Our kids get along really well. I mean, really well. Overall, anyway–the last few days not withstanding. They can literally play together without any major fuss for hours. I didn’t think much about this until I started reading homeschool blogs and saw that sibling relationships are considered one of the big perks to homeschooling–which infers that great sibling relationships are not necessarily the norm.
Now, there’s no guarantee that this will continue, but here’s a couple things I think are working for us right now.
1. Let them PLAY together
Completely unstructured. No board games or sports where all the rules and roles are set. I mean, shoo them out of the house and let them play together, alone and unrestricted. Not forced to take turns or share. Not directed by an adult…just turn them loose and let them work it out between themselves and their imagination.
This is how our kids spend 75% of their time and it’s a world where they have to figure out how to get along or they don’t have any fun.
2. Let them EACH lead
Some of us are natural leaders and some are natural followers. We use opportunities like chores for each child to learn leadership. Sometimes we make the older ones follow directions from the younger ones. If Speedracer is an “expert” on feeding the dog, then anyone helping him follows his directions. It builds confidence and teaches them to respect each other.
This also means that sometimes the leader gets stuck with extra work. I think this is an important lesson. As I mentioned last week about chores–we try not to interfere in them working out a job until they’re done. Leaders need to take responsibility for getting the job done, including encouraging and motivating others to help or doing it themselves when push comes to shove. And teammates need to take responsibility for long-term consequences like not getting help next time they ask. We help them debrief as a group after the assignment is done.
3. Let them ASK each other
This goes hand-in-hand with #2. Let them interact directly–not through momma and daddy. If the Ladybug needs help with the chicken house, I’ll tell her to ask the Cowboy for help. This usually involves a lot of swallowing pride–but it also teaches them to interact politely and respectfully with each other, solve their own problems, and work together. And when they don’t get along in such cases, we’ll sit down with each party separately and talk about attitudes, tone of voice, and having either humility or a servant’s heart.
We always try to address heart/attitude problems privately with each child–I learned this the hard way when I heard one of our munchkins using my corrective words against their sibling in an argument. It’s one thing for them to correct each other about calling names–it’s another thing to correct each other about having an unhelpful spirit or poor witness for Christ. I think this is age-dependent, but it’s certainly applicable for us right now.
4. Let them FORGIVE each other
So often, our kids come to us first to solve every problem. I’ve had to learn (and Mr. Fix-It is a big help to me here!) to give them some thoughts on how to handle it and step back and let them do it. When someone gets in trouble, we may discipline or correct, but we also require them to go back and make it right directly with their sibling. Apologizing to momma or daddy can never be a substitute for apologizing or asking forgiveness of each other.
This also involves a lot of pride swallowing! But the lesson in humility is invaluable. It also teaches the sibling on the other side to be graceful and forgiving.
5. Let them have TIME together
This one is last, but should really be first. You have to put sibling time–family time–first and foremost in your days. They have to have time to play together. Time to work together. Time to lead and help each other. Time to work out their problems, talk to each other, offend and forgive each other…you can’t let time with friends trump time with family. You can not let time for personal interests trump time for family interests. All these outside influences must be balanced against time with family.
So far we think it’s going pretty well. If you’re looking for something a little more specific and concrete, there’s a great, little book calls Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends, that gave me some specific pointers. I know several families that have the kids read the book together regularly. I’m also a fan of the American Girl book Oh, Brother…Oh, Sister and I’ve heard this Sibling one is good too, but haven’t read it.
Do you have any sibling tips to share?