Motherhood · Parenting

Cultivating Sibling Unity

There are so many different things I am grateful about regarding our little family, but there is one thing that I feel an inward bliss for. 🙂 I think it’s one of my parental highlights to note how well the kids get along with each other. To watch them play together and enjoy each others’ company so much  gives me immense pleasure. It’s a beautiful thing to watch harmony grow.

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But how do we as parents, go about cultivating sibling unity? What roles do we play when our kids aren’t exactly each others’ best friends? How do we squelch a conflict before they turn into a rivalry? What environment do we create to make relationships flourish? To a large extent, I learn that parents play a paramount role in teaching, guiding, modelling and developing that unity. Our children need to learn to guard the preciousness of their relationships with each other and to practice the demonstration of love and kindness at home.

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As adults, our ability to get along with others in life also stem from how well we got along with our siblings when we were young. What are your own relationships like with your sisters/brothers? Do you have fond memories growing up with them? Or do you have perpetual inner conflicts about seeing them? Some childhood issues when left unresolved, can leave  a permanent scar that we carry into adulthood. As a parent, one of our most important jobs is to teach our children how to love and respect each other, because this will affect all other aspects of life.

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Firstly we can model it in our own marriages. Our relationships as husband and wife is the first real relationships children observe and learn from. Does Mum and Dad yell at each other when angry? We can learn to walk in love. How? By keeping a short account of offences. Praise each other lavishly in front of the children. Speak in a soft and kind tone. Try to resolve conflict in a mature way. Demonstrate how to resolve disagreement. Don’t pretend that you never get on each others’ nerves and that both Mum and Dad are perfect saints, but show how you apologise and love each other through your differences.  Demonstrate how much you love each other tangibly – this will be your kids’ bedrock of security to know that Mum and Dad’s relationship is strong.  Affectionate gestures, encouraging words, going out on date nights, having regular couch times, serving each other practically and being on the same parenting page go a long way towards showing the children what unity looks like.

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Secondly, parents need to take an active role in ensuring that conflicts are squelched before they develop. Do not be passive by taking a backseat approach and hoping that the conflicts will dwindle away by themselves. When we leave the kids to fend for and fight over an issue by themselves, we are allowing them to be judge over their own situations and they will demand justice for what is right in their eyes. This is not going to be a pretty picture and parental intervention is necessary before problems escalate and get out of control.

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Thirdly we should not let unwholesome talks go undetected in our home. Explain to your children that no tattling is allowed, along with exchange of idyllic words, mean comments or rude remarks. Fourthly, work hard on building a positive tone in the kids’ relationships with one another. One way we have learned is to create the kindness jar.

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One marble gets deposited into the jar every time we hear any loving, positive, edifying comments that the kids make to each other. When the marble is full, the whole family gets to do something fun or earn a handsome reward. At first the kind acts may be consciously done to get the marble, but once the novelty wears off the goal is to pick kind behaviours that come up naturally throughout the day. The beauty of this exercise is that it is about filling the jar together – it is a team effort and not an individualised reward. Kindness gets practiced and character shaped. Work on creating meaningful, fun filled family times with each other that are memorable. The day will come when the kids are older and will leave the home. They won’t remember all the little details you did to fill their days but they will remember special memories you do as a family.

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Devising family games is always a winner. In games, the playing field is levelled and everyone is on par with each other. You teach team spirit and how to work together while having fun. We love our treasure hunts, hide and seek, backwards days, bath tub nights, sleep overs and reverse role plays.

IMG_2920 (The children are having fun playing Mum and Dad and sleeping over in our bedroom while we sleep in theirs!)

We try to incorporate family activity night/family dates once a week into our schedule. When the kids are younger it is easy as you would be together most of the times anyway, but when the kids are older and everyone is busy, that it takes more commitment to keep the family life vibrant. Filling up each other’s emotional reservoir is also important. I find that kids will be emotionally topped to spend time together when they have appropriate amount of time being on their own and being together. This is where structuring your children’s day is important.

Supporting each other for events that require families to step in to help is also one way to show support for each other and to convey that ‘you matter’.  Whenever our children have an excursion, as much as possible we would try to enlist ourselves as parent helpers and to make it a family event.

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I find that the kids usually appreciate each other more when they know that their family is with them doing what is personally important to them. An excerpt below by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo best explain how to prevent sibling conflict. I have lost the link but here is what they wrote. Enjoy!

“Sibling Conflict How to Prevent It”

When we consider the various brothers and sisters mentioned in the corridors of history, we can easily concluded that conflict between siblings is a natural occurrence. And it is. From Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, to your own siblings, conflict is the result of a human agent—mankind’s self-oriented propensities, desires and whims that often clash with those around us. With children conflict is not the result of differences with a sibling but a lack of maturity to handle those differences. This is where parents can and should make a difference.

Before taking up the subject of sibling conflict we must first speak of to the matter of sibling rivalry. The two are not the same. Sibling rivalry takes place when a child perceives that he is not loved, or loved as much, or is in danger of losing parental love.

