. If they aren't bothering anyone and are safe, let them go and have all the family love to be had.

Insist they respect each other. While siblings in our family are not always going to like each other, they are expected to respect each other's bodies and feelings. In our house, that means no physical fighting of any kind and no name calling. I try to stay out of their arguments but if things are escalating I step in.
Simple steps like having them face each other, one person talk at a time and stating their needs clearly to the other person can solve most confrontations. When all that fails, my mom used to send us to our rooms until we worked it out. I think it mostly gave her a break from us.

Shake up the friendships. If you have more than two children, you know there are often children that seem closer to one or another at times. Pair up the two that need to grow their friendship. Take them out for an ice cream together or putt-putt golf. Giving them time and space together gives them the chance to discover new connections. Don't let age difference be a stumbling block; there is always something to do together if you look hard enough.

Look for acts of kindness. Start a Family Acts of Kindness list in your home. Invite kids to be agents looking for the next kind act towards another family member. You will be amazed how much goodness is already happening and how much more is invited in when you practice this list.
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What things do you do to create and sustain friendships among the siblings in your house? What are your biggest stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them? Share your insight in the comments.


Lauren writes...

My parents had 6 children under the age of 10 in the beginning - 5 girls then my brother. This was in the 50's. They failed to teach us anything like respect, kindness, consideration, helpfulness, and the like for each other. It was close to "The Lord of the Flies" and were left to our own devices on how to treat each other. As in the book, the stronger willed sibling ruled and the lesser of us were teased, tormented, and humiliated. As we grew, competitiveness won out along with the inability to even hold a civil conversation amongst each other. We are all college-educated professionals but only 4 of us had children but only 2 each. Two of my sisters sterilized themselves before marriage. Tragedies hit our family along the way; my brother died in a car accident in his late 20's and two of us have breast cancer (I being one), and my parents are in their 80's with illnesses that their age presents. Now in our 50's I only speak to two of my sisters and we have not been together as a group in 20 years.
But this sad tale does not have to carry on. I have taught my two children who have personalities as different as can at early ages be to love, cherish, respect each other knowing that a lifetime together will give them the shared strength to face all the challenges that will come their way as we grow old togerther in joy and happiness, and contentment.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

Your children are so fortunate to have you Lauren!

Sharron writes...

As one of eight kids growing up in a military family we moved every two or three years. Having siblings to share the move really minimized the the trauma that many kids feel who are displaced. These were and remain very powerful relationships as we each forged our identities. I felt as though we moved as a tribe that provided continuity as we grew and changed. We range in age from 42 to 62 these days and remain close.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

I think moving really does bring families together, tribe is so important isn't it?

Jay writes...

I grew up in a family of nine children. Needless to say, my blue collar parents were too busy with the daily sacrifice of working overtime and doing laundry to devote a lot of individual time. However I managed to learn some powerful core values from them. Things like “all people are created equal” and “go fight your own battles”. I believe because of the lack of parental coddling, that today my siblings are my best friends and have always been. We were fortunate to not to be spoiled by over indulgent parents or pacified with money or things.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

It sounds like you have some wonderful parents Jay!

Annika writes...

I am the second to the youngest of seven kids. There are some very big age gaps - the youngest of the three boys is 9 years older than me. However my three sisters and I are all within 5 years of each other. We all grew up homeschooled together until high school which created a lot of time for us to bond. To this day my sisters are my closest friends. My younger sister recently passed away from medical complications (she was in and out of hospitals her whole life). And while I mourn her loss, I am so blessed to have my other siblings around and to be able to remember her together. I hope that when I have children (and I plan on at least 4 or 5) I can help them create a tight bond with each other. There is nothing like the relationship you have with your siblings. There will be ups and downs, but to have people around who have known you from the very beginning, who love you no matter what, that is more precious than any words can communicate.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

It's so true, there is nothing like a sibling bond.

Jesse writes...

My parents had me much later than my brother and sister. I almost felt like an only child, my sister was out of the house and in college by the time I was in elementary school, and my brother was hanging out with his high school friends and never home.
Deep inside I want a close bond but none of us connect, and old wounds die hard. My sister (eldest) seems controlling and manipulative, trying to orchestrate the whole family. My brother and I have more similarities and we act more civil when it's just us, but he's so quiet it's impossible to read what he's thinking.

I would say my thoughts for more healthy sibling friendships is for parents to make more opportunities for all three to do things together. I have only one or two memories of all three of us doing things together and bonding.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

It's amazing what memories stay with us. So many of us seek that sense of belonging. Thanks Jesse!

Kelly Salasin writes...

Thanks, as a mother of two boys, I appreciate these reminders of fostering healthy sibling relationships.

As a adult sibling, I try to do the same:

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

What a beautiful post Kelly, thank you for sharing.

Mary writes...

I think it's important to have basic ground rules of NO HITTING, either physically or emotionally.

The physical is easy enough, but the emotional is a bit harder. No name calling, and although siblings can not like the way someone acts, they can NOT hate that person.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

I agree Mary, the emotional end can be tricky...I learn a little more every day though.

