Thursday, August 10, 2017

ten ideas to foster strong sibling relationships

I'm trying to get better at answering some blog questions...there have been so many lately that have really made me think which I love so much!  Thank you to those who send thoughts and inspiration and things that stretch my thinking.  Here are some thoughts on one of them:

The other day Claire came home from an activity at church with a paper outlining the steps she plans to take as she works to deal with her "annoying sister."

I guess each kid in her class had been instructed to think about a goal they wanted to work on and steps to get there.

And Claire naturally came up with this annoying sister business because, well, she is a full-blown eye-rolling teenager now and Lucy, bless her heart, gets on her nerves sometimes. 

And I know it's only natural for kids to squabble and slam doors (especially if their mother does:).  We are no strangers to sibling rivalry over here, especially with all these girls!  But come on, not these two!  For as long as I can remember this has been their relationship:

Claire is the best thing that ever happened to Lucy.  
 Always gently leading, instructing, unconditional loving.

But lately I've been wrangling together every tactic I can think of to keep that sibling love from dissolving into a giant sea of misery and frustration.

So it was fitting that I got this question from a blog reader the other day:

I have wanted to reach out to you for some time and ask for your advice on raising  daughters and encouraging sister relationships, in particular. You see, I have three daughters, ages 7 and 5 years old. (My 7 year old girls are twins!) I want to encourage my girls to always support and love each other. They are getting to the age where the fighting/teasing, etc., is becoming a daily occurrence.  I know a lot of this is age related and they will outgrow it. 

Where I need the help is that I didn't grow up with sisters. I have a half-sister and half-brother who are over 10 years older than me - so I basically grew up as an only child. I feel ill-equipped on how to foster healthy sister relationships. And not just for them - but for me as well. How do I foster  healthy mother - daughter relationships with them that will carry on through the years ahead? It is something that is always in the back of my mind. 

I could go on and on about this, but I will stop now and just ask if there is any advice you could share with me on raising daughters. It would be greatly appreciated! 

I am embarrassed to say that I can't find the email this came from now and don't know if I responded or not, so hopefully this will count as my response!

I think this is such a great deliberate parenting question to ponder because we all worry about this to some degree, right?  Sibling relationships have so much power.  And helping kids learn to love each other and have genuine respect for one another is essential in raising strong families.

One more story before I get to some concrete ideas and thoughts:

Sitting in church last Sunday I noticed my friend's family a few rows in front of us, their three teenage girls all sitting side by side.  

Something in the way they sat there struck me.  

There was so much love on that row!

I know, weird that I could recognize love from some girls just sitting there listening in sacrament meeting, and I can't even really explain why I could feel it.  It's not like they were talking or communicating.  But there was just unspoken love on that row.  Lots of it.  It reminded me that Grace had told me once how she wanted us to be like that family.  She had noticed how kindly they treat each other and craved that more in our family.  (Sure, our girls are generally pretty nice to each other, but Grace felt that this family is the "rolls royce" of "nice.")

I grabbed my friend for a minute after church and picked her brain about how she created that love.

It's tough to put a finger on something like that on the spot, but as we talked, she came up with some thoughts as well.

So, after pondering over this for a little, and discussing with my sisters and sister-in-laws, Dave, and this friend, here are some ideas to help build those sibling bonds:

1)  Build in proactive systems into family life to help kids learn to love each other (ideas below).  Don't just wait until you're in the midst of a downward spiral of squabbling (like I am :).

2)  Kids mimic what their parents do.  Build a culture of respect and love.  If we, as parents, give kids the benefit of the doubt, our kids will do the same to each other.  I think it's interesting that I have been a little impatient with Lucy lately.  I'm not really frustrated at her, I think I just get frustrated at the situation sometimes (mostly due to her not being able to see things...SO not her fault...but I struggle to know how to deal with each new version of reality and sometimes it comes out as frustration).  And when I stop to think about that I wonder if my frustration is fueling Claire's somehow?  I don't know, but I know that I need to be a better example.

3)  Figure out a plan to put phones and technology aside every now and again.  I have SO much more to say about technology soon in a post of it's own on this topic, because in some ways I think phones are ruining so much in society.  (sure they're good to a certain extent, but they are harming a bunch too...more on that later).  But for today, I'm telling you I think phones take so much away from sibling relationships!  If phones are out of the picture, at least for a little while, perhaps daily, perhaps just on Sundays, there is so much more time to communicate and just BE.  And just BEing helps kids to develop relationships so much better.

