“But he started it!”
If summer break has you dreading this old-as-time whined phrase, you’re not alone. Parents who follow the gentle discipline philosophy can often find themselves at a loss when it comes to encouraging positive sibling relationships.
Learning to get along with each other is not only great for the children; it makes life easier on the whole family. With the extra free time summer break offers, this is an ideal time to work on sibling relationships.
The importance of sibling relationships
Jeffrey Kluger, author of “The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us,” reminds parents that although sibling rivalry is to be expected, how we handle it (and encourage them to handle it) is what matters.
“A parent’s role is to not sweat the day-to-day stuff too much,” he says. In most cases, the conflict is benign, Kluger says, and parents needn’t worry that their kids are irreparably damaging what should be one of the most important and long-lasting relationships in their lives.
How to encourage positive sibling relationships
Harboring a positive relationship between siblings is extremely important. Most often it starts with a strong connection between YOU and each child.
But if we react with anger, annoyance, even a bit of impatience, we risk making our older child feel like we have taken sides against him or her, even though these are impulsive actions sparked by intense, understandable feelings.
Parenting expert Janet Lansbury explains, “Our responses do matter. A lot. The choices we make when dealing with situations of conflict between siblings can calm fears, build confidence, and help to ease sibling rivalry. Or, alternatively, they can fuel and intensify it.”
Here are 6 ways you can help encourage a positive sibling relationships between your school age kids.
Don’t interrupt happy play.
You remember the old saying, “Never wake a sleeping baby.” Dr. Laura Markham’s corollary is, “Don’t interrupt a happily playing child.” So when siblings are playing together well, don’t take it for granted. Support them in whatever they need to keep playing, and don’t interrupt unless it’s necessary.
Plan activities together as a family.
Walk the dog, play board games, ride bikes, go swimming. Family time encourages teamwork and helps children feel like a valued part of the family unit. For competitive games, team the siblings up to play against Mom and Dad, instead of having them play against each other.
Let kids be bored together.
Get them off the TV and video games, and encourage them to find something to do on their own. Then just leave them alone. Simplifying your child’s world has so many benefits, including an increase in his or her creative ability. Boredom leads to creativity, and siblings can create the most enthralling games when they’re forced to amuse each other.
Give your children joint chores regularly.
“Sometimes what brings the kids together is hating the lunch lady,” mused our favorite incompetent boss, Michael Scott. Whether it’s cleaning out the garage, washing the car, or doing the dishes… a job that requires cooperation to get it over quickly is a great way for kids to bond. While not every chore has to involve teamwork, it’s nice to give them a common goal. You can find age appropriate chores for kids here.
Take a little trip.
When kids are away from their routine and outside their comfort zone, they often let their guards down. Without all the toys, video games and friends home has to offer, siblings can enjoy each other and bond over the shared experience. This is especially true of older kids who may worry what their friends think if they spend time with a younger brother or sister. A simple weekend camping trip can offer prime opportunities for hanging out together, increasing the family’s much-needed Vitamin N, and getting the kids away from the technology that can distract them from each other.
Let them “camp” in each other’s rooms.
If your children are younger and have separate rooms, let them hold impromptu slumber parties in each other’s rooms when they don’t have to be up early the next morning. Kids love taking turns dragging their blankets and pillows into other places. Siblings that barely speak to each other during the day may find themselves talking together long into the night. Leave them be and let them talk as long as they want – they’re bonding.
Encouraging good sibling relationships
Of all the ways to help encourage positive sibling relationships is to develop your own strong bond with each child. “When each child knows in his bones that no matter what his sibling gets, there is more than enough for him, sibling love has a chance to bloom,” shares Dr. Markham. “There is always more love.”