Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Becca Whitson’s blog. It has been republished here with permission.
We all want our kids to get along. In fact, most of us would dare to say we want our kids to be friends with each other. Unfortunately, parents who dreamed of watching their children play together as they grew up often feel more like referees who never get a break. Although we’re still figuring out the dynamic with three kids, we’ve had our two boys for almost seven years. They get along ridiculously well. Some of it is personality, and some of it is because we have intentionally tried to create an environment where they would naturally grow to be friends.
Here are some tips we’ve learned along the way for cultivating sibling friendships:
1. Give them space
Our 9-year-old son needs alone time. He needs quiet, and he needs breaks from being a big brother. Although he doesn’t do it every day, we have told him since he became a brother that he is always welcome to spend time in his room alone when he needs it. We respect and protect that time, which often means keeping younger siblings out of his room.
As an introvert, I understand his need to be alone and quiet to recharge. Our younger two don’t need time alone, and that’s OK too. But in respecting Will’s time alone, we’re helping them understand that different people have different needs. It helps Will stay patient with his brother and sister, and it gives the younger two time to play together. We also never force them to play together. We respect their literal and figurative space.
2. Don’t make them share
At least not everything. We think sharing is a lot easier when you don’t have to share every single thing. Each of our kids has at least a few toys or books that are just for him or her. They can share those things if and when they choose, but only then. Siblings aren’t allowed to go in the others’ rooms or mess with their stuff without permission. Being a kid is hard enough. Having some personal property makes it a little easier. It’s also a great way to teach boundaries.
3. Build a team
No, you don’t need to have enough children to make a literal team. Thank goodness. But you can foster an environment of teamwork within your family. When we accomplish something together, whether something small like cleaning out my car or something bigger like finishing a long hike when we all wanted to quit, we celebrate our teamwork. I’m usually the dork saying, “Team Whitson!”
When little K first came home, she didn’t want to be a Whitson. We didn’t push it, but we started talking a lot about Team Whitson. With any little accomplishment, we would say, “Go Team Whitson!” Eventually, she started saying, “I want to be a part of Team Whitson!” And we were able to assure her that she already was and always would be. This also goes for how we speak to them about when they’re away from us. They know to always stick up for each other because they’re a team.
4. Limit friend time
Our kids are 9, almost 7, and almost 5 (they would be so happy I clarified that). We value the friendships they have, but at these ages, most of their friend time happens at school or with their baseball teams. Their play at home occasionally includes cousins or one of the kids on our street, but most often they play together. And they like it. Because TV time is limited too, their imaginations are free to go wild as they build memories with each other.
5. Stop playing referee
Unless our kids are about to do major damage to each other (and they have), we try not to interfere. If we constantly referee their fights, we are silently teaching them that we don’t trust them to work it out themselves. And no matter what we say, each child will likely feel like we’re siding with the other. Problem-solving is a very valuable skill, but your child won’t have the chance to learn it if you jump in to do it for him every time. And believe me, we know it’s tempting, if only to buy yourself a few moments of quiet.
6. Spend quality time with each child individually
Although this seems more like a parent-child relationship building, and it is that, it is also a great way to combat sibling rivalry. When children’s love tanks are full, they are much less likely to compete for the attention of their parents. Because they already have it. Sibling rivalry is normal and cannot be completely eliminated, but I’m not sure if we actually want it to be. As crazy as it makes us to hear our kids fight, we also know they are learning valuable skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. Our first social interactions with peers are almost always with siblings. What a wonderful way to teach our kids how to relate to others, problem-solve, and be kind when we don’t feel like it.
These are just some of the ways we’ve helped our kids be friends with each other. What has worked in your family?