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.
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.
For the longest time, while my kids didn't always get along, we really didn't have too much trouble with fighting. Every once in a while we'd experience a breakdown of one kind or another, but for the most part, the mood between the kids was fairly peaceful.
This summer, however, the tides seemed to have turned. Tensions are running high and the smallest infraction sets off a series of explosions that leave both kids falling apart. To make things worse, digging into one thing that's not working seems to trigger memories of old grievances that never fully resolved. It's been a real mess.
While I'm all for talking it out, I can't stand it when the focus is on what the other person did with no willingness at all to make things better by being personally responsible. I know this is a lot to ask of kids, but I want my kids to learn that they have the power to improve their relationships, simply by paying attention to what works as well as what they want.
The other day, determined to break the cycle of blame and shame, I gave both kids a piece of paper, a pen and set them up in separate parts of the house. Each kid's task was to write down five personal boundaries--things they just could not bear to have violated. Things that they just knew needed to be honored in order for peace to reign. Both kids spent time on their lists and it had a surprising effect. By having to think about what was personally important to them, it helped shift the focus off the other person. They were reflecting on what they needed instead of everything wrong. And the cloud slowly lifted.
Once they were finished we compiled the list into one generic list of boundaries that they both could honor, and I was surprised at how nicely they fit together. One kid didn't want unwanted hugs or physical affection; the other didn't want hitting, so it was easy to write "No physical contact" as a shared boundary. Both kids agreed that knowing they were guaranteed their own physical space was a great relief and worth the sweeping mandate.
Once we had our list together, I decided on the consequence for disregarding the boundaries. If either kid crossed the line, both kids would lose an individual preference that left them feeling a small loss. For Madeleine, that meant no cell phone. For Carter, that meant no screen time. To keep it from feeling too punitive, both kids would also immediately be moved to a different activity. Madeleine would get her turn on the computer, and Carter would be sent to play with the boys next door. That way, each kid would have a chance to recharge before coming back together to try again.
By linking the consequence to both kids, they both became invested in not punching the other person's buttons. They had a new incentive to work together, not only to honor the other kid but to preserve their own best interests. Best yet, I no longer needed to get my hands dirty trying to sort out who did what or who started it which is always a fruitless endeavor. There was no longer one person to blame or somebody else to hold responsible for making things worse. The only thing worth noting was that the system had broken down and needed to be reset by time apart in a way that both kids agreed was fair and reasonable. By tying the list to the potential loss of something important, they were willing to fully engage in a way that honored the importance of coming together.
How do you navigate fighting at your house? Do you have a special way to hit the reset button when things start falling apart? We'd love to hear your sibling strategies in the comments below.
Fighting between siblings is hard on any family. I have my own list of strategies for dealing with those conflicts, but sometimes I find it helps to respond first to the case building with a healthy distraction or a story instead. By telling my kids stories about happier times or potential good days ahead, I'm building into them a sense that the disagreements of today don't have to go on with them into forever. Here are four ways you can tell a story that might help your kids see their future together in a new light.
Tell a make believe story about getting along in the future. Sometimes when my kids are in despair after days and days of disagreements, I tell them a story about all the fun things they'll be able to do together when they are older. I supply the conversation, the dialogue, the voices--anything and everything needed to paint a picture of a sister and brother who get along and have great adventures together. My children are intoxicated by the idea that someday they could have that much freedom or solidarity, and they listen spellbound as I describe their someday journey into peaceful co-existence. These stories not only entertain, they plant a little seed of hope that their future together can be happy and bright.
Tell stories where birth order plays a role. If you are the little sister and have a little sister at your house who is having a hard time, it's okay to commiserate. You can tell a story to let your daughter know you know how it is to be the littlest. These stories communicate empathy and build the bond; for these very reasons, I'd reserve this kind of story-telling for key moments when just one child is present. Conversely, if you're the oldest, let your oldest in on the secret that you understand that it's not always easy going first at everything.
