Habits of Mind – Friday50: #2 Being a Good Sibling
Friday Fifty: #2 Being a Good Sibling
My wife and I are truly blessed in that our kids share a strong and special sibling bond. This isn’t to say that it is perfect. There are times when they get in each other’s space, say things that they know will push each other’s buttons and generally try to annoy each other. These behaviors sometimes push my wife and I right to the brink of losing our, … “stuff” … with them.
I attribute my strong reactions to these examples of less than loving sibling behavior to two factors:
- I value the relationship I have with my sibling. Again, it isn’t perfect. I am to blame for a big part of the awkwardness of the last few years, but I love her and would drop everything and go to her side if she needed me. It’s just what we do and who we are. I’m committed to being a better brother moving forward.
- The second factor is my kids love each other as siblings fiercely, and I want to help them nurture and protect this fierce devotion to each other. At different times in their lives they have been willing to charge headlong into battle to defend each other in situations where, they would have needed to punch well above their weight class for their sibling. The ferocity that they approached these perceived insults and injuries to their sibling surprised both my wife and I, but it really shouldn’t have. We have instilled in them a love for family, an understanding that you need to care for and protect each other, and a sense of responsibility to and for each other.
As they grow and change, I know that maintaining this level of connectedness and sibling relationship has the potential to change as they are very different people. I feel a responsibility to help them continue to build their relationship based on a strong foundation of love, respect, and family bonds.
Four Ways My Wife and I Help Our Kids Develop their Sibling Relationship
Talk with them about each other
Kids sometimes need help putting their observations about the people in their world into words. They often intuitively know about their sibling’s talents, likes, dislikes, unique traits, etc. But as parents we can help them understand their similarities and differences and why and each of them is unique. Help them understand the ways that they are similar, not just different, and point these out to them so that they have common ground to come back to in times of inevitable conflict and stress. For example, as a parent you can help the hockey player and dancer understand that the reason they are finding success in their chosen activities is that they both love the challenge of mastering a physical skill or love the sound of a crowd cheering them on.
Encourage (require) your kids to attend each other’s sports, activities, ceremonies and to express their pride for their sibling’s success. Learning to celebrate each other will help them stay grounded and help avoid the negative comparisons that can often result from feelings of envy or jealousy.
Set a foundation of what fairness is in your family
My wife and I work hard to ensure that our kids are treated fairly, notice I didn’t say equally, and that we talk with our kids about the thinking behind our decisions. There are times in every family’s growth where one child, or some of the children, because of circumstance and need will demand greater attention, resources, time, etc. from you as a parent. My wife is an absolute rock star at talking with our son and daughter about these kinds of temporary imbalances in family dynamics and is incredible about guiding our family back into balance in the long term. We believe that it is extremely important to talk about these examples and situations with our kids as it makes evident and concrete the reasons and thinking behind parental decisions. Don’t assume that your kids understand your thinking around fairness and equity in your family talk openly about it with them so that they do.
Talk with them about being grateful for each other
Being a sibling is to share a special bond. One can certainly come close with our best of friends as kids and adults. My wife and I want our kids to feel in their heart and bones, the responsibility for cherishing their sibling relationship and making it important. Building this love for and relationship with one another is easy in the early years. It becomes tougher as they grow, change, find friends, and become their own people.
What we’re doing as a family now to set a solid foundation in gratitude for each other is:
- Having family time where it’s just us. We love our kids’ friends dearly but recognize there is power in being together as a family. This is time for Gabe an Kailyn to connect and come to know one another better, as we come together more tightly as a family. Whatever it is your family likes to do: picnics, hikes, camping, watching a live game, family game night, etc. protect some of the opportunities to do these things as opportunities for your kids to be together as siblings.
- We put them into situations where they must work together to accomplish something. Whatever the something is, they cannot be successful without conversing, compromising, and supporting each other. Right now, this centers around household chores in our family and is a real work in progress!
Teach them how to apologize, genuinely.
You would think that the ability to say sorry in a meaningful and genuine way would be natural. It isn’t! One of the best things my wife has taught me about helping our kids work through their conflicts is around the importance of the true apology. Helping our kids work through saying sorry and requiring them to identify, own, empathize and promise change has been powerful in building a solid and loving relationship between them. None of us is perfect at this in our family, myself included, but this framework that my wife has shown us time and time again helps our kids (and me) take the all important first step in making amends which is a genuine apology that comes from a place of empathy and love.
Like anything in family life, being a good sibling takes a body of intentional action, also known as work. Helping your kids develop their relationship with their siblings through these and other ideas will assist them as they head into life strong in the knowledge that their siblings will be there for them, love them, forgive, and accept and support them.