I met a friend at Discovery Place recently with our kids. They ran around like crazy, having a ball, and several hours passed. As we arrived at lunchtime, a squabble broke out between my two girls. I don’t even remember exactly what it was about- who got to open the ketchup maybe?– but I do remember I got to whip out my stern mom voice and eye bulging glare in a way that can only mean one thing: mom means business.
My friend smiled and said, “I’m really sorry to say this but I’m so happy to see that your kids act like this sometimes too.” My eyebrows raised as I snorted; of course they do! I really don’t believe there are a set of siblings out there that don’t get on each others’ nerves every now and then. Isn’t that written in the sibling instruction manual somewhere?
Yes, my girls bicker from time to time, but they also are really close. When they spend more than a few hours apart, they are both asking for the other. They are each others’ best friends at this point and my mama heart wants nothing more than to nurture that bond. I know we, as parents, can’t force anything, but there are small things I do to try and encourage that closeness.
Compliment kids in front on each other.
Real, personalized compliments. This is not to be confused with comparing them (eeks, that’s never a good thing!), but when giving sincere praise, I don’t feel I need to pull one of them aside. I let them hear each other’s strengths. Saying “you put forth a lot of effort and I’m proud of you” or “wow, that was really thoughtful to make her a card” reinforces our family values and creates a standard of positive reinforcement. It also allows them each hear what is special about each other rather than only what is special about themselves.
Clearly define family values/rules.
Respect and love are hot button topics for me. I don’t read books to the girls with the words stupid, lame, etc in them because I think they contribute to a culture of cynicism, snark, and hurt. And I sure as heck won’t let my kids say those or other hurtful things to each other. If I ever hear a statement that is aimed to wound the other, I quickly interject and clearly remind them that in our family we don’t talk to each other like that. This doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to acknowledge their feelings. I’m frustrated with you Kaitlyn because you won’t stop singing and I’m trying to concentrate: acceptable expression. You are so annoying: unacceptable. I have zero tolerance for hurtful language and speaking harshly to each other is unacceptable.
Let them sometimes come together over a common enemy- me.
It’s not my favorite way to encourage bonding, but it can be effective. Right now at ages 3 and 6, they really love being with me. They think I’m funny and that I know everything. Can someone tell me how to keep it that way forever? Please?
Realistically I know I can’t be both a best friend and a parent all through their adolescence and I’m going to choose parent. That means I’ll say no when I have to and probably ruffle their feathers because of it. For now it’s simple things like “no you can’t eat that chocolate because we are eating dinner in 15 minutes” but I know one day they’ll be bigger issues. Still, when they both aren’t thrilled with me, I notice they swoop in to comfort each other. In the above example, Hailey put her arm around Kaitlyn as she sniffled (always with the dramatics) and said: “that’s OK, maybe we can have some later” then immediately distracts her with a task she enjoys, like coloring or Legos. Truth be told, sometimes I say no just so I can watch this magic happen.
Play as a family.
We make a concerted effort to not be on the go and/or with other people all the time. We don’t always succeed, but it’s our overall aim to have a lot of family time. Experiencing day to day life or going on an adventure together, like bowling or rock climbing, creates connection and memories. There is a reason The Bachelor producers make dates out of sky diving; it bonds the two contestants. And I really like to get my parenting guidance from dating reality shows.
Encourage them to ask each other for help.
Have you ever been around a six year old? Wow, they are awesome. Sweet, insightful (much more than I ever would have imagined), and HELPFUL. Like, they can actually do things now. We say the phrase “problem solve” at least five times a day in our house. Can’t reach it? Problem solve. Can’t find it? Problem solve. Unhappy with the answer from mom? Problem solve. Whether it’s needing a chair or conquering boredom, Hailey and Kaitlyn can team up to help each other problem solve and I love watching them learn to turn to each other for help. Plus, it gives me a welcomed breather.
Tell them stories about your own relationship with your sibling.
Maybe you grew up eating frozen peas off the kitchen floor while playing dog with your brother //raises hand//. Maybe you and your sibling made the most epic forts or played hockey together in the cul-de-sac (yes and yes). Maybe your older brother and his friend tied you to an exercise bench and left you there long enough to make you realize it wasn’t part of the game (OK, maybe I won’t tell me girls that tale of my childhood….). My girls love hearing stories from when I was growing up and hearing funny stories about what Uncle Stat and mom used to play as kids makes them laugh and often I find them recreating our silly stories when they run off to play on their own.
Do my girls fight? Yes, of course they do. It’s expected that things aren’t going to be harmonious all the time, but my hope is that fostering appreciation and respect for each other will continue to strengthen their sisterly bond.
Share with me!
What moments do you see that bond your kids the most?
Are you close with your sibling?
What do you think encouraged or inhibited that?