Reader Question: How do you encourage sibling relationships?

A few days old

From the depth of my being I have always desired  have a happy peaceful home.  Not having grown up with that it would be high on my goal list for both marital and family relations.  This means I have parented intentionally, with that goal in mind, right from the start.  I am blessed now with a close family who are both loving and protective towards each other.  Don’t get me wrong, things are not always perfect, but as a family we are not characterised by bickering children but instead by children who are great friends with each other.

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For the past fourteen years I have been steadfast in my determination to indoctrinate my children with the idea that one’s real, best friends should be one’s family!  Gary et al may even say I am a bit obsessed.  I rarely allow any bickering to go un-commented upon.  I know from experience the damage unchecked bickering does to a sibling relationship.  I would love to be close to my brother but things that were said during mindless bickering when we were young has caused untold damage, which as adults is hard to move on from.

Always there to help

From the time my older ones were little we had family nights, we made sure we celebrated everything, even small things together, we spent every spare moment together and most importantly we enjoyed each other.  I have had many visitors comment on the peace they feel when in our home.  It will never get old hearing that 🙂

On arrival

I thought I would list a few things we did at each age/stage.  They may or may not have helped.  I don’t know.  All I know is that right from the very start my biggest desire was to have a big, happy family, and that is what I have ❤

Babyhood

  • I was pregnant with the twins from the time T was about eight weeks old.  I was very aware from the start that he was so little and I never wanted him to feel displaced by the girls.  I spent every moment I could with him, telling him how loved he was and chatting about his sisters coming and how much they would love him too.
  • By the time they arrived he was too young to really understand much, but he absolutely understood that his two new sisters were a good thing and would be a positive addition to his life.
  • Even from that young an age he was Mummy’s little helper collecting nappies, bottles and toys for his sisters.  He was always the big brother.  My goal was that he would love and cherish his sisters and that his sisters would love and respect their big brother.  This distinction became even more important as they got older

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Toddlerhood

I was blessed with three toddlers who adored each other, which made my life much easier 🙂

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Sibling Time

  • Obviously they spent every moment together and thoroughly enjoyed each other, but I wanted to make sure they spent one to one time with each other.  I hoped this would build specific and personal relationships individually, hence sibling time was established.  Each day, T would spend half an hour with C and half an hour with L.  L also spent half an hour with C.
  • Sibling time was time spent together in one or other bedrooms playing, where it was safe.  I would be nearby in the room next door playing with the lone sibling.  This was a perfect time for me to spend one to one with each child, a time we all treasured.  I believe this 1-2-1 time with me, which each child had without fail everyday, went a long way preventing any jealousy and it was such a great thing to watch T’s relationship with C blossom in a way that was completely different to his relationship with L.

Well Fed and Well Rested

  • I ensured they all had naps each day after lunch and also made sure they were fed three substantial meals a day with two healthy snacks.  It is incredible how much a fully belly and enough rest helps relationships generally.  Bed times were early and preceded by a hot bath, milky drink and a long bed time story.  Again, well rested meant much happier children.  And happy meant no bickering.

Little to No Screen Time

  • At this age they had very little screen time.  We had no terrestrial tv so could only watch videos, and they were periodic at best.  We had a garage we had converted to a small play room and we spent most of our days outside or in there, playing.

Encouraging Group Play

  • We were very intentional about the toys we allowed into the house.  We spent money on toys which naturally encouraged group play such as Legos and PlayMobil.  We were blessed with lots of secondhand PlayMobil which the children played with for hour upon hour.
  • We were always happy to invest in dressing up, either home-made or shop bought.  The children had lots of different costumes, most of which at that age I made.  They reflect on their childhood now, as teens, and their over-powering memories are of the hours they spent in make-believe play.  It was a happy, happy childhood.

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Elementary Age

Here you are during our Investigators party

We continued to make sure the children were well fed and well rested; the children continued to have lots of free time but also one to one time with their siblings; they still had very little tv or screen time.  But most importantly, I think, was positive affirmation of how special we were to each other.  I always talked about them being each other’s best friends.  I think they get their ideas of what sibling relationships should look like from us, so I was always very positive.

