I get so many messages on Instagram about how well my girls get along, and they do have a pretty nice relationship going for them. Despite what you see on social media, that does not mean they get along perfectly ALL the time. We have good days and more challenging days, just like every other family. The difference is — when we’re having a challenging day, I’m too busy providing resources for my girls to be able to share it all on Instagram. So I thought I’d put together a list of some tools we use to help support a strong sibling relationship between our daughters!
Teach Emotional Self-Regulation
I wrote a bit about this a few weeks ago, but the first step in learning how to handle relationships with others is FIRST learning how to handle your own emotions. We have spent a lot of time talking about our feelings and working through them in a healthy way ever since the girls were toddlers. Instead of sending them to time outs, we use a Calming Corner and Time-In Toolkit to be able to process big feelings and self-soothe. Even when we’re not experiencing big feelings, we sit together to do mindfulness exercises with PeaceMakers Cards. It takes a while to get this all going, but giving your children the tools to self-regulate their emotions will do wonders for their sibling relationships.
Allow for Quality Time Together
To begin to support strong sibling relationships, it’s important to allow your children to play together by themselves, without an adult butting in. Let them spend quality time together! This can be a certain time each day when you’re doing your own thing and they are playing together, or it can be scattered naturally throughout your day when you simply refrain from joining in and let them figure out how to interact together without your constant input.
Something that really helped for us was moving the girls into a shared bedroom. This was actually at their request, because they wanted to sleep in bunkbeds. I thought it would be crazy and they’d never actually sleep, but I was wrong. They slept really well together and were able to keep each other entertained early in the morning in their shared bedroom. This also forced them to figure out how to be together in close quarters and share a living space.
Don’t Force Sharing
Speaking of sharing, forcing sharing can actually damage sibling relationships! When you force your child to stop what she’s doing and hand it over to another because that child really wants to use it, your child begins to cling to her possessions with her life. She will resent the fact that she always has to share with her sibling. Instead, decide ahead of time which possessions are special and only for one child to use (for example, a lovey or special stuffed animal), and which are for turn-taking or group play (for example, a dollhouse or set of blocks). Allow your child to share when she is naturally feeling generous, but don’t force it.
Teach Appropriate Ways to Get Attention
One of the struggles with multiple children is that they are all competing to get your attention at the same time. Then they’re arguing about who was talking first and who interrupted, and it quickly devolves into a screaming match. Instead, teach them about the Waiting Hand. This helps each child to feel secure and know that she will have a chance to be heard.
Practice Conflict Resolution Skills
Arguments WILL happen between siblings no matter how strong their relationship seems to be, so it’s important to give your children tools to use when those situations arise. Something that is used in a Montessori setting is the Peace Rose, where each child has a chance to share their feelings and the two must come to a resolution together. Because we have these types of situations no matter what setting we’re in, our family is very flexible with what we use as our actual “peace rose” — we’ll use anything within sight at the moment of argument, since sometimes we’ll be out of the house when it happens.
Point Out Your Observations
Sometimes in the middle of an argument, you will have to intervene. In the moment, it is helpful to use a method called “sportscasting,” where you simply act as a narrator in the situation. Without making any judgments, you say exactly what you are seeing occur. This can help your children to see how their siblings are feeling or what needs they are expressing, and can give them the words for expressing their own and coming to a resolution.
After the fact, it’s also important to point out what you’ve noticed in your children’s relationships with their siblings. For example, “I noticed that Nora let you play with her new birthday present right away. That was very generous of her. How did that make you feel?” In time, you will see your child start to make those same observations in the moment to her sibling.
Siblings will always be able to find something to quarrel about, and there is nothing you can do about that. However, if you give your children these tools for building strong sibling relationships, they’ll be able to handle those disagreements healthily and efficiently and move on to a their regular loving, trusting relationships.