First, a child may act out to gain his parents’ attention. If that does not work, he will act up against his parents for attention and control. Where as sibling rivalry is between child and parent, sibling conflict is between siblings. Some mistakenly believe that sibling conflict is a phase children will grow out of naturally. Not so. It is a moral challenge in need of instruction, encouragement and appropriate correction.

What can a parent do to help minimized conflict within the home? First, understand it. Know that although sibling conflict is frustrating for any parent to observe, the good news is, it is curable. Set your standards high. Strive for true sacrificial love among family members. Do not be satisfied with siblings who just tolerate each other but siblings who look out for the emotional and moral welfare of each other.

How do you get there? One  At the appropriate age, help your children learn how to resolve their own conflicts. Teach them early on that peaceably resolving their own conflicts is sometimes better than having Dad or Mom come and resolve them. Include in this strategy the rule of “no tattling.” Tattling does not resolve sibling conflict but extends them. There is an old Hebrew proverb that reminds us: The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. Children bring reports to their parents about siblings for many reasons; some are legitimate, and others are not. The legitimate reasons include health and safety concerns or the honest desire for parental intervention and justice. With the latter, the child has learned that sometimes it’s better to consult a neutral mediator rather than escalate the conflict (by striking back at a sibling). Actual tattling is when a brother or sister snitches for the sole purpose of getting another sibling in trouble. This is malice; the desire to see others receive pain. In the hierarchy of childhood crimes, this may be one of the worst offenses. Often, it is done in hopes of gaining both parental approval and assistance—approval for not being the one doing wrong, and assistance in gaining the upper hand on his sibling by bringing the matter to his parents’ attention. Teach your children the difference between coming to you with legitimate concerns and coming to get a sibling in trouble. Humility and concern, not malice, was what prompted one sibling to report on another. Even then, they could not come unless they had first tried to get their sibling to stop whatever he or she was doing wrong before coming to Mom or Dad. It works well.

Two  Require verbal and physical kindness between siblings. Teach verbal and physical self-control. Give your children guidance in relation to their treatment of siblings and friends. These boundaries include restrictions on hitting, pushing, talking back, and a general lack of self-control. Take advantage of family times (such as at the dinner table or driving in the car) to model this. Take turns sharing what each one appreciates about another member of the family. One common-sense rule is for children to keep their hands to themselves. If a sibling gets hit, rather than striking back, he must have the confidence to know that his parents will bring justice. The door of escape is not retaliation, but seeking out the one in charge, whether it be Mom at home or a teacher on the playground. Justice comes from rightly exercised authority and not a child who seeks revenge. You have heard it said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Your children should never speak rudely to each other. Evil intended remarks such as, “I don’t love you,” “You’re ugly,” or threats like, “I’m going to tell,” are unacceptable. Keep watch! Training children to restrain their unkind speech is one of the most overlooked areas in parenting.

Three  Teach your children how to respect each other. The following areas of training are often overlooked:

  • listening attentively to a brother or a sister
  • responding with the basic courtesies and greetings such as, “Please,” “Thank you,” “Good Night,” “I’m sorry,” or, “Will you forgive me?”
  • interrupting properly, with only one person speaking at a time
  • sharing property that is reasonable to share
  • being genuinely happy when something good happens to a sibling

Four Encourage your children to be happy when something wonderful happens to a sibling or friend, such as when one receives an award, wins at a board game, or has an opportunity that the others do not have. Your constant encouragement in this area can make the difference between ongoing bickering between siblings and a peaceful home. Another way this is realized is at a sibling’s birthday. You do not need to buy a gift for everyone attending the child’s party. That only robs the birthday child of his special day. It teaches the siblings to selfishly look forward to a day of gifts rather than a day of giving, celebrating the birth of a brother or sister. Mothers will often say, “I don’t want anyone to feel bad because he didn’t get a gift.” But they will all receive a gift—each one on his own birthday. And if someone feels bad that he didn’t get a gift, that only tells you where that child needs some work—the virtue of contentment.

Five Provide an environment that will encourage service to others. Take household chores, for example. Researchers from Toronto, Canada, and from Macquarie University in Australia studied children from families who were given daily chores and those who were not. Their research pointed toward some interesting conclusions. Children who performed household chores showed more compassion for their siblings and other family members than children who did not share in family responsibility. Even more interesting was the fact that not all chores were considered equal. The kids who did family-care chores, like setting the table, feeding the cat, or bringing in firewood, showed more concern for the welfare of others than children who had only self-care responsibilities, such as making their own bed and hanging up their own clothes. Whenever children participate in the care of others, they grow sensitive to human need. Include your children in helping to secure the welfare of your family. That may mean bringing in firewood every day after school, helping out with weeding the garden, or setting or clearing the table. Whatever it may look like in your home, include your children in the experience of daily serving others. Their joy in doing so may surprise even you.

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