How to Get Your Supersized Family to Stop Fighting
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We all can remember promising our school friends to be “best friends forever.” But in reality as we’ve grown up and moved away, many of us only “see” our classmate BFFs on Facebook.
Usually, the people that have stuck around are the ones that were always there: our siblings.
I know many people don’t have great sibling relationships, but that doesn’t mean we wan the same thing for our own children.
I was horrible to my only sister growing up. Once I told her to “open wide” and sprayed perfume in her mouth, then promptly gave her toilet water to wash away they taste. I know…so bad.
But apparently she forgave me because in 2011, she pleasantly surprised me and moved two houses down from ours. She is my best friend. There is no one that knows me better. We watch Parenthood every Friday (this is my first time watching it, I’m a little late to the party.) When we pass a familiar landmark, all I have to say is, “Remember when…” and she interrupts me to say “yes” and that is the end of the conversation.
It is said that the sibling relationship is the longest one you’ll ever have. Longer than ever your parents.
One of my earliest prayers for my daughters (this was WAY before I realized I would have five daughters) that they would be best friends…now & later.
Of course, some days I have to settle for them to at least “tolerate” each other, but by and large they enjoy each other’s company. I have some that get along better than others, but I chalk that up to a personality thing. And yes, siblings also have hang-ups that regular friends don’t usually deal with, like competing for a parent’s attention and the little-sister/brother complex.
While there is no sure-fire way to ensure a long-lasting sibling relationship, being intentional will help prepare a foundation for sweet fellowship between your children…even if their friendship ebbs and flows at any given moment.
How to Keep Siblings from Fighting & Become Best Friends
1. Limit Outside Friendships
Toddlers and babies don’t know much about the world that exists beyond the four walls of your home, much less the people that exist. Their friendships are limited to temporary playmates at the playground, birthday parties or adult functions.
Once they become older, friendships take on a new and deeper meaning. Outside friendships are a beautiful and natural thing that occur and is NOT something to stifle or prohibit. But when outside time with friends usurp the time with siblings, it is also natural to prefer the playmate you spend more time with.
Limiting outside friends, gives siblings a larger percentage of time to nurture their relationship.
The desire for my children to be best friends was so strong that it became the #1 reason I started homeschooling. Homeschooling naturally limits friendships because they aren’t surround by 30 people in the classroom and 100s on the playground.
This isn’t to say I keep them hold up in my house with no socialization. They have tons of outside-the-family friends and regularly attend functions that expose them to all sorts of people, but I limit those interactions to high-quality friendships only.
We also limit (but not necessarily avoid) events that exclude some but not all of my children.
2. Share a Room
For many families, sharing a room is a necessity due to space constraints, but often it is not. When a new addition is on the way, parents might opt to purchase a larger home so that each child can have their own room.
While sharing a room isn’t mandatory for a great friendship or to keep siblings from fighting, it can deepen the bond they have with each other. Child and family therapist Emily Kircher-Morris says:
“The children may have a stronger bond with each other and feel comfortable sharing their things. Siblings may also find comfort in sleeping in the same room with a brother or sister.” (Source: EverydayFamily)
Those magical late-night conversations only happen when siblings share a room (or even a bed).
While I believe that it is good and right that siblings of the opposite sex should have separate rooms, I think same-sex room sharing not only nurtures the sibling relationship but also prepares them for real life.
Sharing living quarters is great training ground for marriage when you have to share all things…including a bedroom. It will also help in college when your child has to live with a roommate.
It’s good to give a child personal space to express themselves, as well. When possible, I allow my children to decorate their side of the room as they wish…even if the other child disapproves. For extra privacy, screens or curtains can be erected between sides or around beds.
3. Working Together
Whether my children take the baby for a walk together or volunteer at our local elder-care facility with the rest of the family, serving together brings them together for a common goal.
Huffington Post says that working together strengthens the bonds between family members. (Source: HuffPost)
Around my house we often say the catch phrase, “Many hands makes work light.” While assigning a chore to one of my children might always elicit a groan, knowing they will have the help of a sibling makes them more willing to do the task at hand.
And I love listening to the conversations that happen when my two middle girls are putting dishes away together.
But it doesn’t have to be limited to chores, it could be something fun like working on a video for their YouTube channel or planning a birthday party for a friend.
4. Limit Intervention
When my children fight, my first instinct is to yell, “Hey! What are ya’ll doing?” But this isn’t always the best idea.
When I continually intervene in the squabbles between my children (and they do happen), I rob them of the chance to practice their communication skills and deepening their understanding of each other’s needs.
If you are afraid your children don’t know how to navigate the waters of civil communication yet, you can help guide them through their own emotions with neutral questions that steer them so they can figure out how to solve their sibling problems on their own.
Limiting intervention can also curtail the natural rivalry for mom/dad’s approval. When a parent intervenes, a child might feel like the parent loves the other child more. This can lead to bitterness between sisters and brothers. When you refuse to intervene, you are also refusing to “take sides.”
5. Talk it Up
This is probably my favorite tip, just because perception is 90% of a child’s reality.
Talking up the sibling relationship (even if you haven’t experience a positive one yourself) is one of the biggest proponents friendship. There are three ways I “talk it up”:
1. Remind children that friendships come and go, but siblings are forever.
Because I have a close relationship with my sister, I am able to use it as proof of the importance of sibling friendship, but you don’t have to have a sibling to remind them of this fact.
2. Point out successes, abilities and personalities.
When the baby is doing something cute on the trampoline, I gather all the others to secretly watch her. We stand and discuss how adorable she is. If my son builds something with his Legos, I make sure to waltz it around to his sisters to show it off while encouraging them to praise his efforts. Over time, they have learned to notice positive things about their siblings naturally and without my assistance.
3. Tell them your dream.
I verbally tell them that I want them to be best friends. Every night we pray that the Lord would help them to do so. Since children naturally want to please their parent, they are more likely to work towards my dreams for them if they know what they are!
What if my older children don’t like each other?
If you find yourself living with older children that hate each other (or strongly dislike each other), don’t be discouraged. God is so good. If he can change the heart of Pharaoh of Egypt, he can surely move the hearts of your children back together through time and prayer.
Even if you have grown children, you can rely on prayer. If they are older, I would highly recommend prayer over any forced intervention or chastisement.
Final Thoughts on Sibling Relationships
The sibling relationship, like any relationship, will ebb and flow…especially if there is a giant age gap or stage-of-life gap.
Like a flower, you can’t force your children’s relationship to blossom, you can only encourage it with the bathing water of prayer and the sunlight of showing them the way.