Fostering Loving Sibling Relationships Part 1

Here is my new series. My current plan is to follow a series that’s more personal/conceptual/philosophical with a series that’s more concrete/practical (so this is my attempt at practical).

I have three daughters close in age (currently 6, 4, and 2). I was an only child. I knew from early on that when I had children, I wanted them to have siblings, and I wanted them to be best friends. My girls definitely have moments when they don’t like each other and get into arguments/competition about little things. But I can honestly say, they genuinely love one another…a lot. They sincerely care for one another and enjoy being together.

I will say this again and again on my blog: I am not a parenting expert. My oldest is six and my youngest is still in my belly, so in a way I am still at the beginning. But even within the six short years of parenting, I’m convinced that I learned some valuable lessons on how to cultivate loving sibling relationships, and I’m seeing some of the fruit of putting these lessons into practice.

I will go over some specific examples in my later posts, but for now I want to share some general principles that I believe will help in developing loving sibling relationships.

1. Prayer & Priority – I think they go hand in hand. If this is something that’s very important to you, you will pray about it a lot, as I did (and still do). If you pray about it a lot, it will continue to be one of the top priorities in your parenting journey. Before my second child was even born, this was my prayer and my goal for my children: Lord, please help them to develop a sweet, lifelong friendship.  I’ve noticed that in parenting (as in life), whatever you place as your top priorities tend to naturally come to fruition. The opposite is also true – whatever you don’t place as a priority doesn’t usually happen on its own. In our household, the example of this was my children learning Japanese. I had so many other priorities/goals in mind, that this goal was placed farther away from the top. As a result, my children don’t speak a lick of Japanese.  As most parents know, you can’t place everything in the top priority category. You have to pick and choose. That’s why prayer plays such a major role in determining your priorities and also in asking His blessing to find success in those priorities.

2. Husband/wife as their relationship model – I think this is huge. The atmosphere of the home and the examples the children see everyday greatly influence how they learn to treat other people. I am very blessed in this area. My husband and I have a supportive, loving, respectful friendship. They see us laughing together constantly. They hear us complementing each other and working as a team on practically everything.  They never hear us raise our voices at each other, disrespect/devalue each other, or even be sarcastic to each other. This was the kind of atmosphere they were raised in from birth, so it was pretty natural for them to learn how to treat one another in this way.  When MiniLu (our adopted child) joined our family at age 2, I believe she sensed this atmosphere right away and followed suit naturally. We never had any issue with violence from her. She was very quick to sense and follow the “natural flow” of our home, which is to respect and be kind to one another.

3. Supervise their interactions and address their heart issue. I probably do this a little too often that my kids may be getting sick of it. Many times I don’t wait for their little disagreements to turn into raging, crying fits before I intervene. My ears are constantly open to how they speak to one another – at home, in the car, and pretty much whenever I’m around them.  Even if they are playing by themselves and I only hear them in the background, my ears are always listening. I address little things, such as adding “please” and “thank you.” I address them (well, mainly my oldest) when I hear her starting to sound too bossy.  When one of them is boasting or showing off, I immediately address their heart: “Do you think you said that out of a good heart or a bad heart? Do you think what you just said made your sister happy or sad?” 10 out of 10 times they give me the right answer.  If I hear that their little argument is starting to escalate, I tell them to pause. “You girls are only making each other upset right now, so let’s just stop talking for a while.” I will address tattling more in detail later, but I follow the same principle: I address their heart and encourage them to solve the issue with the other sibling respectfully. This has become my daily habit.  As a result, I noticed that my time of “refereeing blowouts” has decreased significantly in the recent year or so. Most of the time they are able to resolve the issue peacefully among themselves without things getting out of hand.

4. Balance their time together and time apart.  As much as you love your spouse, or a sister/brother, or mother/father, or best friend, isn’t there a time when you just need to be apart after being with them 24-7? If we experience this as adults, how much more do our children experience this?  I believe there’s some truth to the phrase “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” When my older two girls are apart (because of school or one of them being at grandparents’ house), I can tell that they miss each other and are glad when they are reunited. If a younger sibling is not home when my oldest returns from school, she immediately asks, “Where’s LittleBit?” I will address in my later posts how you can intentionally structure some time for your children to be apart. At the same time, we don’t want to give them too much time apart. After all, it’s through their daily interactions and play time that they develop a lasting friendship.  This becomes harder as the older ones start attending school. We found a perfect system where our school-age children go to school three days a week and are homeschooled two days a week. We found this to be a perfect balance in how much time they spend together and apart.  I imagine it would be a little harder for parents to balance this if the children are homeschooled exclusively or if they go to school five days a week. I will try to include some suggestions for these two situations in my later posts as well…stay tuned!

These are some general principles that have helped our family so far in cultivating loving sibling relationships. Please feel free to comment if you have anything to add that has worked for your family.

Continued on Part 2

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