If you have kids, then you know that the fighting between them can seem endless. And while it may drive us parents crazy, it’s actually quite normal and healthy for siblings to fight. However, where is the line between ‘normal’ and ‘not normal’? How can you be assured that your kids will grow up and eventually get along? Here are 13 ways to raise kids who love and care for each other:
1. Start early – make good relationships a priority.
Even if you have teenagers, it’s not too late. However, if you have babies, toddlers, or younger children, you’re in luck. You have a wonderful opportunity to start early. Make sure you teach them the importance of getting along and being kind to one another. Model that behavior yourself, too.
2. Teach them to have a ‘We mentality,’ not a ‘Me mentality.’
Let’s face it – human beings are inherently selfish. It’s pretty much a survival mechanism. So what parents have to do is to socialize their kids out of the ‘Me mentality.’ Tell your kids that they are a team. In fact, the whole family is a team. Everyone’s actions affect everyone else’s. If you remind them enough times, it will eventually sink in.
3. Demonstrate and teach positive ways to work through arguments.
First, look at yourself. How do you work through conflict with other people (especially the other parent)? Do you yell and scream at each other? Or do you sit down peacefully and work out your problems in a rational manner? Hopefully, it’s the latter. But if not, you need to start by working on your conflict skills. Once you have learned how to work through arguments yourself, you can teach your kids to do the same. Sit down with them and talk them through the process. Teach them that there are positive ways to ‘fight.’
4. Recognize and encourage all children when one of them accomplishes something.
Maybe Johnny won a basketball championship. Or perhaps Jane brought home straight A’s all year. Whatever it is, make sure that you celebrate all accomplishments. Have the kids congratulate each other. And even if one or more of the kids isn’t accomplishing as much as another sibling, you can still be positive and encourage them to try their best – and tell them that you are proud of all of them. They are all unique.
5. Teach them to respect each other’s personal space and possessions.
Personal boundaries are important to many people. And when boundaries are crossed, usually a conflict ensues. Teach your children that sometimes people just need to be alone. And if they want to borrow a toy or another possession, they should ask permission. They should not just ‘take’ from another person and assume that everything will be okay.
6. Show how to give and receive an apology.
I’m sure we’ve all seen pathetic apologies from our kids many times. I know I have. You know the one: where they roll their eyes and mumble that they’re sorry. Make them look at each other in the eyes, speak clearly, and say, “I’m sorry,” over and over until you think they sound like the mean it. Then tell them that it’s easy to say those words, but when someone is really sorry, they change their behavior.
7. Consistently remind them that they are not the center of the universe.
Unfortunately, many adults don’t even know this. But if you teach your kids this simple fact early, it will help them get along. Everything will not always go your way. Sometimes you have to compromise. See #2 again about developing a ‘We mentality.’
8. Model good behavior yourself.
When I teach my communication classes and workshops, I always tell my audience to take a good, long, hard look at themselves. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. So you might want your kids to get along and love each other more, but if you are not showing them how to do it through your own actions, then they will never learn. Children model behavior more than they listen to your words.
9. Never speak poorly of anyone in the family.
If you’re angry at your spouse, that’s understandable. It happens all the time. But if you go around and say negative things about him or her to your children, then that will teach them that it’s alright to badmouth people. Make sure your words about everyone are positive. Even if you’re pointing out something that needs to be changed, you can say, “I know you can do better.” Never, ever, model bad or critical language in front of your children.
10. Have them buy each other birthday and Christmas presents.
Sure, it makes more work for you to drive them around and pay for the presents. But it tells them that it is important to remember their siblings on special occasions. Christmas is not just about how many presents Santa Claus brings to you. It’s also about giving to loved ones. And so are birthdays.
11. Establish positive family dinner routines.
Having regular family dinners together helps children stay out of trouble as they grow up. It is a time for everyone to talk and communicate. So start a ritual where everyone goes around the table and says something they love and appreciate about other members of the family. That establishes the fact that everyone loves and respects everyone. Eventually, it will become a habit.
12. Have them say, “I love you,” and hug and encourage each other.
Even if you don’t come from an affectionate family, it’s never too late to start the hugs and kisses, and saying, “I love you.” Saying hello and goodbye with a hug shows that you love and respect another person. And using words of encouragement also adds to the affection that is shown.
13. Remind them that after you’re gone, they will only have each other.
I don’t mean to sound morbid, but it’s true. If you are lucky enough to follow the natural order of things, the parents usually die before the siblings do. And once the parents are gone, they will be the only ones in the family left standing. Remind them that having a sibling or siblings is a precious thing, and that there is no one else in the world who shares the same parents. It’s something that should be cherished.
As I said in the beginning, it’s never too late to start teaching your children to love and care for one another. All it takes is some conscious effort on your part. But it’s worth it.