Psalm 133:1 gets a hearty "Amen" -
How good and pleasant it is when brothers (sisters!) dwell together in unity!
That's certainly what all parents want but what can we do to foster that?
I've had it pretty easy in this department because my kids really do love and enjoy one another. It's an absolute delight to have them all together and watch them have fun and reminisce. And I have to choke back tears of gratefulness when I get a glimpse of their counsel to, confidences with and comedy alongside one another.
But we've certainly had our share of tears and misunderstandings and pleas from Mom to "can't you just get along???" I've stumbled through some parenting landmines, setting some off and taking some hits myself in this area. Here's some things I've learned along the way that might help at your dwelling place....
1. Talk often and with sincere joy and enthusiasm how wonderful it is to have siblings. Point out all the benefits (there are some, you know!!!) of growing up with brothers and sisters. Do this early on and they will catch it. Speak well of your own siblings. This is big. Set the example so they will think it is normal to have good sibling relationships. This is probably overstating it a bit but I'll say it anyway - do not complain about or criticize one child to another. DO NOT. It's OK to let them vent to you about one another but help them see the other's point of view and accept their own responsibility for the problem. Set the tone and the expectations for acceptance and grace and the ability to overlook an offense. (BTW - this will drive your kids crazy because sometimes they want you to side with them about how awful their sib is. Don't let that bother you!)
2. Set them up as "a team". Have them work together to accomplish chores or activities. Paul used to play a game of catch with 2 or 3 at a time and the goal was to see how many times they could collectively pass/catch the ball around. Emphasize teamwork over individual achievement. And this point is important - be willing to be "the common enemy". Lots of times I knew mine were ganging up together to be mad at me or to complain about how unreasonable I was but I let it roll off my back because I was just glad they were a team!!
3. Treat sibling relationships with greater priority than friends. I learned this from a Mom of four precious girls. If they weren't getting along with each other, she didn't send any of them off to play with friends. Instead, she instructed them that they had to learn to be good friends at home before they could be good friends away. It worked!! These four gals have grown up to be the best of besties!
4. Don't reward tattling. Granted, you have to be able to recognize a genuine concern for her brother's safety (as in "Mom, Baby Chip slipped out of the gate and is in the street") but don't encourage one child to rat out the other. Instead, let the tattler sit in timeout rather than punishing the offender.
5. Don't overschedule outside activities. Kids need time at home with just each other to develop good relationships. Plan family times (but don't become a slave to creating "pinnable" moments...). Develop some traditions that you rally your family around - these need not be elaborate! As simple as pancakes on Saturday morning!!
6. Praise carefully. It's good to applaud success but don't overdo it so as to create feelings of jealousy among sibs. The best things to cheer about are character traits, not performance.
7. Create a vision for their futures that is built on loving closeness between them. As in "when you and Sissy grow up, you will have so much fun raising your families together. Cousins are the best!"
8. Do not involve one child in another's discipline. Do not punish one in front of the other and nip it in the bud if one seems delighted that the other has gotten in trouble. Cannot overstate this one.
9. Realize that sometimes they need a little space. Some kids need it more than others. Creating a "team atmosphere" is not the same as a "herd mentality". Resist the temptation to treat them as clones of one another (just because they are the same gender doesn't mean they like the same thing). And don't insist that little sister should be automatically included in every activity. This can lead to resentment and suppressed guilt and what all else. (For the record, this takes ALOT of emotional fortitude for me to make this point ---- I WAS the little sister!! And, yes, my feelings got hurt and I am sure I need lifelong counseling because of it but being a parent to 4 has helped me see the wisdom in this approach. Kids are individuals and eventually they will take individual paths. Be careful of treating every single opportunity as a "package deal". )
When they fight, take the time to demonstrate how to resolve conflict. Guide, but don't referee. You don't want to take sides. Try guidance instead. Yes, this takes time and a lot of energy but it's worth it. Train them to ask for forgiveness and also to grant grace. Model it yourself and then preach it over and over and over.