My three daughters are playing Legos together in the middle of the living room. All together. There are squeals, giggles, and the occasional squabble.
I had other plans for this afternoon. One of my seven year old twins needs read with me while the other has piano to practice. My five year old still hasn’t done her chores.
But it’s ok.
What is happening here is more important than academics, music, or chores. They aren’t just building Legos, they are building friendships.
A sibling can be one of life’s greatest gifts. In honor of National Siblings Day today, here are some easy, everyday ways to help your children to grow into best friends.
(Pssst! Toddler moms will want to read these if you are expecting a new baby or just welcomed one!)
1. Avoid Over-scheduling
Above all, siblings need time together–unstructured and uninterrupted time. They need time to be bored together, create together, cause some trouble together, and make memories together. Resist overscheduling your kids, so they don’t grow up as strangers coming and going. Create space in your lives for family traditions like game night, movie night, and family dinners. You could even have a kids dinner night where they make dinner for the family. It might be cereal, but it also might be fun!
2. Limit Electronics
Do you have a tablet for each kid? When kids have too much access to electronics, they tend to retreat into doing their own thing, separately. Screens will always be there, but siblings grow up. If they grow up separately, they will never get this precious time back to build the sibling bond. It’s a lot harder to build as adults who no longer live under the same roof. Here are some great tips for cutting back on screen time.
3. One-on-One Time
Take time to spend with your children one on one. Don’t talk about their sibling, just be with them and do something you can enjoy together. Fill up each child’s love tank regularly so they know you love them just they way they are. There’s no need to compete when your children already know they have your unconditional love.
4. Celebrate Together!
When someone in the family has a reason to celebrate, you all celebrate. If it involves treats, even better! When potty training, my third got to give a treat to everyone when she used the potty. Her big sisters loved celebrating with her and she loved being the one to earn their praises. Celebrate the big and little things in life together. Birthdays can be a tricky time for siblings, but check out these ideas to celebrate birthdays without sibling jealousy. The Get Along Jar is also a great tool for siblings to celebrate together.
5. Use the Influence of Fictional Siblings
Be wary of books, shows, and movies which depict siblings as rivals. Even if the siblings come together in the end, your child is much more likely to be impacted by the relationally aggressive behavior the characters exhibit throughout the story, than the very short resolution where they finally get along. Young children may mimic the sassy, name-calling ways of fictional siblings. At the very least, they get the idea that it’s “not cool” to think your siblings are cool.
Read aloud together often! Bonds strengthen when you fall in love with the same stories together. The Boxcar Children is a great example of a book depicting a strong sibling bond. You can find more great sibling books here, here, and here.
6. Teach People How to Treat You
I asked my kids for their ideas on this topic. Without hesitation, one said, “You gotta teach kids that what they say and do to the little brothers and sisters is what the little ones will say and do to them.” It’s so true. Explicitly teach your children that if they want to have a kind, fun, and helpful brother or sister, they need to be one.
A true story I tell my kids is about a friend who always shooed away her little sister, even though I didn’t mind her hanging out with us. Later, when we were in our teens, my friend remarked dejectedly, “My sister never has time for me. I don’t know why she never wants to hang out with me.”
Sadly, I knew.
7. Educate Yourself
This infographic is a great tool, but one of the very best things you can do to help your children bond as siblings is to read the book, Siblings Without Rivalry. It’s easy to read, but will make you think. You’ll learn a lot about your own sibling relationships as well as how to move forward with your children.
Happy National Siblings Day!
Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.
Carol Ann Albright Eastman
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