4)  Repenting Bench.  I explained what this is back HERE, but basically kids who are arguing sit here (it can be a bench or a stair or two chairs...anything set aside for the purpose of being a "repenting bench").  The two that are "tangling" sit in this spot together and think about what THEY did wrong (yes, it's easy peasy for them to think of what the other person did wrong, a little tougher to let go of their pride and admit their own wrong-doing).  Once they figure out what they did wrong (sometimes it takes a while, but there's always something), they exchange explanations of their wrong-doing, tell them they're sorry, and commit to try not to do it again (I say try for obvious reasons...promising they won't do it again would just be a lie.  Ha!).

In my opinion this bench idea, (from my wise parents), is the single most important thing to help build strong relationships because those kids are going to fight whether we like it or not.  The repenting bench is a built-in way to help build communication, knock down pride, teach repentance and forgiveness.  Things we all need for positive relationships to flourish throughout life.

5)  Family Testimony Meetings.  (talked a little bit about these back HERE)...Call them what you want, but I think my sis-in-law Kristi said it best: "I think it's so great to have a time or place where you can be vulnerable with your feelings in a safe environment and hear and share what's in each other's hearts while everyone is learning to respect and learn from those shared feelings."  Growing up we did this every Fast Sunday.  We met in our Living Room and had the opportunity to share whatever we wanted.  About the gospel, about each other, about our relationship with Christ.  And the air was thick with love.  I think that's where I learned to adore my siblings so much.  We do this with our family now and I feel that same thick love in such a beautiful way.  Often growing up siblings would actually say one thing they loved about every sibling in the room.  This took a while, but man did it ever strengthen relationships!

6) On that same note, Family Dinner and Family Home Evening work wonders on sibling relationships!  We live in a society that is so hustle and bustle, and setting aside TIME to just be together and talk makes such a huge difference.  The other night (the first day of school) when we finally sat down together, just us, for the first time in so long, there was the most beautiful feeling in our kitchen.  I had the opportunity to tell the story of how Bo, Claire and I walked to meet Lucy at the bus stop, and how when that dog saw that Lucy girl she went WILD and how Claire was able to ask all about Lucy's day and the girls had a chance to explain all that they did during that day.  There is nothing like having a time set aside each day (or at least once a week), to develop relationships and bond.

7)  This is one for bigger kids, but I have LOVED having the opportunity as these girls grow up to let one be an advisor for another.  As kids have struggled with this or that, I've asked them to ask so-and-so for advice, or I've let one girl know what their sister is going through and asked if they could give some extra love and attention to that sister.  Elle has been extra awesome at this being away at college, and has built those little sisters up a bunch from clear over in Hawaii.  Growing up my dad asked me a lot to keep an eye out for certain siblings he was worried about, and we did Tutors and Tutees (back HERE).  When you serve someone, especially a sibling, you grow love for them exponentially.

8)  Compliment kids in front of each other, and make sure to relay any kindness one kid may say about another to that child.  Tiny example: Elle and Grace were looking at a picture of Claire the other day, admiring her beauty.  Claire was not around to hear those nice words, but is in the throes of junior high and needs some encouragement from time to time.  So I made sure to let her know.  To which news of course she beamed.  Along with this I think it's so important to have zero tolerance for anyone speaking unkindly of anyone else in the family.  Ever.  We are all a team, a team of builders.  And we need to remember that.  I love that on birthdays growing up we always had the opportunity at the dinner table to go around and say what we loved specifically about the birthday person.  We still do it now in our family and it's such a great way for kids to look for the best in their siblings and let them know.

9)  Family Mission Statements (or Family Mottos)...nothing like all working together for the same cause to bond.  All about mission statements back HERE.

10)  Realize you're not a failure if there isn't peace and harmony all the time. That would be impossible.  We try to do all these built-in things and we still have the squabbling.  But that's ok.  Fighting and disagreeing in a safe environment helps train kids for future disagreements with colleagues, spouses, friends, future children, you name it.  We all just need to be trained, (I'm still being trained for crying out loud...over and over and over), and what a better place to learn than in our own homes?

I would LOVE to hear other ideas on this topic.  What do you do in your family to create strong sibling bonds?  Or what did your growing-up family do?

31 comments:

  1. I think a couple things have fostered the bond my two daughters have. First and foremost I think, my youngest daughter was accidently born at home. My then 2 1/2 year old daughter was present front and center with my husband when that very fiesty do it her own way second daughter was born. The moment my oldest realized what had just happened was pure magic. From that moment they have been inseparable and they are now 35 and 32. The other thing that has fostered their relationship is we were a military family moving every 3-ish years. They knew and still know that no matter where in the world we may have been they always had each other and never wanted to do anything to jeopordize that.

