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By Dr. Sheryl Ziegler for YourTango
Too often I hear from parents that “kids just fight, that’s what brothers and sisters do!” like it is a rite of passage. And while I agree that left to just figure it out, kids will go through stages of fighting with and love for one another, I also know it doesn’t have to be that way. Through years of experience I have witnessed that children will respond to whatever their parents really think is important, what they place the highest value on. For some it is manners, good grades, prayer, chores, responsibility…the list could go on. So, for those of you who intentionally want your children to be best of friends, either because you and your siblings are best of friends or maybe even because you are not, here are some helpful parenting tips to create a culture of close sibling relationships.
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- Refer to one another as “best friends.” It’s cute and endearing the first time your child comes home and declares that Little Billy is their new best friend. But starting at an early age, you may want to refer to the siblings as each other’s best friends and refer to their other friends as their best friend outside of the family or close friends. Save the term “best friends” as a sacred title to be shared among siblings and cousins. This may take practice at first, but pays off in the long run.
- Playdates. Don’t let your children exclude their siblings when they have friends over to play. Teach them that it is hurtful for them to play most of the time with their brother or sister but just leave them when their friend comes along. Boundary setting is good, however—allow for some together time with the friend, and then some alone time. Which brings me to the next point…
- Set time in the day for breaks—breaks from one another. Siblings often argue and fight because they spend so much time together. Teach them that everyone needs some quiet or alone time in the day, even when everyone is getting along. Maybe allow them to play in the morning, eat lunch and then have an hour away from one another. This is incredibly helpful for kids figuring out boundary setting and self-regulation.
- Simply put, do not allow teasing, name calling or rude behaviors toward one another. If this is important to you, you will put forth the energy it takes to not just tell them to “stop and be nice” but to enforce it. They have to experience their sibling as a human being, a person to be treated with love and respect like they are with others, namely friends. Sometimes as a consequence I suggest that one sibling has to perform ten random acts of kindness toward the other. After they complete them, you can talk to them about how it felt to do that. Typically it feels good and they will remember to do it more often on their own.
- Birth Order. Whether you have two, three or more children, appreciate and value where each child is in their birth order and the common characteristics that come along with that place. For instance, the oldest does tend to be the more responsible one who has the highest expectations placed upon them. Instead of resisting that, value it. The middle child may be the peacekeeper and the youngest may be the baby, the one who is constantly trying to keep up with the other two. If everyone can understand and appreciate what they may have been born wired to add to the family, everyone’s roles will be better valued and utilized.
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Dr. Sheryl Ziegler is a YourTango Expert with a Doctorate in Psychology. She has been a Clinical Director of a Residential Treatment Facility for Children and has successfully founded a group private practice, The Child and Family Therapy Center at Lowry in Denver, Colorado. She uses humor to educate girls and their mothers on puberty, menstruation, middle school, social/emotional functioning and bullying.
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