When there are two or more children in the family, sibling rivalry is to be expected. As parents, we seek to teach our children how to share and take turns, and to build a strong foundation of love and support that will stand them in good stead as they grow up into adulthood. But this isn’t easy.
You may worry that your children are fighting a little too much and sometimes wonder if the day will come when they will split hairs and go their separate ways. After all, it’s not uncommon for family squabbles to develop into full-blown issues that divide a family.
To help put these fears at rest, the best way forward is to raise your children to love and care for their siblings and the family on a daily basis, such that they will choose not to walk away when differences, no matter how harsh, arise. Here are ways to foster sibling love in your family.
We may not mean to play favourites, but sometimes we unconsciously label our kids and create unnecessary tensions in the home. It’s easy for us to slip into patterns of behavior that assume that our children will behave in certain ways, for example, “Tom will understand if we have to change plans. He’s never fussy.” Or “Tina is the joker in our family. You can’t take her too seriously.”
While it’s true that each child has their own unique personality, no one likes being pigeon-holed into a description, and doing so can create unspoken expectations and eventual rifts.
Celebrate the uniqueness of each child
You may know that each child is special and unique, but they need to know it, and hear it from you and each other. Constantly call out the good that you see in each person (while being conscious of the point above), so that each child gets the sense that they are loved and cherished for who they really are, not just for what they bring to the table.
It can be helpful to spend regular one-on-one time with each child, to give them your undivided attention for blocks of time. This helps them feel important and valued.
When siblings fight, resist the urge to just dole out punishment and consequences for a quick fix. Instead, take the time to understand the scenario, help them name their emotions, and coach them in listening to each other. These daily squabbles can become valuable opportunities for children to learn life skills like empathy, forgiveness and grace.
Give handles for conflict resolution
How two people in a relationship can bring up and resolve their issues is an important marker to their relationship.
When squabbles arise, besides dealing with feelings, coach your children in setting healthy limits and respecting each other’s boundaries. In other words, teach them to “fight well”. These skills will also stand them in good stead in their friendships in school, and eventually in the workplace.
Involve children in special family projects
Get your children involved in planning each other’s birthday parties or making each other’s birthday cakes. Save up to buy Christmas presents together, or to make gifts for the extended family. You can even volunteer as a family to help those in need.
Find ways to spend time together with a common cause. The family that plays together, stays together.
See also: 10 fun ideas to do with your kids