I just have a couple of more things I’d like to address on this topic.
I’d like to go back to the General Principle #4 from Part 1.
Balance their time together and time apart.
As I stated on my last post, I think it’s important as parents to monitor if our children have too much time to spend together or not enough. I believe either of those extremes can cause more conflicts between siblings. Case in point. Last week, my two older girls participated in a drama camp at my oldest’s school. They had a lot of fun, but they were with each other (without the youngest sibling or their parents) for 6 hours everyday for a whole week. When they came home each day, I noticed that they were bickering at each other often. During that week, I separated them and had them play on their own for a while (usually in their rooms) after they came home. This week, the same older two girls attended Vacation Bible School. The hours were much shorter (3 hours a day), and each was assigned to a different group at VBS. They hardly saw each other at all. I noticed this made a huge difference in how well they got along after they came home. I hardly heard any bickering at all. This confirmed my belief that too much time spent together can lead to more conflicts.
Here are some specific ways I try to structure how much time they spend together:
This is another concept I learned from Growing Kids God’s Way by Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo. I think this is especially useful for homeschooling moms whose children are home all day. Simply put, it’s structuring time for them to play/read on their own…either on a blanket (for toddlers) or in their room (for older kids). I do this regularly with my three children, and it’s become a normal routine for them. It usually lasts about 45 minutes (I set the timer on). During that time, the house is pretty much silent. Each child is playing by herself with her set of toys (for my youngest, I place a few toys on her blanket). Sometimes my older ones go in their rooms with books to read. This teaches them how to keep themselves entertained, and it also helps them to be more focused and be creative. The additional benefit I found is that this time apart from one another helps them to appreciate the time they do get to spend together. Usually, once they reunite and start playing after their blanket/room time, they are able to play nicely together and enjoy their time together without conflicts.
“Settle down” time after school
This goes along with the above concept, but it’s specifically for the time after school pick-up. I believe many children need a little time to “unwind” from all the social activities of the day. When my oldest began attending school, my second daughter would be so excited for her to get out of school and play with her, only to find herself being snubbed by her older sister. I realized that many times my oldest was not ready to jump right into playing with her sister after being with her friends all day. What helped was to give my oldest some time to “settle down” (either by having a little alone time or watching a short show), before she dived into playing with her sisters.
Different extracurricular activities (as your situation allows)
My oldest definitely has the most dominant personality out of my three children. My second child is drama, but she’s also very much a follower. She’s perfectly content following the lead of my oldest (for the most part). I began to realize that this dynamic in their relationship caused my second child to become socially dependent on my oldest. My second child would often be too afraid or shy to play with other kids, unless my oldest was with her. What helped for us in this situation was to force my second child to become more involved with other children without her sister. For example, she began attending preschool. She also began participating in dance class, instead of participating in gymnastics like her sister. I understand that finding a different extracurricular activity for each child may be difficult for most families. But if at all possible, I think different hobbies/interests will help to develop each child’s individuality.
Ways to create MORE time together
So far I’ve discussed ways to structure their time apart. Sometimes, though, conflicts and rivalry can result from siblings having too much time apart. This may be common for children who attend traditional school system, five days a week. If they have extracurricular activities also, there’s hardly any time left in the day to spend with their siblings. I believe this is where parents must strategize and work hard to protect their “family time,” by not involving their children in too many activities or birthday parties and maximizing the time they have together. For example, if there are chores to be done after school or on weekends, have the siblings work on them together. Set a “family time” after dinner where no electronics are allowed; it’s a time specifically set aside to enjoy being together (by playing board games, going on a walk, reading stories, etc.). I also think it’s important to set some time during the week for siblings to spend time one-on-one with another sibling. The first hour of my youngest’s nap time is a time set aside for my two older kids to play together by themselves. Another way to accomplish this is for one sibling to help mom with chores or read with mom while the other two plays, and take turns. I think the one-on-one time together is crucial in building a strong friendship.
I hope some of these suggestions were helpful in giving you some ideas on how to cultivate loving sibling relationships. Again, if there’s something specific that has worked for your family, please share by commenting on this post.
Last but not least, I can’t emphasize the power of prayer enough. Ultimately, God is the One who formed and knows their hearts. He also desires your children to develop long-lasting friendships with one another. Entrust your parenting journey under His care and guidance, and you can’t go wrong.