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Quiet Time

  • They continued with naps until they were about five, after which they transitioned to an hour of quiet time.  Quiet time consisted of each child in a separate room with their quiet time box.  The quiet time box contained all sorts of quiet toys which they did not have access to during any other time, as well as books and a personal CD player.  This time alone I believe, was vital for good relationships.  It gave the option of some down time for those children who needed time alone to feel energised

Sharing a Bedroom

  • All three began sharing a bedroom at around four years of age (when we moved to Northern Ireland).  They could often be found the next morning snuggled in bed looking at books and playing with toys…very, very early.  Great for them but not so good for Daddy and Mummy, who were trying to sleep 🙂  They continued sharing a bedroom up until they reached adolescence.

Lots of Exercise

  • Around this time we were given a year’s membership to Cheeky Chimps, a huge soft play area near by.  In addition to going there daily for lots of exercise, we also lived near the beach and woods.  This meant lots of time running around outside (inside if it was horrible weather)

Talk Respectfully

  • Right from the start the children were never allowed to answer us back.  They could talk or disagree with us so long as it was done respectfully.  I think this naturally helped them to deal respectfully with each other.
  • We never allowed words such as shut up, stupid, pig, thick, hate etc.  I think sometimes these words can too easily slip off the tongue, and by banning them right from the start meant they never simply rolled off the children tongues without thought.  Even to this day at 13 and 14 they still think of those words as swear words 🙂

Chore Time

  • I’ll be writing a post about how we tackle this, but surfice it to say, chores were done from age three onwards.  I think possibly training the children to do chores helps give them a feeling of being part of something bigger, they learn very quickly that working as a team ultimately gets things done quicker and they realise life isn’t only about their comfort or in deed about just them, but about others also.  This knowledge helped stemmed the selfishness which I believe is often at the root of bickering.

New Baby Joins the Family

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  • A7 came along whilst we were still in Ireland, when the older ones were about six.  She simply fit in with all the routines I had in place.  Sibling time with their baby sister became the high-light of each of the older children’s day, and gave them special time with her on their own

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When the children were about seven, we moved back to England and spent a few happy years making a new life over here.  Up to this point relationships between everyone were really close.  We had children who adored each other, a very happy and peaceful family life – basically my dream.  And then everything changed as we were hit full blast with a dangerous pregnancy resulting in a baby who cried almost constantly; trying to cope with my enforced and permanent infertility as well as my diagnosis of invasive malignant melanoma when B was only 9 months old.  And of course the dreaded hormones, which for T 14 came very early on at about age ten.  There were hard times ahead, but I never lost sight of my dream, even though its reality was fading quicker than I could cope with.

I’ll be continuing with this post tomorrow.

Linking here

21 comments

  1. I loved our childhood! I had to laugh though at the part about swear words. I can clarify that we do still think of these words as swear words. Though we have found our way around some…….I remember family nights…you were competitive weren’t you mummy. Thank you for such an amazing childhood😎
    C13.

  2. Great post, Claire. So encouraging to me. Our lives have changed greatly over the last 5 yrs……worn would be one word I would use to describe those years….this is one area we need to refocus on again. Praying the Lord gives us strength to persevere! Thanks again and look forward to the next post.

    Blessings,

    Brenda

  3. Claire, I love that your children chime in and that they have their own protective blog! We do not ban those words but I kind of wish we had. I do have to remind them to speak kindly and love this article. Thank you for sharing! Scheduled out to share later 🙂

  4. This is the finest parenting post I have ever seen! Many of your suggestions we have employed, but some were new ideas to me. I am thinking anout how to impliment them now…
    Think of all the families you can affect so positively just with this one post!

  5. I grew up in a family of 6 kids in a small house, and we had several of the same rules as you do – especially the “no shut-up rule.” At age 35 it still hits my ear the same way the real “swear words” do. I’m so glad my mom enforced it, because I think speaking respectfully had a huge impact on my relationships with my siblings. I think it also made transitioning to married life a lot easier! Now that I have my own kids, I have continued my mom’s rules and am pleased to see it working again. My kids do fight and bicker occasionally, but there isn’t a spirit of lasting bitterness or hours of pouting involved afterwards and they return to being best friends so quickly. The work is totally worth it.

    Thanks for sharing your methods. I really look forward to reading the next post!

    1. Hi Dana, I always laugh when I here my girls telling their friends to stop swearing in front of them. Their favourite line is ‘the English language has too much variety to resort to swearing’. I’m certain it must be highly irritating for their friends but it makes their mummy smile 🙂

    1. Quiet time was my saving grace when the three older ones were younger. It was very full on having three babies, three toddlers, three…..well you get the picture. It gave me a much needed break once a day 🙂

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