Amber writes...

I try to avoid intervening between my kids as much as possible. I insist on respect and safety, but when they disagree I don't rush to solve their problems for them. I hope that this will encourage them to develop problem-solving skills, and also teach them how to work together. It's easy to get along with someone when everything is good, but the people I am closest with are the ones who stick around and compromise with me when things aren't so good.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

I hate to listen to conflict, but you are so right about learning life/people skills that will serve them their entire life.

Lyn writes...

I should say I have two sets of kids if you will a girl 19 and a boy 18 and a gilr 7 and a boy 5. My youngest 2 are adopted. They are all 4 very close. Part of this has been by design and part by happenstance. When they were small they shared a nursery. Due to gender differences they went to separate rooms by school age. Very few things in our home belong to individuals. Santa brought far more gifts to the family than to individuals. Everyone has a few very special personal items of their own though. If my young kids squabbled over a toy I would rush in and grab the toy and remove it with drama saying things like, " This is a dangerous toy it causes brothers and sisters to fight." We camped and hiked and swam and read and played board gamesand did art. We have never had t.v. and only got internet this past July. My big kids have more responsibility than many because I am a single mom. Now that they have some we share income and resources so all can have what they need. My oldest is away at college and my second will be leaving for a boarding school soon. The oldest two have been away on foreign exchange programs and at camps. When apart the younger kids learn people can leave and come back. they write each other and call on the phone most every day. We are a tight and successful unit and are looking forward to having all of us working so we can continue to increase the family's success together. We (at least the oldest 3 of us)have some goals for jointly buying property and creating a family trust where we can all hae reunions once my kids go off on their own. None of my kids has given me any kind of trouble or sorrow for which I am grateful. It has made being a single parent a real blessing.

PatienceAuthor Profile Page writes...

Wow Lyn, your family sounds so beautiful! You must be really proud...and I'm totally stealing that dangerous toy line, brilliant!

Janet writes...

My sister and I are 5 years apart, and I was sick a lot as a child, had a spinal fusion at age 11, and she often felt overlooked. She also has always been a very strong personality and locked horns with my Mother quite often. We were not close as children, and looking back we both realize that in some ways Mother fostered this. I was considered the 'good' child, because I was easier to control, while my sister was the 'bad' child, difficult and independent. Mother actually said to me, after I was grown, that I was good because 'you didn't have a mind of your own, like your sister." (And she thought this was a compliment!)

My sister and I were at odds until we were in our twenties when I, after reading a book about sister relationships, went to her and told her I realized that she had often gotten the worst of the situation growing up and I had even sometimes taken my Mother's side against her. Just that act of letting her know that I understood she had not been treated fairly changed our whole relationship. We have been close since then, and during my Mother's last years, when she worried that we might fight over her belongings and money after she died, we could honestly say, No, Mother, that will not happen. We're friends and we support each other. It has been a great gift to have my sister back in my life.

Renee writes...

I grew up with two sisters and a brother; I have fabulous parents, but us kids somehow turned out to have very different values, and I'm only slightly close to one of my sisters now. My husband is adopted, and has one sister, also adopted (but they are not biologically related). They've hated each other forever, and once I met her, I really disliked her as well. My husbands parents kept trying to force him and his sister to bond, and that has only made things worse. We don't see any of our siblings regularly (we live far away from them now). We have a great group of friends, however, that we feel are more like family than our siblings.

We married late, but even if we had been younger, I think our decision to have only one child would have been the same. It's great to hear about parents who are raising siblings to respect and care for each other, but I'd suggest that you not be too disappointed if they don't remain close. We can't choose our relatives, but we can our friends. If they turn out to be the same, great. But it's not so horrible when they don't.

Becky writes...

I love this article you wrote and everything you said stands true in our family. As I have 3 boys, I was determined for them to grow up loving and respectful. My oldest, who is 5 years older than his brothers, is kind and wouldn't hurt a fly - just his nature. Then came the twins. You can imagine the action taking place when they were little. But during those "terrible twos" I watched them like a hawk - intervening when hair was pulled, hands learned to slap, teeth were there for biting....each time they took a swing, I immediately showed them how hands can be nice or removed them from the situation until they could play nice. We always talked about how hands are for holding, hugging and waving Hi! Once they turned 3, I have never had to step in on any physical situation. To this day at ages 11 and 7, none of them have ever intentionally raised a hand to each other (or foot)...though they may yell or scream (but NEVER name calling) least they are using their words and learning to communicate and work things out. I would have to say there is no real "alpha dog" in the bunch, they all understand democracy and hot to take a vote. When the odd boy out is unhappy about his choice not getting picked, the other 2 will jump in to say his choice comes next. I hate when people say "boys will be boys"....yes boys are different than girls (I was raised in an all girl family). But I respect that the boys need to wrestle, get loud, run around but being a boy doesn't mean their behavior has to be mean or unkind. My sister and I are 5 years a apart and extremely close and for the last 10 years have lived just 1 mile apart. I couldn't ask for anything better.

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