My kids have this epic friendship with each other. They always have. They aren’t just siblings; they are best friends.
There is no silver bullet to ensuring your kids are best friends. Experts say that a lot of sibling relationships are tied to their individual personalities. But that doesn’t mean we don’t stack the deck in our house.
Here are 5 strategies we started from the first day home from the hospital:
1. The baby can wait.
My children are 25 months apart. My son is very structure oriented. He doesn’t like change. We had well-refined schedules and procedures by the time little sister came along. We focused on maintaining those as much as possible from the first day my daughter came home.
If I was reading a book to my son when my daughter started to cry, I would finish the book. Crying a few minutes wasn’t going to hurt her, but having my son feel like he was being pushed aside would hurt his heart. Except inevitably as I would keep reading, he would close the book and say, “Opal needs you, Mom. She’s hungry!”
I could see in his little two-year-old head that he felt that it was his responsibility to look after her because, obviously, the adults didn’t even know that she was hungry!
He still looks after her.
He still considers her to be the best addition in his life and to our family.
He never felt she took his place.
2. Siblings over stuff.
Outside of LEGOs, we don’t have a lot of toys at our house. We don’t have tablets and screen time is minimal. Most of my kids’ playtime is invested in imaginative play or building challenges – turning a cardboard box into a fort, then a rocket, then a ramp for cars. Imagining and problem-solving are so much more fun with someone else. The kids dream up their own world and spend the afternoon playing together.
3. Santa shares.
We are especially minimalists with toys at the holidays. For our family, I don’t want stuff to be the focus of Christmas. So when Santa comes, he brings one carefully thought out gift for the kids to share. Sometimes it’s big, like a slide for the back porch. Sometimes it is small, like a board game. But it is always something they can do together.
4. Mom isn’t the referee.
They are still kids and sometimes they disagree.
However, they both know that if Mom has to get involved, everyone loses.
I don’t pick sides. I don’t agree with one over the other…even when it is pretty obvious that one of them is the instigator. If their bickering escalates enough for me to get involved, they are both losing privileges.
This encourages them to work it out themselves. It also prevents Mom from being “so unfair.”
The rules are clear: Mom picks no one’s side.
4. We are a team.
In this house, we work together and speak kindly to each other.
When I’m cooking dinner, big brother can help little sister with reading or she can call out spelling words for him. For the family to earn a movie night, everyone in the family has to accomplish their to-do list. Often if one sibling finishes before the other, he will help her finish her list or vice-versa. We cheer each other on and support each other in the things each person finds important.
And, no matter what, it is expected that they speak respectfully to each other.
Unkind words and snarky tone are met with big consequences around here. They are simply not tolerated.
5. Your room is your safe space.
Good fences make good neighbors. Part of healthy relationships is healthy boundaries.
I don’t care how much you love someone, sometimes you need some space.
Sometimes my introvert just needs a few minutes of quiet and it is so hard for my extrovert to understand. If he needs some time to himself, he goes to his room and closes the door. That’s his space to retreat to if he needs to recharge. And often after he has reset, he will fling open his door and call for his sister to come play.
Sometimes my extrovert needs space to process her big emotions or a stage to sing as loud as she wants. Her room is her space to do that whenever she wants or needs to.
I’m not naïve enough to think that this is how their relationship will always be. I know it will evolve and change as they get older. But I want them to always know they have the other one as their person. I want them to appreciate what the other brings to their life. And I’m going to keep stacking the deck over here whenever I can.