If your children are having a hard time with each other, it’s natural that you focus on helping them learn to resolve differences peacefully. But it’s important to remember that their incentive to work things out happily with each other depends on how much of a positive balance they’ve built up in their “relationship bank account.”
How do siblings build up a reservoir of good feelings to draw on? Mostly, by having a good time together. Dr. John Gottman of the Seattle Love Lab has found that couples need five to seven positive interactions to counter-balance one negative interaction. This ratio has been repeated in multiple studies, from couples to workplaces.
The following are the 12 tips, which can help build stronger sibling bond:
- Notice and promote the activities that get your children playing together. It can be tough to identify those activities, especially if there’s an age or interest gap. But if you pay attention, you can usually suggest something that will interest both children. For instance, if she wants to play store and he wants to play astronaut, why not have a store on the moon? Try to encourage at least one shared activity every day.
- Don’t interrupt happy play. When siblings are playing together well, don’t take it for granted. Support them in whatever they need to keep playing, and don’t interrupt unless it’s unavoidable.
- Use oxytocin to get your children bonding. Laughing. Being outdoors. Dancing. Singing. Roughhousing. Include as many oxytocin-inducing activities as you can in your daily routine.
- Start “Special Time” between your children. Designate a daily ten-minute block of time for two children to spend together. This is especially helpful if your children are widely spaced in age, or one is less interested in playing together than the other one, because it structures time together into the regular routine and maintains the connection.
- When they’re having a bad day, pull out an activity they’ll both love, like making cookies, or dancing to shift the mood.
- Include in your bedtime routine a chance for your children to always say goodnightand I love youto each other. Some families also have the older child read to the younger one before bed, which is a lovely opportunity for bonding.
- Support siblings to nurture each other. When one child gets hurt, make it a practice for everyone in the family to stop playing and tend to the child who’s hurt. Hold back a moment to see if the siblings step in to nurture each other. Include all the children in this, including any child who was involved in the other getting hurt, so they can begin to feel like a helper instead of a hurter.
- Instead of pitting your children against each other, find ongoing ways to unite them in the same mission. “Can you work together so you’re both ready to leave the house at 8am? That will give us time to go the long way to school so we can see the bulldozers at the construction site again. Yes? What a team!”
- Promote the idea of the sibling team by creating family activities in which your children work together. For instance, give them a huge sheet of paper to draw on together. Ask them to write a letter to Grandma together. When you roughhouse, always team children against grownups.
- Put your kids in charge of a project together. For instance, maybe they’ll wash the car together, to earn the money you would have spent at the car wash. Let the children work together to do the planning, with you only peripherally involved to insure safety and maximum fun.
- Family Kindness Journal. Tie sheets of paper together with a ribbon, or just add sheets of paper to a binder. Label it “Our Family Kindness Journal” and let the kids decorate it. You might begin with a quote about kindness, such as the Dalai Lama’s: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Then, notice acts of kindness between your children, and write them in the journal, with the date.
- Help kids work out problems without making anyone wrong. Conflict is part of every human relationship, and children are still learning how to manage their strong emotions. So you can expect your children to fight with each other. Our job as parents is to resist taking sides, which increases sibling rivalry. Instead, teach kids healthy conflict resolution skills, like listening, expressing their own needs without attacking the other person, and looking for win-win solutions.
And of course the most important factor in helping your children get along is for you to forge a strong relationship with each child. When each child knows in his bones that no matter what his sibling gets, there is more than enough for him, sibling love has a chance to bloom. There is ALWAYS more love.
Reference: Dr. Laura Markham