Fostering Loving Sibling Relationships Part 2

I’d like to dissect further the general principle #3 from my previous post:

Supervise their interactions and address their heart issue.

What does this look like on a day-to-day basis?

Don’t ignore the small stuff
Like I mentioned, I started in very small ways, such as teaching them to ask their sibling politely versus telling them what to do. If I hear Peanut say to LittleBit, “Hand me that toy,” I would instruct her to rephrase it as a question: “Would you please hand me that toy?” Or one may say, “Go over there,” and I would redirect her to say, “Can you please go over there?” I wanted to ingrain this truth in my children: show respect and kindness over being rude, mean, or bossy. I not only paid attention to what they said but how they said it. I paid attention to small sly remarks one would make at another. For example, one may quietly blurt out, “I finished first” or “I have more than you.” I would remind her that it’s not a race/competition and to refrain from making those comments that are only meant to make the other person feel sad.

Teach them to respect each other’s properties
In our house there are “community toys” that are open for all and there are other toys that specifically belong to each child. All the smaller individual toys are kept in each child’s special “box.” Each child must ask permission from its owner before she is allowed to use the toy. Even our youngest, MiniLu, has learned to ask, “Sissy, me please?” as she points to a particular toy that belongs to her sister. This has significantly decreased the time they spend fighting over toys.

Address the heart issue
From my experience, this is key. If I am just correcting their behavior and not reaching their heart, it’s pointless. Whenever I correct them on what they say/do to their sibling, I always direct them to examine their heart. Lately, whenever my middle child doesn’t want to do what my oldest suggests, my oldest will try to make her feel “left out” by saying she will then play with MiniLu (youngest). I address her heart immediately. “Do you think you said that out of a good heart or a bad heart?” “Do you think what you said gave your sister a happy heart or a sad heart?” I constantly try to reinforce this principle: if something was said with the intention of making the other person feel sad/bad, then it was not said out of love. This leads me to the all too common issue of tattling.

Tattling. One truth I learned about tattling is that the more I respond to the tattling, the more likely they will come back to tattle again. My first strategy with tattling is to not respond with any sense of emergency (unless it is an emergency, of course, such as physical violence). I again address the heart. “Did you ask your sister to please stop doing that? Did you express to her how that makes you feel?” Basically I’m asking, “Did you give your sister the opportunity to correct herself and do good?” If the answer is no, I immediately have her go back to her sister. I encourage her to ask her sister nicely, “Could you please stop coloring on my page, I don’t like it?” or “Remember Mommy does not want you to jump on the couch. Could you please stop?”

Other times, I may just say, “You two work it out together nicely. If you can’t, you need to clean up and spend some time apart.”

With these methods in place, we don’t seem to experience much tattling around the house anymore (knock on wood!).

Teach them to ask for forgiveness
I think this one still relates to the heart issue. We’ve learned from some wise parenting resources that just saying “sorry” often does not reach a child’s heart. I recently heard my oldest explain our house rule to another adult: “If something was an accident, we say ‘Sorry,’ but if something was done on purpose, we say ‘Will you forgive me?’”

This is our usual procedure. If one of them did some kind of harm to her sibling with bad intention, I direct her to think it over in her room. I often go in to talk to her about the “heart issue.” Afterwards, when things are much calmer, I direct her to ask for her sibling’s forgiveness. If she just says, “Will you forgive me?” I encourage her to go further by admitting to what she did wrong. “Will you forgive me for ________ ?” Always, 100% of the time, the other sibling responds with “Yes, I will.” I believe this provides opportunities for a much more genuine restoration than the offender just blurting out, “Sorry.”

If things are already escalated, give them a time-out
Once in a while, things still get out of hand and escalate into a full blowout. If I was already in the middle of something, it’s easy for me to get frustrated and join in on the blowout by being angry at them, adding fuel to fire. These are times when we all, including Mommy, need a time-out. I ask each of them to go to their room until they are calm. This gives me time for me to diffuse as well. I then go talk to each child individually to hear each side of the story.

Exaggerate the positive, Provide opportunities for them to show love
As closely as I pay attention to the smallest incidents that need correction, I also try to pay just as much (if not more) attention to the smallest incidents that can be praised. “Wow, you just helped your sister. Great job.” “Thank you for sharing your toy, that makes your sister so happy.” Sometimes I hear one of them praise the other for her artwork. I immediately say, “Wow, that was so kind of you to encourage your sister like that.”

I also help them discover different ways they can serve or give to one another. I ask one to get the shoes for their siblings, to open the door for them, etc. At church my oldest receives a fake $1 prize money for completing a week’s worth of Bible verses. She can exchange each $1 for a small prize. I encouraged her to save the $’s until she has enough for her and her two sisters to receive a prize. Since then, that’s what she has wanted to do every time. We always remind the other siblings to thank her. In return, every time my middle child receives a treat at preschool for special occasions, she immediately asks me, “Can I share this with my sisters during snack time?” (many times it’s something so small like one cookie but she still wants me to split it three ways).

Again, I go back to my previous post on maintaining a loving atmosphere in the home. This has become so “normal” to them. It really hit me one time, during my oldest child’s first week in kindergarten. When she receives three 5’s in a row at school, she is allowed to pick a prize from the treasure chest. Well, it blew my mind away when she came home with a bracelet that I assumed was for her. She walked through the door and immediately asked for LittleBit (middle child). I asked her surprisingly, “You picked that for LittleBit?” She said, “Yes, because she lost her other bracelet.” What made this even more amazing was that this was her very first time going to the treasure chest, after being back in school….in her new class, where there were many prizes she had not seen before. In that moment, she chose to pick something for her sister rather than herself. I was so touched and in awe.

Believe me, I know, implementing these principles and methods can be (WILL be) time-consuming, tedious, and full of sweat and hard work. But believe me also that the fruit they will produce in your children will be far sweeter than you can imagine.

I’d like to give credit to where credit it due. A lot of the methods mentioned on this post was taken from the parenting resources I have depended on the most since I began my journey as a parent: Growing Kids God’s Way and other works by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo.

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