How often do you hear parents say things like…
“They’re just so mean to each other!”
“They bicker like all siblings do.”
“They beat the crap out of each other.”
“If they’re together, they’re arguing.”
“I’m exhausted just from getting onto them for fighting all day long.”
“Why can’t they just play nicely like other kids do?!”
… ? Or maybe you say those things yourself.
If you do, don’t feel guilty. Just practice acknowledging it so you can identify the moments when you could try something different.
Although sometimes it seems impossible, siblings really can be raised to adore one another and WANT to treat each other better than they treat anyone else.
Before I met my husband and his brother, I fell into the category of thinking all siblings disliked one another. My mom had strained relationships with her siblings, my dad almost never interacted with his siblings, and my own sister and I spent most of our childhoods leaving bruises on one another. I just thought those types of sibling relationships were normal.
And while they may be common, they’re not “normal.” At least, they don’t have to be.
My own daughters are nine and five right now, and they’re inseparable. (And no, this is not an article to brag. In a second, I’ll tell you all the things they suck at, and how those things are my fault too. Lol) They genuinely enjoy spending time with one another more than they enjoy any other person on the planet. They worry about each other, cry when the other cries, and hardly ever argue. If one of them is given a gift by someone, the first words out of their mouth are, “Can my sister have one, too?”
The majority of their relationship with one another is a direct result of the way we’ve raised them. Their dad and I decided before they were born that we would make their relationship one of our biggest priorities, and we’ve never waivered on that.
I’m going to tell you what our method is for accomplishing that, but first…. the things my kids are terrible at because of me.
1) They’re lazy AS HECK when it comes to housework, and it’s because I’ve set the example of that. Not only do I let housework pile up myself, but I also don’t ask them to do household chores very often. There are only so many things I can make a priority, and, folks, that just ain’t one of them.
2) They leave the house without brushing their hair or having matching clothes allllllll the time. Again… I don’t set a great example of this. I don’t feel guilty about it because at least they’re not superficial people, but I do wish I was providing them with a better foundation of how to look presentable when necessary.
3) My oldest is more emotional and more anxious than what’s healthy. This is because I was extremely anxious when pregnant with her and during the first two years of her life. Her four-times-a-day crying can be really exhausting now, especially when I know it could have been prevented.
Whew. Okay, there’s my dirty laundry when it comes to parenting.
Back to sibling relationships.
Here are the three biggest ways we’ve made sure our kids would have a healthy relationship with one another (that somehow actually worked – hallelujah, thank ya, Jesus).
1) We don’t allow rude voice tones EVER.
If our kids speak to one another with tones that are snotty, catty, rude, bossy, demanding, or whatever else, we make them redo that interaction until they’ve done so in a way that is respectful. Respect shouldn’t just be given to adults. It should be given to every human being you speak to, no matter how small they are.
A big part of this is helping them know what a respectful voice should sound like. We can’t just tell them, “You sound rude,” without showing them what kind sounds like. If one of our girls said something like, “Don’t touch me!”, we would stop them and say, “Please use a more respectful voice when you talk to your sister. Try saying, ‘Please don’t touch me right now.'”
They repeat what we’ve said, naturally mimicking the tone we’ve used to say it. Using a calm voice over and over again builds a sort of muscle memory. Once they do it enough times, it becomes natural.
2) We try really hard to exemplify how people should be treated.
Kids copy what they see their parents doing, whether it’s intentional or not. If we gripe about our siblings behind their backs, our kids will do that, too. If we make complaining acceptable by doing it ourselves, they’ll do it too.
We try not to talk about other people when they’re not around, try to speak to each other in calm, respectful ways even when we’re mad, and when we hear other people in public talking to each other disrespectfully, we ask the girls how those words could’ve been said in a nicer way.
We also make sure our kids see us speaking to THEM in respectful ways. We don’t raise our voices unless it’s an extreme emergency where we need to get their attention.
Why don’t we yell? Because it isn’t necessary. And we want to practice what we preach.
We also apologize to our kids A LOT. We take responsibility for our part in any disagreement with them that we can. When they’re having a hard day emotionally, we try to say things like, “I’m sorry I didn’t notice sooner that you were struggling. Next time, I’ll try to pay closer attention so I can support you better.”
And when we DO lose our cool, we apologize to them. We hug. We snuggle. We forgive. We do “time ins” instead of “time outs.” When someone says we’ve hurt them, we believe them. When someone asks us to stop, we do.
In every situation, we try to be intentional. We’re not perfect, but we work really hard in this one area of raising our family.
3) We use short tag lines to explain why we choose to be kind.
When we tell our kids to speak kindly to each other, we use short phrases that give them a rationale for why being respectful matters. We make sure they’re short, simple, and easily repeated when the situation arises again.
Some that we use often are…
“When you’re kind to your sister, she’s more likely to be kind to you.”
“When you’re kind, you’ll feel better about yourself.”
“When you’re rude to your sister, it makes her feel like you don’t love her.”
We almost never use the “Because I said so” explanation with our kids. We want them to be able to make good choices for themselves, even when we aren’t there to force them to do it, which means making sure they understand why we want them to behave that way.