I remember sitting on the sofa with my mom when I was eight years old and explaining to her in between hysterical sobs that I simply didn’t want a baby brother (obviously it was a little late at this point to be weighing in on the matter…). Yes, I had wanted a sister when I was younger, but I had gotten used to having all of my parents’ attention and I certainly hadn’t wanted a brother. Couldn’t they possibly understand that?? I remember my mom calmly trying to explain to me that something magical happens when a mom has a baby and God gives her twice as much love so that each child can have the same amount, without having to lose any. I sobbed even harder then, asking why I couldn’t just have all of that doubled-amount of love then? I’m not sure what I expected her to do with the brother that was on his way…
Fast forward 27 years later and a) my brother is a pretty cool guy and b) I am having similar conversations with my seven year old daughter about her three year old brother.
Last week I was informed that, “Life was better before he was born because then I didn’t have to share your attention with him!” Ah, yes. What goes around truly does come back around then, doesn’t it??
So I did what any good parent would do in that situation and I gave her a good lecture on how she should be thankful that she has a little brother and should work harder to be better sister. Sigh. I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes at me and huffed off. Clearly I am not as good at parenting under pressure as my mom was. So the following day, I woke up and took to Google to find the answers and try again. It turns out there is some pretty good information out there about promoting sibling bonds.
Here were my two biggest eye-opening realizations from Aha! Parenting:
- High rates of conflict among siblings is better than them ignoring each other.
“In many sibling relationships the rate of conflict can be high, but the fun times in the backyard and the basement more than balance it out. This net-positive is what predicts a good relationship later in life. In contrast, siblings who simply ignored each other had less fighting, but their relationship stayed cold and distant long term.”
This has been an area of particular struggle in our house. To help avoid conflict, my husband and I have encouraged the kids to play separately, which might be keeping the peace short-term, but I have noticed that they are much more distant with one another than our friends’ children.
- It takes 5 – 7 positive interactions to counter act one negative interaction. So it’s important not to prevent conflict between siblings by allowing them to ignore one another, but it’s equally important to make sure that they are having many more positive interactions.
Here are some of the tips that my husband and I particularly liked and have been implementing with measurable success:
- Promote the idea of a sibling team. This can impact every aspect of home life, from doing chores to getting ready for school/bed to fun activities as a family. For example, instead of having your children race to see who can brush their teeth and get in their pajamas faster, have them work together to see if they can do it faster than they did it the night before. Put them in charge of setting the table for dinner together. When roughhousing at home or playing two-team games, always pair the kids together against the parents.
- Make sure saying “goodnight” and “I love you” to each other is part of the bedtime routine. My husband and I always make sure to tell each of our kids that we love them right before bed, so why not reinforce this display of emotion with one another also? Depending on the age difference between the children, having the older sibling read a story to the younger sibling can be a great way to promote bonding as well.
- Have experiences together. Take them outside of their normal routine, try something new together, develop memories together.
- Don’t resolve their conflicts for them. This is probably easy for many parents, but not for me. I am a fixer; there is something deeply ingrained in me that believes I have to resolve all conflict. So I am re-training myself to stop solving their problems for them, and instead trying to teach them the skills to resolve their own conflicts.
- When everyone is a little cranky, introduce an activity that they will both enjoy. Sometimes when little ones are tired or hungry or have had a bad day, they simply can’t resolve their conflicts (happens to adults too!), so I’ve started introducing singalongs and dance parties. Both of our kids love music and it’s really hard to not to laugh when mom is dancing like a crazy lady or making a fool out of herself singing into a spatula in the kitchen.
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