My parents have been married for over 40 years. They have six children together, and although all these children have grown up to be very different individuals, they have great bonds and friendships even into adulthood. My parents did so much to help facilitate love, respect, and positive relationships among all six of us.
I love my sibilings and I am grateful for them. My parents taught us to get along as kids, so that we could get along as adults and lean on one another during difficult times.
Now that I am raising three children with my husband I want my children to have the same type of bond that I developed with my own sibilings. Having a doctorate in psychology, I am always analyzing behavior according to what works and perhaps what doesn’t. I am committed to helping my children develop positive relationships with one another that will last a lifetime.
I recognize those relationship skills begin now and are learned in childhood. We can verbally teach our kids positive relationship skills, but we also model these skills through our own behaviors with others, especially with our spouse or partner. Below are my top 12 tips for facilitating loving relationships among siblings during childhood, so that these loving relationships will last a lifetime.
1. Teach your children the art of apologizing.
Teaching children to apologize and to do so effectively is a skill that can help them become successful adults. There are several components involved in a sincere apology. These components involve not making excuses, accepting their responsibility in the situation, voicing a sincere apology, and making the situation right again. Not making excuses means they don’t try to excuse their behavior or reaction.
For example, when a sibling hits another sibling and tries to justify their hit because their sibling stole their toy or hit them first, they are making excuses. They need to own their part of the conflict without excuses. This means verbalizing an apology that doesn’t have anything attached to it.
Inappropriate apology: “I am sorry I hit you, but you took my toys from my room.”
Appropriate apology: “I am sorry for hitting you.”
If there is a way the child can make the situation right, the parent can help point those things out. For example, if a child broke one of their sibling’s toys, then the child that broke the toy can apologize and also offer to use their allowance to pay to replace the broken toy. If they don’t offer, then it can simply be a part of their punishment, as a consequence for breaking the toy.
A parent can even add to that punishment because the child refused to offer to compensate for the broken toy on their own free will. It’s all about consequences and making sure the child understands those consequences and how they got to where they are in the situation. It was because of the choices the child made.
2. Teach your children the art of forgiveness.
Research by Cohen shows that there are emotional and physical implications when someone chooses to not forgive. A noteworthy quote from this research article: “The emotional and physiological data suggest that a sustained pattern of unforgiveness over time could result in poorer health because of the negative psychophysiological states that accompany unforgiveness.” Teaching children how to appropriately forgive can help them live more emotionally and physically healthy.
Parents need to teach their children that forgiveness is an action. It starts with the words “I forgive you.” It’s OK to let the child know that hard feelings may still be there, but time will mend things if they have a heart of forgiveness. Having a heart of forgiveness means they give empathy toward the offender. It also makes the assumption that the offender is good and did not intend actual harm, because their actions were done out of heightened emotions or accidentally.
Forgiveness can be complicated sometimes, so simply teaching your children to say “I forgive you” and then hug one another is a step in the right direction. Saying “I don’t forgive you” should not be allowed among siblings. It will begin the process of harboring resentment and grudges and no good parent wants that for their children.
3. Have them help one another.
Having siblings help one another for the small things in life will hopefully lead to them helping one another with the big things in life when it really matters. They can help each other from early ages too. Siblings who are slightly older can help with some of the basic care of the younger ones, such as assisting parents with dressing, feeding, and cleaning younger siblings who need help doing those tasks. They can also do fun things for one another, such as read stories or sing songs to one another at bed time.
My daughter sings to her younger twin brothers at bedtime, and it is a sweet time that I hope they remember as adults. It is important that they see one another as helpers to each other or more importantly, they view their sibling relationship as a team working together.
Try to recognize the opportunities where they can help one another, as you want these positive interactions to outweigh the conflict that so inevitably happens between siblings. When parents take the time to create opportunities for positive interactions, such as though having siblings help one another through daily tasks, then the sibling bond becomes stronger and interactions becomes more positively focused.
4. Have them say “I love you” daily.
I once heard a Mom say “well, I don’t make my children say I love you to one another; I want them to do it on their own free will.” That sentiment is very nice; however we as parents, must teach our children how to behave and interact with one another. I would love for my children to voluntarily wake up every morning and make their bed on their own free will, but it isn’t going to happen.
We teach our children what is good and appropriate behavior. Teaching them to say “I love you” when appropriate, such as going off to school or going to bed at night, is showing them it’s good to verbalize affection toward one another. Doing this with your spouse is good modeling of this behavior as well. You want your child to be able to express love for others as adults, so help them do so with their siblings today.
5. The expression of physical affection is taught.
Once again, physical affection, much like verbal affection is taught. There are some kids who would never hug if it wasn’t taught to them. Every child is different, but they need to see that physical affection such as hugging, holding hands, and other appropriate physical affection is good between siblings. In our home, when there is an apology that takes place, it is followed up with a hug.
Physical affection is very important because research by News in Health shows that physical affection such as hugs releases positive hormones called oxytocin. Some important information was noted in this article, something all parents should know: “One thing researchers can say with certainty is that physical contact affects oxytocin levels. Light says that the people who get lots of hugs and other warm contact at home tend to have the highest levels of oxytocin in the laboratory”.
Hugs and physical affection at home affects our level of oxytocin, which affects our levels of happiness. Kids need hugs and appropriate physical affection from Mom, Dad, and siblings.
