As with so many things in marriage and parenting, I have a lofty goal, but a fuzzy idea of how to get there, practically-speaking: I want my children to be friends.
Yes, my children are going to fight and be at each other’s throats and gang up on each other and all of that. They do it now (see evidence below). But in the Nature v. Nurture controversy surrounding lots of parenting issues, I am inclined to think that parents have the upper hand on nurturing friendships among their children.
I have a few ideas that I try to do with our young children so far, but I’d love any ideas from older parents on specific things they have found helpful in nurturing healthy, loving relationships among their children. If you have any thoughts, please feel free to share them in the combox. I’m no expert, but I am all ears!
- Respect and respectful speech as a rule of life in your home. Don’t let your children be disrespectful to one another (or to you). If I witness ugliness, I point out that the child acted unkindly, and I have them apologize and “try again” if needed. Teach your kids to be sensitive to the feelings and personal space of others. Find ways to teach them self-control. Teach them not to interrupt their sister when she is singing, and teach your budding diva that there is a time and a place for her beautiful voice.
- Vocabulary can be so helpful. Modeling virtue and good behavior is a given, but intentionally pointing out virtue by name can be helpful too. A few phrases we use with the kids: “Be a leader in ____, Gabe”; “How can you be a peacemaker right now?”; “You need to find a way to play together.”
- Teach your kids to be sweet with babies and younger children. Some children don’t need a lick of training in this area–they came out of the womb ready to be mommies and daddies! But some children need you to model sweetness and encourage gentleness around babies and younger children. Talk to them about being patient and creative in play with younger children.
- Try to make sure that no one child always gets the short end of the stick. For example, is there one child who always has to put up with another child’s bad behavior? Or a child that you are harder on than the other children subconsciously?
- Teach them how to delight in sharing their best things with siblings or guests. I always tell the kids, “Can you find a toy that (insert sibling or guest) would really enjoy playing with?” Then, “great idea! You are good at picking out toys for others!” If we have somebody over for dinner, I’ll ask Gabriel, “which hamburger looks the yummiest? We can give that one to [our guest]!”
- Teach you kids how to make a good apology. “Sorry” is not allowed as an apology at our house. We have the kids say, “I was wrong for ____, please forgive me.” Just saying “sorry” or “I’m sorry” can certainly be an acceptable apology in some cases. But 99% of the time in our house, it’s too easy–and it’s insincere. The youngest child can learn to hurry up and move on after a conflict with a halfhearted “sorry.” I’ve seen my children do it, and I didn’t like it. Also, make sure that eye contact, body language, and general countenance are acceptable when the child is apologizing. I very often do “try again” or “re-do” on apologies as well.
- Teach your children that people are more important than things. When your children are arguing over something, ask them, “Is this toy more important than your sibling?” Remind them that nothing is more important than one another, and not to let anything come between them. Take a toy away for a while, even permanently, if it routinely causes division.
- Teach your kids that their siblings are their friends. The other day, Gabriel told Faith that he was not going to invite her to his birthday party this year, because he was only going to invite “his friends.” I took advantage of that golden opportunity to remind my kids that their siblings are their most important friends.
- Be intentional about family time. Laugh together, play together, pray together. Create opportunities for the kids to play together, help one another, and encourage one another in achievements.
- Play the Three Nice Things Game. Sometimes I will have the kids stop what they are doing (usually fussing and fighting about something oh-so-silly), and I’ll have the older two say three nice things about one another and about me and their dad. It’s a little activity that usually leaves everybody smiling, feeling appreciated, and in a good mood. Even when the kids are grumpy and don’t want to participate, I can usually find a creative or sill way to get them to join in.
A lot of my efforts in parenting go toward being mindful and intentional about the kind of family culture I want to nurture in my home. My thought is, how can friendship not develop between siblings when their family culture day in and day out encourages charity, cheerfulness, selflessness, patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, faithfulness, peace and self control (to name a few virtues)?