When my kids were all in grade school or younger, we did almost everything as a family together. None of my kids were old enough to stay home alone, so we were like a traveling team, moving from ball practice to park playdays to ballet performances together. We ate most dinners together; we packed up for Sundays at church together and we took all our trips together.
But simply spending time together isn’t enough to keep a family on the same team. There are different personalities, different interests and kids pulling their separate ways as they grow. We have to be proactive to nurture family loyalty. How do we go about doing this? Here are 5 ways to improve your family loyalty.
1. Make family a safe space.
When my kids begin to criticize or call names, I remind them that the world dishes out enough of that and our home and family needs to be a safe place. Part of family loyalty is allowing children to be themselves without risk of teasing or criticism. They need a safe family environment to learn and to make mistakes. Teach your children to keep family discussions private, never to share information they have overheard and not to disclose another family member’s embarrassing or intimate information outside the family. They can share a good-natured laugh at themselves but never at the expense of another sibling.
2. Don’t compare your kids.
This seems like a given, but it’s easy for what we think are harmless comparisons to work their way into our conversations. Saying things like, “If you come home and start your homework like Lily you won’t be so stressed at night” or “You can do this! I’ve seen John do this chore all by himself!” will make your kids feel measured against each other. Even worse, it can unwittingly pit them against each other. Instead, foster an environment of cheerleading rather than comparison. Help siblings learn to encourage each other by celebrating each other’s interests and differences, showing up to cheer for each other at important events and honoring each other’s accomplishments, big or small.
3. Prioritize family.
As kids grow, it’s easy for outside activities and school obligations to begin to take up so much time that family gets the leftovers. Family loyalty is built by giving family a high priority. Carve out family time together and protect it. When there are calendar conflicts, help your children learn to balance their outside obligations with family time. Parents can model this by making time for grandparents and extended family and treating that time as special. Friends will change throughout life, but family is forever.
4. Teach children to serve one another.
Teaching our kids to serve one another is counter-cultural but goes a long way toward building family loyalty. Older children can help younger siblings by driving them to practice or helping with homework. Younger children can step in to help an older child with chores in a busy season. One family I know has each child drive over to their grandparents and take them out to lunch on the day they get their driver’s license. Right from the start, their children learn that their driver’s license isn’t to serve themselves but to serve others.
5. Emphasize your family’s values.
The values that define your family are part of helping to build family loyalty. When our children asked why other kids got to do something that they didn’t, we used the situation to teach our family’s values. “This is a value for our family” became something we regularly taught. Your family values may reflect your faith or your family heritage. Teaching your children your deeply held values not only shapes your family but helps to shape your children as part of the family.
Tell us! How do you help your children cheer and encourage each other?