Encouraging Sibling Relationships
Do you sometimes feel like you need to wear a referee shirt during the day, just to keep the peace between your children? Does it seem like a constant challenge to deal with bickering and to teach sharing? I know that there were days I felt this way. My heart would be hurting as I envisioned my children fighting each other as adults. Oh, how I wanted them to grow up to be friends, loving each other.
Well, this past weekend, I had the privilege to speak at Books and Beyond, a local homeschooling mid-year conference. It was a special time of meeting with and encouraging families in their homeschooling journey as well as within their households. One of my workshops was a new one: “How To Make a Unit Study Out of (practically) Anything.” This was a hands-on presentation, where, after going over unit study structure, resources, and record-keeping, we actually CREATED two units on random topics people came up with. And by “random,” I mean really random! One theme we created was an entire unit on Light Bulbs, complete with studying light speed, Thomas Edison, and late 1800s history. Such fun!
Additionally, my husband, Dave, and I taught a workshop on strengthening your marriage, which was also a blessing to share!
But perhaps the most interesting experience I had this weekend was sharing on a panel “How to Build Sibling Friendships.” Myself, and two amazing ladies, Cheryl Bastian and Connie Albers, each shared several intentional strategies we used to encourage our children in building their relationships with one another.
One of the things my family focused on was building a family identity. We did this by encouraging our kids to see the heritage they shared. They were all part of a family that came before them and are a part of a future family. That means when one of us does something, it reflects on the rest of us. Therefore, bad behavior, unkind words, and selfishness reflect negatively on all of us. Conversely, sharing, concern for each other, and kind words reflect positively.
We wanted them to understand that “being a Seligson” meant something. They were all united in that. So, when they were struggling to get along, we would say to them, “Is that how a Seligson should behave? You all are Seligsons. You are in the same family, and Seligsons keep their word. Seligsons share."
We would remind them of Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” We have a responsibility to each other as a representative of this family.
And this idea ultimately translates to being in the body of Christ. Once they became believers they were a part of the larger body of Christ. Thus as Christians, their behavior reflected on others. We are united together in a body.
You know, when you meet someone and you discover that you are both Christians, you instantly have a connection you did not have before. You can begin to talk together immediately about deeper things besides the weather and the news. You are both children of God.
And my children are Seligson children. Your children are [Your Name] children. They carry a heritage and a responsibility to each other.
Sometimes, out of exhaustion and frustration, I would say to my kids, “When Dad and I die, you are all you will have! You will need each other!”
My heart ached to see them grow close together. But it isn’t something that happens instantly or easily. It takes continual and intentional encouragement to help them learn to be selfless and loving to each other.
We taught them to serve one another to build those bonds as well. As I would be homeschooling the kids each day, part of their time included the older ones playing with the younger ones while I worked with the middle ones. If you have ever served someone else, you begin to create a bond with them. Taking a meal to a family who is going through a difficult time, endears our hearts to them. We think of them as we are working on that meal, and we create a closer connection with them, right?
Service to one another builds bonds. So we encouraged that idea in our household. Yes, there was occasional complaint, and sometimes I had to step in to ensure that the service was done with a right heart, but overall it helped them to give of themselves to each other.
Sharing rooms and toys also helps them to work these things out, too. Of course, it would be easier to buy each of them their own duplicate toy every time, but that causes them to play apart and identify things as theirs and NOT their siblings’. Yes, they did have some toys that were their own, and we gave them space to have as their own, but it was definitely not exclusive.
Homeschooling our children also created a wonderful opportunity to build those sibling bonds. Learning together gave them common memories that they share today. If they are in a school environment, for example, and take a trip to the zoo where they see an elephant give birth – then they share those memories with their classmates who they may see for a few years until everyone goes off to different schools.
But if you take your kids to the zoo for a field trip and see the elephant give birth, you better believe that they will talk about that experience together for years.
The greater time they are spending together will give them more mutual experiences (good and bad) that will bring them together. They will grow up and think back to that “fun” day when Mom was driving the van and took a turn too sharply, popping the back tire, and it was raining, and this was before cell phones, and we all had to pile into a creepy store with a creepy person who kept staring at us while Mom was crying continually as she used his phone and had to wait for help.
Well, at least fun for them. They laugh together and cry together and grow closer and closer as they share LIFE together. It isn’t immediate. It isn’t automatic. It definitely involves lots of prayer and intentional effort. But it happens.
And it is such a joy to this mama’s heart when she sees her now adult children go out to lunch together, ask each other for help when they are car shopping, and PURPOSELY interact with each other.
Take time to be intentional in bringing your children together. Don’t get discouraged when they are bickering. They are learning how to live with another person who has a different personality and different strengths. This is a good thing. It takes some energy and effort to work out. But it is definitely worth it!