Every relationship requires nurturing, especially those between siblings. While you can’t force your children to develop a strong bond, you can create an environment that makes it possible.
You may come from a family with strong ties, giving you an understanding of how to build a solid connection. But if you don’t, the idea of your kids developing a good relationship may seem like a challenge. Fortunately, parents can set their kids on the path toward lifelong closeness and respect no matter where they come from. It does, however, take intentional effort, love, and a willingness to try every day.
1. Display Respect for Every Member of the Family
Respect is paramount in every facet of life. But in a family, guards are down, and it’s easy for emotions to run high. As parents, it’s important to establish a culture of mutual respect, even though you may have the final say. Remember that every person in your family, no matter their age, is a human worthy of respect. While there may be times where parental rules override the kids’ demands, make space to hear everyone’s perspective.
If one child wants to go on a walk and the other doesn’t, have the other child choose tomorrow’s activity. Establish clear rules for how your family makes decisions, especially when there’s an age gap to consider. Not everything in life will be fair, especially as kids’ maturity, tendencies, and preferences differ. But when you can, set rules and expectations for how things get done, sharing those details with your kids transparently.
For example, when it’s time to consider phones for kids, a younger child may be jealous of an older sibling’s new tech. Host a family meeting to share why and how the introduction of tech is handled in your house. Set expectations for how and when the older child will use their phone. Establish respect for each person’s personal space and indicate when younger kids might get a phone of their own. Be consistent, and you’ll be able to navigate seasons of high emotion with grace.
2. Listen to Each Other’s Hopes, Dreams, and Fears
Active listening is the secret sauce for most relationships. As humans, what we mostly want is simply to be heard. Give your kids your full attention, make eye contact, and repeat back what they’ve said to confirm understanding. Teach your children to do this with you and others to improve comprehension and display respect.
This practice can enable your kids to better understand one another, too. For better or worse, it’s easy to be self-centered, focusing on one’s own needs instead of others’. Display what active listening looks like with your partner and children, leading by example. You won’t always be perfect, but do your best and acknowledge when you could have done better. Admitting your mistakes with listening and in other areas of your life can help your kids follow suit.
Once your kids begin sharing, listen closely, even when their stories and ideas are out of this world. One of the most precious things is a child’s imagination, and it doesn’t take much to squash their creativity. Even if what they’re saying is outlandish, encourage them to share what’s on their mind with you and their siblings. Over time, they’ll come to know that their voice will be heard and that their input is wanted. This trust and transparency can allow siblings to support one another, even during tough times.
3. Facilitate Shared Experiences
You can’t force people to become friends, but you can orchestrate situations that encourage closeness. Consider creating traditions that your whole family looks forward to. An annual vacation, holiday cookout, or simple outings can increase siblings’ comfort in each other’s presence.
A summer trip to a beach house not only promises fun in the sun and sand, but the potential for physical nearness. Many people find that proximity and shared experiences make for close relationships. When family members are in tight quarters, they’re forced to speak to one another in different ways. Use the opportunity of a long car ride or weekend away to have fun and enjoy one another.
Shared experiences don’t have to be expensive, so aim to find ways to create them without a big cash outlay. Sunday dinners, Friday pizza nights, and stargazing on Saturdays are activities easily integrated into regular life. Find ways to have fun together that both create bonds and allow you to enjoy your kids when they’re young. As they get older, some activities may be deemed “not cool,” so be understanding as they grow out of them. Ask them for suggestions on other things to do, and you may just find a new activity you all love.
Encourage Your Kids to Lean on One Another
Life has a way of throwing you curveballs, and having a close sibling can help you handle them. As an adult, it’s easy to understand this. But as a kid, the realities of adult life are so foreign that blatant commands for sibling closeness are annoying.
Instead, encourage your kids to lean on one another through the good times and the bad. An older sibling who comforts a younger one after a skinned knee will likely find a sympathetic ear after their first teen breakup. Make it easy for your kids to spend time with one another, reserving screen time for brief periods and special occasions. When you keep your kids’ focus on quality time and shared experiences, lifelong relationships and love develop naturally.