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    1. Love this. I so agree that moving is a big sibling (and also family)-bonder.

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  2. I LOOOVE this post. Thank you for your words! This is why I read your blog; so that I can get ideas for parenting and future family traditions. I want to raise my children in the best ways possible. Thank you!

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  3. My dad always told me that I would treat my brother like I would treat my future spouse- I eye-rolled of course, but it did stick with me.

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    1. Someone mentioned something similar to me this week: how you treat your siblings is how you will parent some day. Interesting to think about.

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  4. An eye-opener for me during one summer of bickering was the principle found in Mosiah 4:15 - "But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another." I realized that giving them opportunities to serve each other would increase their love for each other. And it did!

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  5. I really appreciated this today. It's something that has been on my mind alot. However I can't wait to hear the technology post because I am truly at my wits end with my near 14 year old who's life is ruled by it. She's so devestated that I won't cave to a $70 a month phone plan and she can only hook up to WiFi ( oh the drama that's causing) I would love to know what rules you have for phones etc

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    1. I'm anxious to get to this post as well...thinking about so much these days on this topic! I think that age is being hit the hardest with the drawbacks of technology. Keep going, Mama! You can do this! I wrote about our technology contract back here if you want to check it out: http://www.71toes.com/2013/02/friday-q-technology-contract.html

      I also wrote some stuff here: http://www.71toes.com/2016/10/social-mediatechnology-trainers.html

      More soon...it's such a huge part of parenting these days.

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  6. I really appreciated this today. It's something that has been on my mind alot. However I can't wait to hear the technology post because I am truly at my wits end with my near 14 year old who's life is ruled by it. She's so devestated that I won't cave to a $70 a month phone plan and she can only hook up to WiFi ( oh the drama that's causing) I would love to know what rules you have for phones etc

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  7. I have been wondering what my parents did that helped my sisters and I be so close, so this post is so timely. My mom did two awesome things that I think helped my sisters and I be great friends...she always told us that friends would come and go but that your sisters would always be there, and then she modeled it by having great friendships with her siblings. We also always had dinner as a family, which we've done with our family as well. We go around the table every night and say 3 highs and a low, and one thing we add in (not a staple) that really seems to help with the fighting is something we did that helped others. We haven't fully tried the fighting bench yet, but I think one other thing my parents did that worked really well was refusing to get involved in our fights. I think that parents getting involved and doling out punishments creates senses of favoritism that can cause more rivalry. As frustrating as fighting can be to listen to, I just try to remind myself that having them fight and work it out between them will make them stronger down the road.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this...I totally agree. Kids need ownership of those arguments.

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  8. About fighting, I decided about a year ago to just put an end to it. The very moment the kids start to fight, I separate them... You go to there laundry room, you go to the office.
    Then that's the absolute end of it. I don't try to referee and find out who did what. It's just over. And I usually tell my kids "We don't fight in our family" when I go tell them they can come out.
    This has been a very positive thing for our family.
    We tried the repentance bench approach for a while, but it seemed to just drag the fight out longer and more heated and I had a hard time dealing with all the chaos. So that got me all fired up and then everyone was fighting!. I do like the idea of taking responsibility for actions though. But for now, that's how we're dealing with fighting.

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    1. Good for you, that motherhood intuition is what you have to go with, and I love that it's working for your family!

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  9. I am the youngest of 3 girls (4 years between the 3 of us) and think back to our teenage years and aren't sure how our parents survived it! We are now 24,26 and 28 and could not be closer. BUT we had our troubles during the teenage years, which in Opinion are inevitable and there's not much you can really do about it. We fought a lot but it was mostly about trivial things (who stole who's make up, top, shoes, not leaving each other alone etc). Being the youngest it was hard for me to understand why my sisters suddenly were acting like this and what helped the most was my mum explaining to me about what they were experiencing with teenage changes and how soon I will feel the same way as well. Maybe try to explain to Lucy what's going on with Claire and that it's not personal, Claire is just growing up and Lucy should be excited for when she does to! I think as long as what they are arguing/bickering about stays trivial and is never personal attacks, once every reaches maturity the strong bonds grow back and you remain close

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    1. Thank you for sharing this. Great idea to explain not only to Claire how Lucy is struggling but also to Lucy what Claire is going through. I also love your first point that you fought as teenagers but are still so close now. I actually think that is huge to remember: teenager relationships don't necessarily equal adult relationships. We all sift through so much as we grow up, and things have such a beautiful way of leavening out as we become adults.

