Aug 7, 2014

Fostering healthy sibling relationships

Lately, I've been running across adults who are trying to foster close family relationships while sadly sighing that they didn't get to develop a relationship with their own siblings growing up.  It wasn't that it was discouraged, but rather it wasn't an intentional goal of their parents.  Welp, I'm a homeschooler.  If we aren't intentional about fostering sibling relationships, then this house is going down in a blaze.  We are all up in each other's grills all the time. We had better learn to like each other and be able to spend lots of time together.  But I'm telling you, lots of time does not quality relationships make.  Luckily, I grew up in a family where all four siblings were encouraged to be close friends, and you know what?  We still are.  But that didn't just happen because we were told, "You WILL like each other so there."  If only it were that simple (though that phrase definitely has it's uses at times).  

There were very specific strategies that my parents used that fostered that closeness. I'm using them myself.   I would like to share some with you.
 1.  TIME   I know, I know.  I just said that lots of time does not a good relationship make.  But you have to start with it.  As I look around at the kids that my kids are friends with, it seems to me that parents are frantic and over-scheduled.  "Too much time in the house breeds trouble" seems to be the popular way of thinking.  Personally, I tend to think it's the opposite.  Not enough time in the house breeds trouble.  Kids need time to just BE.  Playdates seem to be a huge culprit.  I don't let my kids have too many for days on end.  Nor do I schedule one everyday.  Which seems crazy to have one everyday, but I know a lot of people who feel like they should all summer long and every weekend during the school year.  Kids need space to think, be together as a family, and figure out how to not be constantly entertained by someone else.  This means that their sibling is their only option and their own ideas are the entertainment.  Don't be afraid to leave space for boredom.  Boredom breeds creativity.  It also gives the children responsibility for their relationships.  They'll take initiative to play with their siblings if the sibling is their only option.  Sometimes the neighbor kids will knock, and we are home and doing absolutely nothing, and I'll still say that we aren't playing today.  If we haven't had enough "home" time, then nobody comes over. To the complete disappointment and howls of my children.  They get over it.
 LAUGH:  Often and much.  Tell jokes, be silly, have inside jokes.  Humor pulls relationships together.  A sense of play and light-heartedness draw families together.  Parents have to take the lead on this. The kids will follow. They'll be delighted. Usually I find that it's the jokes I've started/told/created that the kids continue on with when they talk to each other.  Then they get old. Fast.  But kids will kill a joke until they learn the patterns and nuances to create their own.  It's part of how they learn. So suck it up and hear that one joke about the duck for the millionth time. We model everything for our children so learning to have a sense of humor in relationships starts with us as well.  However, I will give one word of caution: Jokes that pit one sibling against another or are at one child's expense will tear them apart faster than anything.  I am not talking about mean humor.
 CREATE COMMUNAL SPACES IN YOUR HOME:   You know, we don't really have a "boys" area or a "girls" area.  Doors to rooms are not allowed to be closed unless you are sleeping or getting dressed.  No room or toy is "mine" or "off limits".   We share pretty much everything.  The girls even share underwear.  I'm thinking that one day it'll dawn on them that maybe that is taking the communal spirit too far, but so far it's shares-ies.  They have no idea this is awkward yet,  but I will enjoy reminding them when they are teens, heh heh.  However, the communal spirit definitely fosters the whole idea that we are a family and one unit caring for each other.
 RESPECT EACH OTHER:  Having said nothing is off limits as far as ownership, we do respect each other's need for space.  For example, if Hunter wants to read quietly in his room alone, we respect that.  If Ainsley has set up a really cool doll house arrangement, it is not OK to destroy it and make another without asking.  We also do not encourage pitting kids against each other; and saying anything mean, even in teasing, is not done.  We respect each one for what they bring to our family, and our differences are not something to tease or put down.  We are all a little bit quirky with our own little oddities but that's what makes us the Plumb family.
ALLOW THEM TO FIGHT:  Allow your kids to fight on their own.  Don't encourage tattling unless there is something going on that is dangerous.  Encourage them to work out their own problems without jumping in.  This SO tough to do, because it's easy to hear a shriek of anger and quickly decide yourself how it should be handled and bark out an order.  However, kids do better when they can figure out their own problems with each other.  It gives them ownership and responsibility for their own problems which helps them in all relationships.  I prefer to not tell them how a problem should be solved.  I say things like, "You need to figure out how to both play with that.  If you cannot, I will take it.  When you have decided how to play together, I will give it back."  Sometimes they will have to be separated for a few minutes while they each think about a solution.  But encourage a solution of their own, though you might have to talk them through the thinking process.
TALK A LOT.  PLAY A LOT.  This goes without saying.  You should just probably do it.  Strap on those  nerdy bike helmets and bike around the block.  Find something that you all love to do together.  We love to boat.  Hours and hours of our family time is spent on the lake.  Just us.  Sometimes I don't always want to go, but I'm never sorry once I'm out there.  Just get out there.  Make memories together.  Don't always divide up into the guys and the girls.  Some families do that.  The dads always take the boys out for "man" stuff and the moms take the girls out for "girl" stuff.  Of course that's fun too, but don't always do that.  Save that for rare occasions, and for the most part, go out together.  It's messier.  Someone will probably not start off happy, but don't let that deter you.  In fact, it's good that way.  It shows that everyone's here because we move and play as a unit and everyone is important, and it's good for kids to figure out that entertainment and playtime is not always about them, but about the community they are in as a whole.

So did any of that surprise you?  Give you food for thought?  What do you do?  I'm always game for new ideas too!

1 comment:

  1. I laughed out loud when you said your girls share underwear! I have been fighting a losing battle to keep my girls' undies separate and I think I am going to throw in the towel now and keep it all in one place. I can't remember whose is whose anyway! HA!

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