The fact that I’m even writing an article on the topic of sibling harmony does not mean that our family has mastered the subject. Far from it! Note that I’m not titling this “How to Achieve Sibling Harmony,” because we haven’t accomplished that yet.
However, we do recognize this as a priority, and I thought it might be helpful to others on the same journey for me to set down a few things we do to encourage the fostering of good, healthy sibling relationships. It’s also a good reminder for me to review on those days when things just aren’t going smoothly!
By way of review, our kids are pretty evenly spaced and close in age. Currently they are ages ten, eight, five (almost six), four, and one (almost two). (They’re basically all two years apart, with some variation in the birthday months, and we’re currently going through the rollover period.) By turns they can be bosom buddies or thorns in each other’s flesh.
Our goal is to encourage the development of real, lasting friendships, although at this young age I mainly strive for cooperation and a general lack of quarrelsomeness. I wrestle with how much to intervene in their disagreements, since I want to settle differences equitably yet I also want to leave space for them to practice their own problem-solving skills.
1. I try to read 1 Corinthians 13 aloud to the kids on a regular basis. During one season of life I read it every morning at breakfast! We talk about the qualities of love (does not behave unseemly, does not rejoice in iniquity) and discuss how we can show these qualities to each other every day.
2. We take apologies seriously. Sometimes there is simply no time to deal with an infraction properly in the moment, in which case I will try to have the malefactor sit down and wait while I get through whatever is pressing at the moment, because I want to give the matter my full attention. We avoid perfunctory apologies, and guide the child through the process of acknowledging what went wrong and what needs to be corrected. I usually prompt younger children with a script to deliver to the wronged party, something along the lines of: “I was wrong when I […]. Next time, I will […]. Please forgive me.” This process is a real bother to work through. It would be so much simpler and easier to shove the child in the direction of the offended sibling and say, “Now go say you’re sorry!” But having a child slog through the painful steps of acting out repentance and forgiveness forces them to confront the seriousness of their actions.
3. I try to model gentle, patient, loving behavior to my kids. This can be a difficult thing to do consistently, but I find that when I get too wrapped up in my own agenda (writing articles on the computer, ahem) and am inclined to ignore their needs, things tend to spiral out of control. Interruptions become problematic, and I find myself getting irritated when I should exercise patience. When my own voice is calm and loving, it carries far more weight than if I were to yell at them to stop yelling at each other.
4. I play music in our house. Sometimes in the mornings when we are doing chores, we choose fun, upbeat music. During quiet times (or times when I want it to be quiet), I’ll opt for soft, soothing music.
5. I try to be proactive in setting an agenda, pairing up different children with different tasks or play assignments, in an attempt to mitigate potential conflict. Since we all live in the same house, all day long, there’s going to be plenty of interaction with everybody. But I do try to change the dynamics sometimes.Divide and conquer!
6. I try to lavish praise on my children, both directly and indirectly. Someday, when I’m grasping at straws, I’ll praise every instance of kindness and love I can spot: “I am so proud of how well you shared with your sister! Thank you for being so mature!” or “I saw how you didn’t respond in anger when he was rude to you, and I really appreciate your self-control.” This kind of positive affirmation works wonders.
Another thing I like to do is point out to one child the good behavior of another. Of course, this must be done in such a way as will evoke gratitude and good feeling (“That was so nice of her to share with you! Can you say thank you?”) rather than comparison and resentment (“See how generous he is being! Try to be more like that.”)
There’s no surefire method to guarantee that children will behave in a certain way. Of course I want results (peace and quiet), but more important than the outward trappings of civility and nice behavior is cultivation of the inward character of love.
Photo Credit: All photos taken by Rose Focht, edited by Charity Klicka.