Alternate title: How to Encourage Sibling Bonding :)
I mean it when I say I can’t think of anything I have enjoyed more about motherhood than watching our children’s relationships unfold.
Eighteen months apart, our boys have never really known being without each other. When someone asks the younger one how old he is, he answers with his age and the age of his brother—even when his brother isn’t there—almost as if the two of them are one entity in his head. :)
They also treat their little sister like a celebrity, giving her wet kisses and hugs before EVERY nap and always begging to go see her when she is sleeping.
Despite typical sibling squabbles (which DO—full disclosure—grate on my nerves), I’m incredibly grateful that our kids get along as well as they do, and I wanted to share a few ideas for the mom who is thinking about how to encourage sibling bonding among her own.
8 Ways to Foster Siblings Who PLAY Together
1. Set the stage. Trigger imaginations by inconspicuously laying out out play dough, bath paints, superhero capes, play food, tea cups, etc (“invitations to play”). A new activity, especially when they think it was their idea, never fails to reset moods and reengage siblings.
2. Be wary of TV. When the noise level starts to get to you, it can be tempting to put on a TV show to get a few minutes of peace. But I’ve noticed that TV zaps my kids’ creative energy and brings them to me afterward with the inevitable, “Nowww what??” So as long as they are maintaining their creative “flow,” try not to interrupt it unless absolutely necessary. :)
3. Consider having them share a room. I think we often undervalue how comforting it can be for kids to share space, especially in the dark of night, with a sibling. It also gives them time to develop their relationship without guidance or pressure from their parents. (Aside: My husband and his brother shared a bed straight through high school. I know.)
4. Be lenient with bedtime antics—as long as they’re in their room. If it works for your family, consider building in some extra time for them to play in their room before bed. It may mean more of a mess to clean up in the morning, but it also means uninterrupted sibling bonding. Even when they are colluding against us, we secretly don’t mind because we know it is cementing their friendship. :)
5. Don’t compare. This one goes without saying, but try not to draw even small, seemingly harmless comparisons. (“See how Trenton did his buckle as soon as we got in the car?”) Sometimes these comparisons can be SO tempting (and useful in the moment!), so it takes a lot of practice to zip your lips.
6. Step out. As much as possible, leave them to work out their own problems. My husband’s mom is famous for saying “I’m not your referee” to her dueling sons, and now I find myself saying the same thing to mine. Kids are shockingly capable of working through conflict when parents remove themselves from the situation.
Protip: Literally remove yourself. :) Getting out of their line of sight will make them less likely to call on you for a solution!
(See this recent Forbes article for a swift kick about why over-involvement can cripple our kids.)
7. Be the eye of the storm. I picked this tip up from a blogger and mother of five whom I really admire: be the eye of the storm, the calm in the middle of the hurricane, for your family. To read an interesting dialogue between a mom and two fighting siblings (an example of being the “eye”), check out this article at Psychology Today.
8. Talk them up! Take every chance you get to verbally notice their positive interactions, try not to lay on the pressure for them to be examples for each other, and express gratitude for their relationships in family prayers. See the good and speak of it—every day.
Four spontaneous moments as our sons have grown: Trenton helping Chase down some steps; holding hands in the car; Trenton napping next to the crib (for weeks) so he could be closer to Chase; and the beginnings of many, many hours of creative play in their bedroom.