Raising Siblings

siblings-fightingBy Abby Bordner

Most of us have second, third and fourth children because we want our children to have lifelong bonds with their siblings that offer support, encouragement, loyalty and companionship. It’s a nice idea, right? They will spend their lives looking out for each other and have the shared history of growing up together.

Do you have siblings? What has it meant to you as an adult to have grown siblings in your life?  How were sibling disputes handled in your family growing up? Did your parents interfere? Do you remember feeling resentful, angry or jealous of your siblings? These are interesting questions! Some of us didn’t have positive interactions with our siblings. Some of our parents didn’t help support our relationships and it was mayhem with siblings. Some of us can’t imagine life without our cherished brothers and sisters. There are many possible situations with siblings and many you can’t anticipate.  You may have multiple children of your own and feel overwhelmed by managing sibling interactions. You’re not alone!

Here are some tips for parenting siblings:

  1. Have some consistent ground rules that reflect your general beliefs about healthy relationships. No hurting each other. Be kind to each other. I know, it’s idealistic, but be clear with your children that this is what you expect. And state these values whenever they are being disrespected.
  2. When they’re both upset, acknowledge their emotions. Reflect back to them simply what each of them is experiencing. “You’re angry that your brother interrupted you.” And “You want to play with your sister’s toy.”
  3. State the problem that needs resolution. Don’t rush to solve it! “Your sister wants quiet while she reads and you want to play loudly with this toy.” Then wait. Say, “Hmmm” as you give them a moment to find a solution. (i.e. “I can play with it in the other room!”) If they come up with something they both can agree to, terrific! Ultimately, you’d like them to see each other’s point of view and find solutions. You can offer your ideas for a solution. Someday maybe they won’t need your help.
  4. Don’t compare and don’t label them! This is a trap parents get into that only creates more competition between siblings. Watch yourself. You may do it unknowingly. Is one of your kids “the good one” or “the lazy one” or “the smart one”. And the other one is “the athletic one” or “the one who doesn’t do so well in school” or “the difficult one”. Even if we don’t say these things out loud, we can set a climate in our homes where these labels are assumed and kids begin to feel the pressure to meet our expectations (good or bad) and make sure their siblings meet the expectations of their label. Notice when you assume one of your children is a certain way, then give her responsibilities and tasks that can help her feel otherwise. For example, the kid that never shares can be in charge of passing out two cookies to each person at the table. Or the child who is irresponsible can be asked to feed and walk the dog every day this week. Give support so they can be successful and feel good about themselves.

When we value relationships as the primary source of love and connection in our family, we can set up an atmosphere of kindness among each of us. Ask the older sibling to help his sister get her shoes on. Ask a child to get his brother’s backpack for him. When a brother is upset ask his sister to go see if she can help him feel better. Encourage caring for each other. Healthy relationships give children the primary emotional and social skills they need to navigate all relationships in their lives.

In families with siblings we get ample opportunities to learn about feelings, respecting others feelings, problem solving, resolving conflicts and feeling loved and supported! You’ve got your own mini-laboratory to help your children learn all the valuable aspects of growing up with siblings!

What are your thoughts on raising multiple kids?

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