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12 Tips to Help Your Kids Create Loving Relationships With One Another That Will Last a Lifetime

12 Tips to Help Your Kids Create Loving Relationships With One Another That Will Last a Lifetime

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

References:

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

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

Signs of depression in children

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

  • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
  • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
  • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
  • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
  • Fatigue and loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
  • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
  • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

How to help your child with depression

Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

Testing

There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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  • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
  • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
  • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

Therapy

There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

3. Limit screen time.

Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

6. Help your child reduce life stress.

When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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    Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

    15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

    Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

    16. Talk about bullying.

    It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

    17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

    Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

    18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

    Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

    Depression in children is curable

    Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

    Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

    Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

    The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
    [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
    [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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