Tell a story about getting in trouble. My kids love to hear stories about how we got in trouble when we were kids. I add drama (and details) and they supply the laughs. Understanding that I was once a kid who got in trouble, helps them know that I may just understand more than they thought about how hard it is to be a kid. Adding any available sibling drama from the family lore, and they are riveted.
Tell a story about someone you know with a happy ending. If your own stories will read more like horror tales than happily ever after, consider telling the story of anyone you know who had an adventure with their sibling in childhood or beyond. Kids need to know that it's possible to have positive and happy interaction with a sibling even if this particular moment isn't the most blissful ever.
What positive things did your parents do to reduce sibling stress at your house?
Whenever I see an expecting mother with a small boy by her side, I always want to tell her a secret even if she is a complete stranger. Don't worry, I usually don't but I wish I could. I suspect there is probably a twinge of longing for a girl because we always are intrigued by what we do not know or have, but secretly I hope she will get to experience the joy of watching brothers grow together.
It's when you are in it together when your mother decides it would be awesome if you were Shaggy and Scooby for Halloween. Even though you both like the show, it isn't exactly what either of you had in mind.
There is also great joy when she finally buys the store bought Bionicle costume you both have been begging for. They still try to squeeze themselves into these costumes.
There are hours of legos, tinker toys, art projects and constructing of all kinds together. All roads lead to robots, especially the dream that together they might be able to build one that would clean the room they share, or just add a friend to the mix.
This partnership can welcome someone new into the mix because there is nothing like a brother. A sister has her own place in the family love. They seem to find their own peace in the midst of big family chaos.
Now with shaggy hair and long arms like their papa, I wonder how their friendship will change and grow. Everyday we get closer to the developmental place where independence must be tried on in new ways. The time when you stretch and learn how to be on your own, sometimes even with out those closest to you. I always hope they find their way back to each other, to the soft place of landing that is the brothers.
Check out this great article for nuturing positive sibling relationships.
Today is the last day of summer. For those of you reading this with children who have been in school for the last three weeks, I don't know what to tell you. Your school district is crazy. Or awesome. Yes, awesome. But for the rest of the kids, tomorrow is the big day.
My neighbor tried in vain to contain her glee that her youngest was going to all-day kindergarten tomorrow for the very first time. "She's really ready to go!" I contained my laughter as I saw in mom's eyes that she was ready for her baby girl to grow up, if only to have her days back to herself. I nodded in agreement that her big girl was ready and I did an invisible high-five to her mother when the kids weren't looking.
My kids know it's the last day of summer because the local pool closes today. We only went once this year (on Saturday) but they know that summer is over when the pool closes. Thank heavens for all of our dear friends who have pools and are willing to put up with the pirates and the screaming and are willing to dig the kids out when they inadvertently fall in fully-clothed. And have pools that won't close for at least another month. I don't think we are quite ready for summer to end yet.
Join us tonight for Guerrilla Goodness, 1st day of school style.
Photo by the greatest playdate yenta (and dear friend) Kimberly.
Actually these two did get along. In fact, when all of the cousins were together this weekend, they all got along most of the time. However, it is difficult to navigate the Big Kids/Little Kids dilemma that always occurs. How often do you get together with family or friends and there is a friend for everyone?
The big kids just want to play with each other but their mothers have taught them to be inclusive. Ethan just wants to play with the big kids but he also wants to take a turn at bossing all of them around. They will tolerate his presence and even be kind to him, but I noticed that no one was going to be bossed around by a four-year-old. I understand how they feel completely.
Nate wanted to be with Lucy and luckily Lucy graciously allowed him to do just that. He enjoyed running after her and doing whatever she told him to do. I guess he thought it was a small price to pay to be with her. Nathan is not even remotely complicated. Ethan and Lucy are closer in age but Lucy could not have cared less about the big kids. She was on her own program and perfectly happy.
