This post is part of the 30 Days Towards Connected Parenting series.
We’ve been talking mainly about connection between parents and children but I thought while we were on the subject we should talk about fostering connected sibling relationships too. We all want our children to get on well, be there for each other, and form a bond that will last a lifetime. But how do we foster that? Here’s what we do in our home…
Never compare children! This is SO unhelpful and the best way to go about causing jealousy and competition. I thought this was pretty obvious but I’ve had other people do it to my children so maybe it’s not. ‘Look how much dinner your sister has eaten, you’ve hardly had anything, you better catch up!’, ‘Look how lovely your sister’s hair looks because she let me brush it, you better let me do yours too’, ‘Can’t you please behave, look what a good girl your sister is’. How would you feel if these things were said to you? I’d probably start to feel pretty resentful of my sister. I’d probably also feel hurt and ashamed, damaging the connection with my parent too. If you want a child to do something, just ask them. Leave the comparisons and guilt out of it.
Try not to label your children. Definitely out loud, but also just in your head. It can be hard! Sometimes our brain wants to categorize people. ‘She’s the arty one’, ‘He’s the sporty one’, ‘She’s smart’, ‘He’s quiet’. But labels are limiting and stop you noticing all the other wonderful things about your children that don’t fit in with the label you’ve already given them. And if your children catch on and understand that you think of them this way, it can cause tension and competitiveness between siblings. ‘If my sister is the smart one, then what am I?’, ‘I’ll never be as good at sport as my brother’. We don’t want to limit our children in this way, or encourage siblings to compete for our love and attention.
Don’t take sides
Try not to take sides when mediating sibling struggles. Remain impartial and stick to the facts without casting judgement. When you take sides it causes one party to feel unheard, and increases the chances of them looking for ‘payback’. Not exactly conductive to sibling harmony!
Do encourage them to guide and learn from each other
Create a family culture of looking out for each other. You are a team! Let children know that they are a big influence in their siblings lives. Allow them to help take care of younger siblings if they want to. Show them that everyone has an important part to play in the family and something unique to offer.
Do role model affection and support
We talked about modeling earlier in the series here. Show your children how family members care for and support each other by acting how you would want them to act. Oftentimes I find that undesirable behaviours between siblings are a reflection of how I have been acting myself, oops! If there’s something you’d like to change think about how you can model more appropriate behaviours yourself.
Do remind kids about the limitations of younger siblings
Explain to your children how their younger siblings are just learning and growing and need guidance from us about certain things. Sometimes they make mistakes, e.g. hitting when frustrated, but they are not meaning to be cruel, just learning what they can and can’t do and how to deal with their big emotions. Also, look out for older siblings! Let them have a safe space to keep their special things where younger siblings can’t get to them. Show them that you value their work and will protect it. Everyone’s needs are important.
Those are the main things we focus on to encourage connected sibling relationships. Trying to minimise sibling competitiveness and jealousy also helps protect the connection between parent and child as there is no competing for love or attention. Everyone feels respected and equally valued.
How else do you encourage connected sibling relationships?