Today I am launching the “Answers to Your Mommy Questions”. Wow, there were over 40 comments with some of you asking 2-4 questions but my goal is to write one post a week until the questions are answered. Thanks for your patience!!
Today’s topic is “Sibling Relationships” and addresses the following nine comments: “helping siblings get along”, “fostering family togetherness”, “keeping siblings’ love for each other strong throughout their lives”, “fostering and strengthening sibling relationships”, “building a family that is full of love for each other”, “helping children get along better”, “encouraging positive relationships and responses in children”, “raising godly children to be best friends”, and “parenting with purposeful, persistent actions that build strong sibling relationships”.
1. Train for Character
The foundation that will enable you to develop loving, positive, strong relationships and that will equip your children to be best friends for life is to teach character, not just proper responses. When I had a houseful of naturally selfish children, I had to remind myself that the goal was not just to train for the responses that would make our home a happy, peaceful abode, but to teach them to live a life that would bring honor and glory to God. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
It is truly easier to “train” for the wanted behavior than it is to take the time to teach your children why they should share their toys or not hit their sibling, or tease a little sister, or be selfish. But if you want children who will grow up to serve God, not just “look good”, you must make instilling good character your goal instead of training children who don’t fight. Kind, thoughtful, unselfish children will most likely get along with each other as they grow up, and remain friends for all their lives.
A good character quality to begin with is kindness. Regarding this truth, Ephesian 4:32 states, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” The Merriam-Webster definition of kind is “a sympathetic or helpful nature, affectionate, loving”. There are many applications for this virtue—reading a story to a younger sibling, sharing a special treat, rocking a tired baby, helping an older sibling fold laundry, washing dishes for the family, etc., Additionally, kindness is displayed by speech—saying thank-you & please, speaking in gentle tones, etc., giving encouraging notes, putting other's needs before your own, giving physical affection, taking a sibling on a coffee date, or going on a walk/run.
2. Teach Love and Respect
Once you’ve laid the foundation of kindness, you must teach your children to respect and love each other in order for them to become best friends. Following are a few ways we found that helps us to do this. First, have zero tolerance for mocking, belittling, or name calling. Second, train younger children to sweetly obey older siblings. Third, teach older siblings to be reasonable in their commands, not to exasperate the toddler in what he/she asks them to do, and not to be bossy. Fourth, celebrate strengths. What this looked like in our family was to have the girls, (who excelled in grammar and writing but not so much in Math), rejoice when their brothers, (who were math whizzes like their daddy!!), were a grade ahead in Math. This was also seen in areas like music, sports, cooking, mechanics, farming, and more. Teach your children to build each other up and compliment the strengths. Guard against jealousy when a sibling has talents in different areas than they do.
3. Celebrate Family
After laying the foundation of kindness, love, and respect, celebrate family to nurture positive family relationships. To this end, plan specific, special events in your home for just your family so that they know that family culture is a priority.
Winter picnics in the living room, running through the sprinkler in the yard after helping each other pull weeds in the garden for a few hours, going on a family bike ride, listening to an audio drama while doing a canning project, preparing an ethnic dinner from a country that you studied in your history class, and cooking around a campfire are all ways that you can strengthen family bonds.
Teach your children that special foods, beautiful china, candlelight, elaborate events, and fun times don’t happen only when guests come over or when you go on an expensive vacation. Let them know that they are worth the extra time and effort it takes to make a memorable event. Making happy memories together will give you a history that is foundational for strong, healthy relationships.
4. Plan Family Activities
Limiting outside influences is important in teaching your children to have strong, sibling relationships. Whoever they spend the most time with will most likely become some of their best friends. Prayerfully consider how many activities you will participate in with other people. You may want to do a weekly schedule in which you pencil in some family times before you fill the week with outside activities.
Our family finds it restful to have some unplanned evenings at home in which we can have a relaxed family dinner with time afterwards for board games, reading, working on projects, or going on a walk. When we are on the road are goal is to have one day each week in which we don’t have a concert or spend time with other families. This gives us time to nurture individual relationships and have family meals.
When you do have guests over to your house, encourage children of all ages to play together. Board games, yard games, singing hymns, and intentional conversation around the table after dinner are a few ways to stimulate group activities.
We are in the beginning stage of “keeping their love for each strong throughout their lives”. A few years ago, we began the tradition of an annual family vacation at a ranch where we talk, read, play games, cook, eat good food, have long family devotions, and relax for 4 days. We also have a “Big, Happy, Bontrager Family” group phone chat where we post pics and daily happenings in order keep up with each others lives.
We are still figuring out how to do holidays with in-laws but our goal is to have one or two days over Christmas and Thanksgiving in which we can be together for a family dinner. Our family has learned to make the celebration special, not the actual day. For example, we celebrate birthdays when it fits in our schedule, not necessarily on the birthdate. We also enjoy occasional Sunday lunches after church together or a meal around the campfire or dinner at one of the children’s home.
It’s Worth The Effort!
As in all of life, the most precious things usually take the most work. If you desire strong, healthy relationships, you must invest lots of hard work, love, grace, and forgiveness. Make family a priority, ask God for wisdom, and know that it won’t happen automatically.
Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”