6. Siblings need time together outside of their parents.
If parents are always facilitating the interactions between siblings and are always with siblings in order for them to interact together, then a bond between siblings outside of their parents cannot occur. Kids need time to play together and spend time together during the day outside of their parents.
If your schedule is too packed and the kids don’t have that time to spend together, it is at the detriment of their current and future relationship as siblings. Cut back on outside activities to ensure that siblings get time together to play, learn, and grow together. Preferably without a parent hovering over them in a manner which inhibits their natural interactions.
7. Don’t create a competitive atmosphere.
Don’t create a competitive atmosphere among siblings by comparing their abilities or pitting them against one another. Remember, you want them to get along together, as a team, not be against one another. Saying things like “why can’t you be more like Sally” or “clean your room like Johnny cleans his — why can’t you be like him?” Those sort of statements pit children against one another and make the children resentful of their siblings.
Instead, praise children for their individual abilities and skills. Try to keep the praise as equal as possible. I recognize that sometimes this is not easy and some days are better than others. It is important as a parent to TRY to make things fair and equal in regard to praise and affirmations.
You may not be able to praise them for the same things, and that is OK, as all children are different and are born with individual abilities and talents. Parents need to recognize the individual and at the same time — not compare them to their siblings. It only creates hard feelings between siblings when comparisons are made.
8. Model kindness and respect.
A parent sets the standard for how people are to treat one another in the home. Much of this is done through modeling, whether we like it or not. This is why it is so important for parents to treat one another with respect and kindness.
This means being nice to one another by helping each other and speaking with kind tones and words on a regular basis. Kids are watching how you treat your spouse and others, so be a good example for them. If you are sarcastic and rude to your spouse, then don’t be surprised when your kids act that way to one another.
It is hard enough to teach good behavior. If our modeling undermines what we are teaching them verbally, then we are spinning our wheels.
9. Create family memories they can carry into adulthood.
Spend time as a family doing fun things that facilitate positive interactions and memories. It can be as simple as playing board games, going to a water park, or doing a family vacation. Making an effort to create memories that your children can reminisce about as adults is important.
They won’t want to revisit the hardships, the bickering, and the fights, as those are not pleasant memories to revisit. Instead, be sure the family is creating memories that are worth revisiting. If life is all work and no play, the kids suffer, as do their memories of childhood.
Take the time to cherish their childhood, as it is fleeting. The memories they make will last a lifetime, so make sure there are plenty of positive ones. Take lots of photos, so you have proof of those good time. A photo is worth a thousand words, so take photos when positive family times happen.
10. Help them learn conflict-resolution skills.
Sibling conflict is inevitable, but it is also something parents should be concerned about. Research by Howe & Recchia found a correlation between severe conflict in sibling relationships during childhood and maladjustment in adulthood. For example, one finding cited by Howe & Recchia was that “extreme levels of childhood sibling conflict are related to later violent tendencies as adults.”
It is important that there are rules in place in a household first; the next step is helping children resolve their conflicts through some parental mediation. I have a good example of this recently in our home: two of the kids were fighting over a toy. In our home, if toys are fought over, they are taken away. We call it toy time out.
In this particular instance, I warned the kids that they had one minute to decide how to share the toy and stop arguing, or the toy would be taken away. Sure enough, my daughter told her brother he could have it first, and then she would play with it in a few minutes when he was done. The argument ceased between them without me having to even go into the room.
The key to making this work is to follow through every time. If they hadn’t come to an agreement within a minute, I knew I had to follow through and take away the toy. Not following through would otherwise mean to them that my threats are meaningless, and they don’t have to actually problem-solve anything together because there aren’t consequences. Finding the teachable moments to help moderate conflict-resolution skills is helpful to children learning to implement these skills on their own in the future.
Conflict resolution doesn’t have to be complicated. It is simply finding a solution that works for both parties by having both people understand the other person’s perspective. Kids can learn to do this with some guidance and mediation from their parents.
11. Help them see the good and positive in one another.
Teaching your children to give their siblings the benefit of the doubt can help them go a long way in developing a positive relationship. Help your kids see that they don’t mean to harm one another, meaning they give them the benefit of the doubt in situations when one child feels wronged by the other.
For example, if Suzy pushes her brother down because they are playing tag and it got too rough, then the parent can help the situation by asking Suzy if she intended to push her brother to hurt him. Of course she will say no, and the parent can give the opportunity for her to explain that it wasn’t done on purpose, and that it was indeed an accident.
Going through this type of scenario from time to time helps you show your kids that they don’t intend actual harm to one another. Accidents happen and sometimes emotions get too high as well. Helping them recognize their siblings are indeed good human beings and not out to get them is a great thing a parent can do for their kids.
12. Let them know how lucky they are to have one another.
Not every child gets a sibling. Let children know that they are lucky to have their siblings. They have a special bond and place in the world because they do have siblings. For many people their sibling relationships are the longest lasting relationships they will have in their lifetime. Help them start it out on the right foot by teaching them how to have good and healthy sibling relationship during childhood.
Cohen, Andy (2004). Research on the Science of Forgiveness: An Annotated Bibliography. Whttp://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_science_of_forgiveness_an_annotated_bibliography
Howe, N. & Recchia, H. (2004). Sibling Relations and Their Impact on Children’s Development. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_science_of_forgiveness_an_annotated_bibliography
News in Health (2007). The Power of Love: Hugs and Cuddles Have Long-Term Effects. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2007/february/docs/01features_01.htm
Featured photo credit: Having fun on #AmericasBestBeaches by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater via flickr.com