One of the greatest highlights of my life thus far has been to watch the relationship between my children grow. It has been a privilege to see Noelle step into her big sister role once her baby brother came along. When Jaren came along, I thought long and hard about how I wanted to encourage them to have a healthy sibling relationship. It is constantly at the forefront of my mind because I don’t believe close sibling relationships come out of pure luck. Strong families, healthy marriages, and close sibling relationships all take work.
There are no promises in life, but I have seen so many families successfully raise their children to be close and loving, that I believe it is possible to encourage, and build upon it. At the foundation of all these “strategies” is the central idea that I want to raise
children people who are kind, open, considerate, and respectful. I believe those traits really strengthen relationships of all kind.
The “gentle” part is a work in progress around here…
These are some ways we’ve tried to promote sibling love between our kids:
1. Model and encourage affection – This one is huge for us. Sam and I are really affectionate – to each other, and to our kids. In turn, they have become really affectionate with us, and to each other. We don’t just let our actions speak though, we also actively encourage affection by saying things like, “Jaren got a boo boo. Can you kiss it Noelle?”, or for no reason at all, “Jaren can you give Noelle a hug?”. Sometimes they do it all on their own, without any prompting, simply because we brought to their attention something nice the other did. Actions, strengthened by words.
They give each other hugs and kisses all the time
2. Change their perspective – Sometimes Jaren will get into Noelle’s stuff or follow her everywhere (brings back memories of my youth as an older sibling!), and she gets so annoyed. To remedy that, I’ll often say things like, “He just wants to be with you all the time” or “Look at how much he loves you,” and verbally draw attention to the positive aspects of an annoying situation. Looking at things from the perspective that “your little brother loves you so much he just wants to be with you” is very different than her original perspective of, “he’s following me around just to bug me.”
3. Praise them for positive behavior – We say things like, “Thank you for sharing, Jaren” or “You are such a sweet older sister. We are so proud of you!”… and it seems like praising their efforts to be loving and kind to one another has really paid off. They definitely get along more than they fight. When we praise them like this, it creates a cumulative effect, and I see them doing it more and more throughout the day.
4. The overhearing method – This ties into point #3, but with a different twist. Instead of directly praising my kids, I’ll let them overhear me talking to Sam about them instead. When I notice something sweet Noelle is doing for Jaren, or vice versa… I often turn to my husband, and praise their action and/or attitude. “Did you see that? Noelle offered Jaren some of her play-doh”. I actually think this makes more of an impact than directly telling them, and sets the expectation that good behavior elicits positive attention.
5. Treat them fairly – Real (or perceived) preferential treatment can affect sibling relationships, and stir up resentment and jealousy, even from a very young age. From the moment I brought Jaren home, I would often say the same things to him that I would say to Noelle It was really more for her sake than his; so she could hear that I was giving Jaren the same limitations I gave her (even though he probably could’ve cared less at the time). I try to be fair, impartial, and equal to the best of my ability. It’s not always possible though – sometimes Noelle does get extra privileges simply because she is older (she can stay up later, get more media, etc.), but Jaren sometimes gets more of my attention because he’s less capable of doing things on his own. Date days and one-on-one time helps offset some of that.
6. Spend time together/Provide opportunities for closeness – This one seems pretty obvious, but they are less likely to bond if they are not given opportunities to be together. This might be easier for us because our kids are close in age, but we do everything together whenever we can – they go down slides together, swing swings together, play in the dirt together, ride bikes together, draw together, bathe together, eat side-by-side, sleep in a shared room, and more.
7. Embrace their unique roles in the family – We often praise Noelle for being a “great big sister,” and encourage her to “look out for her baby brother” because “Jaren’s still little and doesn’t understand yet.” Setting these expectations and giving her a certain level of responsibility really brings out her nurturing and protective side. Noelle often speaks for Jaren too. When he cries or throws a fit because he doesn’t have the verbal ability yet, she’ll say, “I think Jaren wants to listen to ABC’s,” or “I think Jaren wants to go outside.” She really looks out for his needs! She watches out for him a lot too – holding his hand when we cross the street, feeding him purees when he didn’t know how to use a spoon, wiping up his spills, helping him down the stairs when he was still wobbly on his feet, and so on. Jaren, in turn, really brings out the goofy side of Noelle. He is constantly bringing out the giggles in the two of them, making silly sounds and faces, and dancing up a storm. He gives Noelle the courage she otherwise might not possess.
8. Step aside – Sometimes we just need to step back and let our children’s relationships unfold and fall where they will. If I see them in the middle of a conflict, I like to wait a few minutes before intervening (unless they call me in to intervene), because I want them to learn to figure out how to handle the conflict all on their own. They are both still learning through the skills of compromise, sacrifice, gentleness, and more… but they’re getting better each day.
We have our fair share of fights too, those feel inevitable! I don’t expect my kids to naturally be the best of friends just because they were born into the same family, but hopefully through our nurture, guidance and love, they will find their way there all the same.
In what ways do you encourage bonding between your children?