One of the first things people usually notice about our children is how well they get along. Sure, they have occasional squabbles, but for the most part, they really love and admire one another and enjoy spending time together.
They are friends.
When parents ask us for pointers on encouraging deep and lasting friendships between siblings, here’s what we tell them:
1. Turn off the TV. Have you ever noticed how poorly family members treat one another on sitcoms? If that’s what kids see, that’s what they’ll emulate. Even “good” programs cut into time better spent in real-life interaction with family and friends. So switch off the set and make your own fun instead.
2. Play games together. Whether you’re playing card games or board games or tag, when you enter into your children’s world through play, you send them the message that you enjoy being with them. And those warm feelings get sent back to you and shared with one another.
3. Deal with conflicts swiftly. When arguments do break out or feelings get hurt, address the situation quickly. Ignoring conflicts only allows bad attitudes to fester.
4. Allow for kid-directed adventures. Sometimes kids dream up things to do together that don’t include Mom and Dad. When they’re little, it’s building blanket forts in their bedrooms or hiking through the woods. Later, it’s driving to Grandma’s to spend the night or flying to New York to tour Manhattan on bicycles (as two of our sons did last month). Not only do such adventures build character, maturity and confidence, but they bond siblings together in a way parent-directed activities alone could never do.
5. Consider homeschooling. When kids are together all day, every day, they learn to get along and to depend on one another for fun and camaraderie.
6. Hide the word in their hearts. Memorize Bible verses that deal with friendship, such as Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Then do your best to live by them.
7. Commit the matter to prayer. You can encourage your kids to be loving and kind, but only God can change their hearts. Enlist his help. Pray that he will give you wisdom and will help your children to be compassionate and sympathetic companions one to another.
8. Start ASAP. When it comes to building friendships between siblings, the earlier you begin the better. Let older children hold the littlest. Tell them what a great big brother or sister they are. Imagine with them the adventures they’ll be able to have together as baby grows.
Even if your children are older and haven’t been previously close, there’s still hope. Use whatever suggestions resonate most and restructure how you do life with your kids. Lead the way, set the example, be consistent, define your expectations, give them freedom to plan some adventures, be patient, be supportive, stay on your knees and don’t give up!
Jennifer Flanders is blessed to count her husband and children among her very closest friends. For more parenting pointers, visit her blog at www.flandersfamily.info.