Lyra kept trying to sit on Mason's head but I imagine that will all change when she is no longer 10 months old and Mason is no longer 4 months old. Clearly Patience was not used to all the "man-handling" because she kept apologizing. Mason just seemed glad that Lyra was only trying to sit on his head and not trying to get him to play catch with a regulation-sized basketball like his brothers do when their mother turns her back for one little second.
I probably should have told Ethan to leave the big kids alone but I didn't do it. Would you have?
Photo by Marmie.
Josiah has a knack for finding cool crafts from various places. The penny launcher has to be one of my boy's all time favorites and great for boredom blues. Here is what you'll need:
toilet or paper towel rolls
electrical tape or duct tape
a pen (Josiah insisted you need this to write your name on your launcher so you don't lose it)
Cut the balloon in two. Throw away the bottom half.
Place the top part of the cut balloon over one end of the paper towel roll.
Wrap the electrical tape around the tube to secure the balloon. Cover the entire roll.
Here's what it looks like when it is all finished.
Drop your penny in the bottom, pull back and let her fly!
Jack always likes to show me how much hot air he has after.
Pure launching joy!
Baby Mason comes by this face honestly. His brother? He's is a train wreck. I complained to his teacher last week about how he just barrels everyone over, ALL THE TIME. It's driving me crazy. He's running into things, knocking things over and generally creating quite a mess at all times.
His teacher reminded me that he is two. She reminded me that he has that eye issue. She reminded me that he has that foot that turns in. So now I'm frustrated at a kid that can't focus properly and has problems walking.
*hangs her head in shame*
Sometimes as a parent it is really easy to get in the moment and fail to see the big picture. For Nathan, the big picture is that objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear. His clunky sneakers might make it more difficult to navigate the clutter that is his life. And he might just be two years old.
Isn't he cute? You would hardly know that this is the face of a child that just may drive his mother over the edge.
I've been working on watching the kids more closely. That means if anyone is in a mood, they have to follow me everywhere. That everywhere includes the bathroom. I miss going to the bathroom on my own but at least I know you aren't climbing up on a chair, removing the lock from the door and getting into the chemicals. You know, spraying bleach cleaner on the dirty laundry.
I let down my guard on Friday. Not really. I just needed to change my clothes. As I pulled my shirt over my head, I heard a loud shatter. Oh, no. Not the window. I waited a second and I didn't hear anyone screaming. I continued to change my clothes. The damage was done. You can't un-break the window now.
I went downstairs and looked out the now-broken window. On the other side was Nathan wielding a broom. He seemed disinterested in the shattered double paned window that provides a lovely view from the dining room to the back porch. I began to yell at him through the window and I promptly put him in timeout.
He didn't really care. I found Ethan hiding under a table in the other room. It's nice to see that someone fears my wrath. As far as the middle child goes, I guess my only recourse is to lock up all the brooms.
A Mother's Day conversation:
Me: Hey Jack, I'm going to pick strawberries, do you want to come?
Jack: Sure! I'd love to come.
M: Okay, but if you come you have to be kind to Lucy, no fighting, you have to get along. Can you do that?
J: Hmmm, Oooo, I don't know if I can do that, she makes me really angry sometimes. No, I don't think I'm gonna go.
M: No problem, I totally understand.
Five minutes go by. Jack comes down the stairs.
J: Mom! I really want to be with you on Mother's Day so I change my mind. I think I can do it.
Me: Sounds great Jackie-boy! Go get your shoes on.
I laughed to myself at the ease of the honesty in our exchange and the lack of judgement surrounding it. We had a glorious time picking together, one of our best. Jack and Lucy got along swimmingly. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be free to admit our own limitations and have the space to change our minds and try? Oh, to be a kid again.
It's a super secret comment section today. Well, not really but let's pretend. Tell us what you are really thinking and what thing do you wish you could skip out of?