Siblings can be the best of friends, or fight like cats and dogs. While temperament and personality do play a role in sibling relationships, parental expectations are very powerful predictors of behavior. If you expect your children to get along and love each other, they are more likely to. On the other hand, if you believe that all siblings fight, and think that their fighting is out of your control, they will definitely meet those expectations. Your beliefs and expectations matter.
It is always best to start modifying behavior at a young age. However, it is never too late. Even if you have older children, your expectations should be for them to treat each other with love. Will every set of siblings grow up to be close? Definitely not, but some will. If you are ready to encourage sibling love in your house, here are nine strategies to try.
7 Do Not Try to Make Life Equal
Life is not always fair. Your kids might as well learn that now, from a parent who loves them. Your children are not the same. They do not all need the same thing at the same time. Equal and just are not synonyms, and it is impossible to raise kids equally.
Some children are more mature than others are, and will get privileges and responsibilities that their siblings do not. Children’s interests vary. Their needs are different. It is okay to treat them differently, as long as you are just to all of your children. Do not treat one as a favorite, and one as a servant. That’s just asking for trouble.
Here are some ways that parents try (futilely) to make life equal:
- Purchasing gifts for the other children on one child’s birthday
- Making sure that equal money is spent on every child
- Having all children go to bed at exactly the same time without taking individual sleep needs into account
- Dictating that grandparents (or other loved ones) must let all children participate in a planned outing
- Making all children enroll in a sport or activity that only one enjoys
- Ensuring that every dessert is always equally split up
- Counting everything to make sure everyone has the same number
Help Your Children Realize that They Can Celebrate Differences and Achievements of Others
As parents, one goal should be to raise adults who can celebrate the differences among people. Who realize that they do not always have the same abilities as those around them, and are okay with that. Rejoice when something good happens to one child in the family; do not demand that the same good (or good of the same value) be bestowed upon every child.
If you teach your child that s/he has the right to everything that everyone else has, you are setting your child up for failure in the real world. Instead, teach them to work hard for what they want. Teach them to celebrate the achievements of others, and use that as motivation to better themselves. These beliefs and attitudes start at home, so encourage love and justness rather than forcing equality.
6 Create a Sibling Playtime Section on Your Daily Schedule
If you do not make your children spend time together, they probably will not choose to do so on their own—especially as they get older. Instead, try having a sibling playtime every day. It does not have to be long; 10-15 minutes may be all that works for your family. Start small, but start somewhere.
During sibling playtime, your children are to play together. If you have more than two children, you may want to pair them up. Just rotate the pairs so they all get used to each other. The children may take turns picking the activity. One day they can play house, the next they can set up the train tracks. What they do is not nearly as important as them playing together is. Just make sure that if there is a big age difference, the activity is safe for both children (ie no small pieces if a young sibling will be playing.)
Set Up Expectations and Boundaries
As the parent, you have to ensure that sibling playtime does not get out of hand. It shouldn’t become a bickering session or a yelling match. Get things off on the right foot by setting up basic expectations and boundaries for this time.
Perhaps you will sit down together and make a list of ideas for this time. Maybe you will have a special snack after sibling playtime if everyone played nicely and refrained from yelling. Get creative, and see what motivates your children to play together.
5 Share Something Nice at Dinner
When you gather around the dinner table, you usually have a captive audience. You can start a tradition of sharing something nice every night. Each person has to share one specific thing that s/he enjoys about another person in the family.
It could be a personality trait (my brother is helpful around the house), you could point out a recent achievement (My sister got 100% on her math test.). A fun activity could be shared (My sister was nice when she colored with me in the coloring book.) There are many categories of nice things to share, so everyone should be able to find one thing to say.
Look for the Positives
Having time to sit down and say something nice about family will help your children learn to look for the positives. Purposefully looking for the good in life is a great skill to teach. Your children will learn that even if they do not always get along, they can find something nice to say.
4 Read Aloud As a Family
There’s something magical about listening to a story come to life before you. Reading aloud to your children will bring all of them together. They will be wondering together what will happen next.
If your kids are far apart in age, just rotate through the types of books you read. Listening to chapter books will help young children learn to make predictions. Their attention span will increase. Likewise, listening to stories is beneficial for older children.
Go Beyond Just Reading
Reading aloud is a great starting point, but don’t always stop there. Have your children draw a picture of a character while you read. Stop and have everyone make a guess at what a certain character will decide to do next. Find the setting on a map. Act out the story together. Cook a food mentioned in the book. Do something that goes beyond just reading and listening.
These shared moments help draw families closer together. They make children look forward to spending time together because they wonder what they will do next. That is what you are after—having your children anticipate your daily reading, together.
3 Play Games Together
Games bring people together. They encourage teamwork and foster some friendly competition. Just make sure you nip any inappropriate behavior (yelling, hitting, etc.) as soon as it starts in order to make sure that the game stays fun for everyone.
If you have children with wide age gaps, the game night can be a bit of a challenge. You need to keep the little ones engaged, and the older ones interested. Here are some tips for enjoying family game night with different aged kids:
- Make “house rules”
- Partner up a parent with a child
- Partner an older child with a younger child
- Set a time limit for games that can run long (to help keep attention spans on track)
- Take turns picking the game
- Have a designated reader to help non-readers
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Up Your Own Games
With a deck of cards and a little creativity, you can create your own family game. You could let everyone suggest a new rule, and truly make it a combined effort. When sharing this game with others, your children will recall the good times with siblings.
2 Be Active Together
Being active together can be fun! While you may not be able to participate in the typical activities based on your children’s temperaments and ages, you can still get active. Head to a park and play. Go on a walk to explore the neighborhood. Work in teams on a scavenger hunt outside.
If your children are old enough, you can try sports that are more traditional. Grab a basketball and shoot some hoops together. Hit the slopes and ski. Grab your bikes and explore a trail. The world is out there for you to explore, so do it together.
Play Active Games
Playing active family games is a great way to enjoy spending time together. They are often easily modifiable to ensure everyone has fun.
1 Encourage Your Kids to Cook Together
Cooking is an essential life skill, so teach your kids together. Once you’ve taught them the basics (and gone over safety) you can let your kids cook together. Start with easy tasks. Let them collaborate on ingredients for a trail mix for snack time. Have them pick vegetables for the salad, and carefully plate dinner.
As they grow in cooking confidence, you can slowly turn over more tasks to your sous chefs. Let them make cookies, plan an entire meal, or create a new beverage for the family. Your older children will likely master tasks sooner than your younger ones, and that’s okay. Just keep inviting everyone to cook with you. Your children will be learning important kitchen skills, and spending time together.
Kitchen Learning Challenges Are Fun Too
While you are cooking, you can present your kids with a learning challenge to tackle. Give them each a tablespoon and a cup, and a dish bin full of water. Ask them how many tablespoons it takes to fill up the cup. They can tackle this task together, working side by side. Here are three other kitchen learning challenges:
- Have one child pick a spice, and have another smell it with eyes closed. The child with eyes closed then tries to guess what spice it was. Take turns picking and guessing.
- Timed silverware sort: set a stopwatch and dump the silverware drawer. See how long it takes your kids to work together to sort them all.
- Alphabetical cans: Take several cans out of the pantry, and have your children arrange them in alphabetical order.