“The family is where children discover how to be human. It’s where they learn how to respect and love other people.. where they discover their place in a family story larger than themselves.”
– Archbishop Charles Chaput
Encouraging good sibling relationships can be a confusing path. Sharing a space, fighting, taking turns and tattle-telling takes its toll on their relationships and our sanity as parents.
So how do we encourage good sibling relationships while practicing some form of justice and keeping our cool at the same time?
It’s a great question. And one that we struggled with in the beginning ourselves. But as we tried (and failed and tried again), we learned a few things that really helped us encourage positive, loving relationships between our children.
And the main thing we learned is that our kids will disagree no matter what we do. We just needed to have the perspective that it’s a good thing!
When you hear your children beginning to disagree what’s the first thing you think?
If it’s: “Ugh, not again!,” then you’re likely in the majority! But we need to keep our eye on the end goal. When they disagree, instead of thinking that it’s exhausting, view it as a learning opportunity.
Obviously, that isn’t the easiest perspective, but we won’t always be there to help them resolve their differences. It’s crucial that we give them the tools that they need to learn conflict resolution now, when we’re here to guide them.
Once they have the tools, give them the space to practice! Be mindful of how often you intervene. Give them the time to try the things they’ve seen you model to them and then be sure to follow up with them about how it went.
When we follow up with them about how a conflict went and how they handled the resolution, we have an extra opportunity for learning.
Not only will we be able to help them find the common ground between the child and their siblings, we also are able to model mercy.
Everyone makes mistakes. And that’s okay. Home is the place where it’s safe to make mistakes and to practice virtue by trying, failing and trying again. The key is to continue to keep trying, asking for forgiveness and resolving to do better next time. We teach this to our children by modeling it to them when they make mistakes (or fight with their siblings).
Teaching and modeling that virtue requires a certain amount of freedom. Just like was mentioned above, children need the space to practice what they’re learning. That aso means that they need the freedom to choose virtue. It’s not really virtue if they’re forced to act a certain way, so give them the space to choose, practice, fail and ask for forgiveness!
Finally, when it comes to sibling relationships, there have to be a few non-negotiables in your home and as part of your family culture. This will look different for every family, based on the things that are most important to you, but we found that there are a few things we’d recommend for everyone.
The first is that tattle-telling is not allowed. When this is allowed in your home, parents are the referees. Your children will run to you for every disagreement, which hinders that space and freedom to practice and learn virtue.
So when something happens, the children need to attempt to work it out amongst themselves first. If they’re having trouble or a sibling isn’t listening, then a parent can be consulted.
The second non-negotiable we recommend is to hang out with your kids! When you spend time with them, you model having fun together, especially when you’re spending time with two children who have a hard time getting along! Fun greases the gears of their everyday relationship, giving them something to fall back on when they’re not getting along while giving you lots of time to observe them!
The more we observe them, the better we’ll be at encouraging good sibling relationships!
You children have a lifetime together, so the fights they have as children will not end their relationships with each other. It’s our job as their parents to make sure they can thrive in those relationships later by setting them up for success!
Giving them the opportunity to learn and practice virtue and conflict resolution in our homes gives them invaluable experience in something that our culture really struggles with today – disagreeing respectfully. Encouraging good sibling relationships gives them the opportunity to learn this skill, all while building solid relationships with the humans that they’ll have lifelong relationships with.
While sibling conflicts can be exhausting to deal with, it really does pay off in the end when they have close relationships as teens and adults! And remember, the best gift we can give our children are siblings to walk through life with.
If you’d like to hear more about this topic, check out our most recent podcast episode.
You can also download our Managing Sibling Relationships resource, a cheat sheet of reminders that’s great for hanging on your fridge!