I was invited to talk to a mother’s group last week and the subject of brother and sister relationships came up. How do you get your children to get along? What do you do about building sibling bonds?
Although no family is perfect, there are some ways to foster great relationships between our children and their siblings:
First, recognize that selfishness is the result of the fallen nature of man. And many sibling squabbles and rivalry comes from selfishness. That selfishness is a tendency does not mean it is acceptable, but recognizing the root will help eliminate it. The primary way to build sibling bonds, then, is to lead a rich sacramental life as a family — frequent Confession and Mass — and to have parents authentically loving one another and demonstrating patience and unselfishness.
Second, experts often tell us that siblings will seek out conflict to gain the attention of parents. Pre-empt this by making sure you are fully present for your children every day. Limit YOUR time on the computer, phone and watching television. Look into your children’s eyes when they speak and really listen. Children who feel they have the attention of their parents are less likely to misbehave, tattle or fight with their siblings.
Third, implement some family-building strategies:
• Find ways for siblings to work together. This may be setting the dinner table when they are very small or in joint meal planning and preparing when they are older. Solving problems together is a team building activity, so anything that involves working together toward a common goal can help.
• Give them time apart. Everyone needs some personal space, to allow positive interaction with others. Let your children have some space and time alone to think, pray, read or do nothing. This will help recharge them mentally, physically and spiritually and help allow them to be their best selves when they interact socially.
• Foster respect. Help your children respect siblings’ personal spaces by reminding them to knock before entering their sibling’s room, to not touch personal and private belongings of their brothers and sisters, and to respect the opinions of their siblings. Do not allow interruption or demeaning or sarcastic remarks. Begin young. Teach by example. Encourage encouragement in your home.
• Manage your children’s outside activities and teach service. It is difficult for children to learn unselfishness if they are immersed continually only in activities that benefit them. While certainly it is our responsibility as parents to help our children develop their gifts and talents, we must balance that with opportunities for genuine service, both publicly and in the home.
An older sister can help a younger one wash up, brush her teeth and get into her pajamas, read her a few books before mom and dad come up to pray with them. A teenaged brother can throw the football with his younger sibling, offering tips and learning patience in the process. This will help build a sibling bond.
• Build memories. Something you do the same way over time will become a tradition and can create treasured memories. Saying nightly prayers together, having short weekly family “meetings” over Sunday dinner or instituting an occasional family “poetry reading night” or family backyard game of baseball or croquet are all ways to cultivate family time and encourage bonding.
• Consider your children’s friends. Are they a help or hindrance in sibling bonding? If an honest assessment reveals your children are too peer dependent, think of ways to gently pull them back to the family unit.
• Engage your children in birthday planning for their sibs. Enlist the kids in making rhyming clues around the house leading to a sibling’s birthday present. Have them create a birthday quiz. Flip through baking books with your children and ask them to help you find a perfect cake design for their sister. When these types of activities are implemented over time, the benefit is building thoughtfulness and sibling bonds.
I love seeing my 17-year-old daughter, who aims for a career in animation, ask her seven-year- old sister if she wants to draw with her or to hear that my adult son who lives in Atlanta is planning a trip to California to visit his brother, just for fun. And it is wonderful when I peek outside while making dinner on a cold autumn Saturday afternoon and spot four sisters sitting on the back swing, laughing and talking together.
I’m sure you’ve experienced moments like these in your own families. They really warm a parent’s heart. With a little planning and effort we can help encourage more and more moments like these and establish strong sibling relationships in our families. These relationships will, after all, continue to bless our children long after we are gone.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.