My brothers and I had a pretty solid sibling bond, but we also fought as kids. I guess that makes us normal. Yet I always felt a little guilty about it when our dad—usually after one of those spirited fights—would quietly say that all he really wanted from us was to know that we would always love and look out for one another. Geez, Dad. That’s kinda heavy.
But now that I’m a mom, I get it. The world can be cold and hard. Kids need to be able to count on family to protect and encourage them—including their brothers and sisters. Fortunately, my own children, ages 15 and 12, seem to have a strong sibling bond. They love to spend time together and often show playful affection for one another. But how do you encourage that type of connection? It can be a challenge when kids have very different natures or a big age gap. It’s a cause worth pursuing, though. Friends come and go, but family is for life. Teach your kids to love one another and build solid relationships.
1. Set the tone for closeness from the start.
When you bring a new baby into the family, the temptation is to tell curious siblings to stand back. But in reality, the baby is tougher than you think, and those clumsy hugs and kisses from brothers and sisters are creating a bond and a significant sense of belonging to one another. Let them cuddle with a little assistance and show even young big brothers and sisters some basic baby care tasks they can perform to help take care of their little one. Read our 10 Ideas for Overcoming Sibling Rivalry.
2. Let them have significant experiences together.
Shared experiences create a connection between people. Maybe that’s why family vacations are so important: For the rest of their lives, your kids will have special memories they share with their brothers and sisters and no one else. The sand castles, the hiking trips–even the comically bad trips are building more than photo albums, they’re building relationships. (“Remember the time you got sick all over the backseat driving through the Smoky Mountains?”)
3. Talk about your own sibling relationships with your kids.
One day I told my kids about how when my brothers and I were little, I was jealous of the fact that they shared a room, and I had to go to sleep alone each night. So I would wait until our parents were in bed, sneak out of my creaky bed and combat crawl across the hallway to my brothers’ room to giggle and tell jokes in hushed whispers. My children loved that story so much they’ve asked me to tell it over and over. (I think it had something to do with the element of mischief and the fact that the kids were pulling one over on the grown-ups.) Whatever your favorite memories are of your own siblings, share them with your kids to let them know family is special.
4. Give your kids “assignments” in nurturing one another.
Kids like to feel they have something to contribute. If your older son is a seasoned baller and your little one is just starting out, encourage him to work with his little brother on some basic skills. Even little children can feel engaged in the nurture and training of a sibling by “teaching” them to build with LEGOs, to peddle a trike around the driveway, or by reading to one another. Nurturing siblings creates a sense of investment in one another and shared pride when the sibling succeeds in something.
5. Remind your kids that friends will come and go, but family is forever.
If you see your child ignoring her siblings to go all in with the BFF of the moment, make an effort to pull them back toward engagement with the family. Friends are wonderful, but family relationships are lifelong and deserve to be nurtured, too.
6. Help your children develop shared passions and interests.
When you stumble upon a shared interest between two or more of your kids, maximize the potential. If two of your girls love to dance, let them take some classes or workshops together. If it’s basketball, put up a hoop in the driveway and encourage them to have at it. If it’s music, ask them to learn some Christmas songs on their instruments of choice and perform for the family get together. Shared interests build a deeper connection.
7. Remind your kids to have compassion for their siblings.
Your child may have the softest heart in the world when it comes to other people, yet fail completely to see the areas where a sibling feels vulnerable, struggles, or doubts himself. As your children mature, it’s appropriate to have more candid one-on-one conversations about ways in which they can show kindness and compassion to their siblings. If one child is a strong student, but his sister struggles academically, remind your honor roll star how important it is for him to help his sister when he’s able and cheer her on in that area. If one of your kids is less socially adept than his siblings, remind your social butterfly kid to help her brother feel a part of things. Help them see their siblings as people with strengths and weaknesses and feelings and to treat them with the utmost kindness. Try our 3 Ways to Get Your Kids to Be Nice to One Another.
Tell us! Are your kids tight? What helped to create their strong sibling bond?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.