Have you ever seen a pair of siblings play so well together that you think, "Wow, what kind children they are"? When I see little ones playing well or looking out for each other, I usually assume that they are just really exceptional kids. But my view is changing. Strong sibling relationships don't tend to just happen, they are cultivated. Now when I compliment parents on their children's bond, I'll acknowledge all the hard work that they put into achieving such peace.
This realization hit me earlier this year. Amidst bickering and kids poking each other the second I walked out of the room, I realized there must be more that I could do to help my children get along! This is a post in progress. We haven't arrived at healthy, consistently loving sibling relationships yet, but we are trying, and I wanted to share with you what we're doing.
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Emphasize that Family Comes First
My kids LOVE each other, they do. So to emphasize how important there love for each other is, I've started verbalizing that family comes first. When a group of kids is playing outside and someone jumps at the chance to join them, sometimes I say, "But we are having time together as a family, and family comes first." This is a value that we have modeled in the past, but haven't verbalized.
I've also started to verbalize the idea that my children are friends as well as siblings. This reminds them to use skills that they've developed with peers, but don't necessarily use with their own siblings.
In the past, I used to say, "Stop fighting!" I bet you can guess how well that worked! I picked up the book The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene a few months ago, and it has helped our home immensely! The book taught me that some kids don't develop typical skills automatically, so saying "work it out with your brother/sister" would be an exasperating command because it requires a broad set of skills. It's very possible a child will need to be guided through this skill-building one little problem at a time.
Now, I address each problem one at a time, ideally not when emotions are high. Together we brainstorm a solution. I've done this with both of my children in regards to relational issues. This approach aligns so well with Charlotte Mason's method because I view each solution as a positive habit to form.
Another way I'm being proactive is by foreseeing trouble before it begins rumbling. Two of my children in particular struggle with sharing, and I've learned to set a timer the second someone grabs a toy. The timer helps them know that their time with the toy is up.
I'm Helping My Kids Talk Out Each Issue
If an issue does rise to the surface (let's be honest, they do more often than not!) I'm learning to talk through each struggle rather than shouting a half-hearted "no!" The sound of fighting can immediately drain my energy and my will to improve the situation, but by not addressing each situation that arises, I'm letting a learning opportunity pass me by.
This year, I took the Sibling Relationship Lab course and this is what really caused my mindset to change. Maybe my kids have some struggles that make them butt heads often, but my own struggles, the feeling of overwhelm when they start to fight, is what keeps them bickering.
Through the course, I've learned to address each child individually, allowing them to share their side of the story. This little step has made a big difference, because each child knows that they are being heard. I've also learned strategies for coaching them through the issues so that eventually, they will learn to be proactive on their own, even without my insistence or interference.
Changing my perspective and realizing that sibling bonding occurs slowly over time has really helped me to view each little issue not as a failure, but as an opportunity.