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  10. Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I have a 3 and a 1 year old. I just admire and your family so much! Thanks for being an example to me and my newly growing family!!

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  11. I don't have any parenting experience in that area, but I am close with my brother and sister.

    I think the basic which is most important is that the siblings like each other naturally. You probably can do all of the above and it won't help anything, if it's not in their character to like each other.

    But I think these ideas might add greatly to a natural love! And if I look back, I think that playing together helped us. So don't always organise playdates or outings with other families.

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  12. One suggestion: don't allow slammed doors :). I told our girls that it wasn't "civilized". You get to feel whatever you want, but even in anger/frustration, you have to be respectful. When they would get into fights I would usually give them a project to do together--something that was kind of fun, but required teamwork. Having each girl come up with things to do INSTEAD of responding in anger helps too. Replacing one behavior with something different is usually easier than just stopping something.

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  13. One thing we do is to pass around a basket at dinner. There are laminated slips of paper in the basket with the names of each family member (plus a few that say Guest). Each person takes a name and then we take turns saying something kind about the person whose name is on the paper. (When we have a guest we will usually work it so that the child who invited the guest says something positive about the guest and in turn, the guest gets to say something about the friend who invited the guest because it would be awkward to have to say something kind to a family member that the guest may not know.) It's fun for me as the mom to hear what my kids think up to say about their family members. Also, I have coined a phrase: "I will build my brother (or sister) up by the things I do and the things I say." When someone is unkind I make them say this phrase and then rephrase the unkind statement. Hoping these things foster relationships over the long term. (I have 5 kids ages 8-18.)

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    1. Such great ideas. Love the practice of rephrasing and "starting over" and reminding them what an important job they have to build.

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  14. THank you a million times for this post. I think summer brings a lot of these questions to the surface being around each other ALL THE TIME, which I love a lot, but also brings out a lot of arguing and fighting. These rae such great ideas and a great reminder to be the example of what I expect from my children. You always have the best posts. Thank you.

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  15. I absolutely love this topic. I am a fan of your parents since 1991, have almost all their books, and love the deliberate parenthood mindset. I have so much i could say about helping to make siblings closer, but it would fill a notebook, so I will just make one observation about technology.
    I am not pointing this out to be critical. Did you notice in your family reunion pictures from Bear Lake that at least one of the adults had a cell phone in their hand? I think technology is an adult problem, not just a preteen, or teen problem. Granted, they are a mini computer and someone could have been looking up information for the family meeting, or other conversations.
    I did notice that Richard and Linda didn't have a cell phone in hand, and I don't think I saw any children with one. As we all say, we need to lead by example. Just a little friendly tid- bit I observed. Next year, maybe get a box and everyone's cell phone, tablet, etc has to go in it until a certain time of day. Can you imagine? (I do understand keeping it for the parents, like you, whose children had not arrived yet.) Just a thought!!!!!

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    1. I SO agree with this. I think us parents are the worst offenders of cell phone distraction sometimes. Granted, like you said, sometimes there are good reasons to be on our phones, but I'm telling you, I know I'm on mine too much. That's part of my post that's coming, hopefully soon.

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  16. My husband and I were recently out for lunch and noticed two families having lunch with their children. ALL 8 individuals were on a cell phones or iPads the entire lunch. And it's common to see couples out and they're on cell phones constantly. Might as well stay home and hang a feed bag around the neck. I know that I spend too much time in the evening on my computer..and really need to put it away, but am grateful for our rule that phones are never allowed during meals or in the car. And all adult children follow the same rules. I asked our staff what the longest they are able to go without checking their phones and nearly all said that they need to check every 10-15 minutes. It is strange how dependent parents have become without having instant access to their kids constantly. So much healthier to have some separation.

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  17. Hi Shawni - loved reading this post. I grew up with a sibling with special needs and to this day we have a very special bond, so I really understand where Clare is coming from! I just sent you an email just sharing a bit from the sibling perspective to those kids with special needs, I hope it's helpful! Your children are SO very lucky to have you. Good luck!!!
    Katherine S.

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    1. Thank you Katherine! I'll check my email, so grateful for any extra added insight!

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  21. We use many of the ideas here, and what we call a together shirt. It's an extra large sorry that will hold two kids with each kid getting one sleeve. Then we give them chores that require them to work together. They keep working until they are having fun and the task is done. By the end of usually one or two chores they are laughing and having fun.

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