Are your children always fighting? Are you ready to create some sibling harmony?
Let me clarify something from the get-go…my home is NOT 100% harmonious!! We have simply learned some things the hard way. In fact, most of what we have learned in this parenting journey seems to have been the hard way. Maybe, if we pass some of these lessons along, it will save you from having to do the same.
Another clarification is that I have a 4-year-old, 3-year-old, and 6-month-old. Most of this post will be directed toward my older two because, obviously, the 6-month-old hasn’t learned to be a “harmonious sibling” yet. 😉 I believe most of these tips will apply to older children also, but only time will tell.
The main messages I am hoping to get across today is:
- Starting to train this young is ideal. When they are little, you are teaching them their foundational worldview. Their natural instinct will be selfish, volatile, and inconsiderate. It is simply a fact we need to accept, no matter how sweet and charming you believe your toddler to be. Our job is to instill in them a worldview that sibling relationships should be cherished and selfless things. It is never too late to start directing them onto the right path. But if you are beginning with an older child, you will be REPLACING a worldview instead of CREATING one. If will take more time and patience.
- The season of having toddlers can and should be a JOY! Most of the tips I am offering today will not only help with the relationship between your kids, but also their relationship with you, and anyone else they interact with!
1. Have them share a room as soon as they are on the same nap schedule
If one/both/all of your children are older (your discretion on the applicable age) you would want to keep genders separate. But when they are little, pile them all in together!
You might say, “but wouldn’t that be a breading ground for tension??” Yep! Remember when I talked about a toddler’s natural tendencies? Our goal is not to AVOID confrontation, but to teach them how to HANDLE it. If we keep them separated and try to do everything in our power to avoid difficult moments, we won’t really be giving them a harmonious relationship…because they won’t really have a relationship at all!
This philosophy will also be preparing them for life. Who here has had a close relationship, even as adults, that was completely without tension? It’s safe to say none of us have. Learning how to selflessly handle these situations is invaluable (and something I am still trying to learn myself!)!
All that to say, sharing a room will make them share space, toys and décor in the room. It will also make them work together when it is time to pick up their room. But mostly, it will cause them to be together during their most raw moments. As my mom always taught me, “these difficult moments aren’t trials, they are opportunities to grow!”
2. Schedule play time before sleep time
I think you might begin to see a pattern here. I am not only suggesting they room together, but I schedule a time for my littles to play alone together in their room for an hour before naptime and bed time. And yes, it was an hour of confrontations every five minutes at first, but now, most nights, there isn’t a single tense moment!
Think of it like your immune system. The best way to get a strong immune system is to surround it with healthy food and then let it face some germs! As long as you are feeding it healthy food that it can pull necessary nutrients from, every germ it faces will give it a “workout” or let the “soldiers practice fighting” so that it can take whatever comes in the future.
You are the healthy food. Hopefully, you are feeding them wisdom on how to respond in a way that is not natural for them and surrounding them with prayer and encouragement as they learn these new habits. But at the end of the day, you can offer advice and encouragement until you are blue in the face, if they never have the opportunity to practice, the skill will not be formed.
My biggest tip is to close the door and turn on the monitor. If the door is open they will be tempted to edit their behavior for your benefit. But since you closed the door and they aren’t editing their behavior, have the monitor close to know when to step in and referee. For the first few days/weeks it will be quite often.
This can also play into the rest of the day. If I’m busy I can simply say, “Y’all go play” and they go together to find something to do. And yes, there are still plenty of times that reminders need to be given on what communication should look like, but every moment of practice is a step closer to having a worldview permanently in place!
3. Patience and Consistency
So, those last two tips I gave…they go hand-in-hand with this once. Setting up learning situations isn’t enough. When we have a fight with someone, we can just easily take the bad path as the good one. Do that often enough and the tense moments will actually be teaching us BAD habits. How YOU handle their squabbles determines if it is a beneficial things or a detriment to their relationship. No pressure.
The biggest help for me is to remember what their natural tendencies are. One of my children started to develop a habit of biting the other sibling when frustrated. There were moments I was literally dumb-founded thinking, “I just can’t fathom what made you think it was okay to BITE another human being!!” But they are not born with any idea of right vs wrong, etiquette, or consideration. So, if they aren’t showing as much of those traits as we would like, the responsibility falls on their teachers…us.
Another reminder for anytime we are trying to teach this age is consistency and repetition. One of my children struggles with listening (surprisingly NOT the one that struggled with biting). You have to make sure this child is looking at you very intently when you are speaking to them, and even then, it is not a guarantee that their mind isn’t wandering. Let’s just call it the attention span of a goldfish. There are MANY times that I feel like I am giving the same reminders ALL day EVERY day and wonder, “Will it EVER click???” But I will tell you, if I stay consistent and patient, it ALWAYS does!
4. Work Together
Let’s push this thing one step further. Although I believe work can be made into something fun depending on your attitude and company, it isn’t as fun as free play time. But, of course, work is a part of life and you can’t just learn how to thrive in relationships during fun times. This is why almost every chore that my kids do, they do together as a sibling team. Either the two of them or the three of us.
As a side note, I do want my children to learn to do all of the tasks around the house. So I teach them opposite halves of the chore and then the next time I have them swap.
The biggest tension-causer here is the tendency of one to slack so that the other has to work harder. But the other one doesn’t care for that. So bickering begins. Again, at first you will have to stay close to make sure they are both learning to invest themselves in what they have been told to do. But with consistency and patience, they will develop a great work ethic and live in sibling harmony!
This one is icky.
This world would be a much more beautiful place if you could convince a toddler to live in harmony with his siblings by giving him a few reminders and a pep talk. But it simply does not work that way! There are going to be days when your sweet little one does not care one iota if the blow she is about to give her sibling will hurt. And in that moment of frustration, Mommy’s reminders just aren’t motivating enough.
So, whether you decide to spank, do time-out, take away privileges, or any other type of punishment…I don’t believe these tips will be truly effective without some form of punishment. I am an advocate of spanking, and have a link to the method we use here (LINK). But I will say that I have found times where a time-out or removing a treasured item have also been very motivating.
The biggest hesitation I have heard from parents on this topic is that they don’t want their kids to learn to have good sibling relationships just to avoid punishment.
I hear ya.
But I believe there is a reason this method is successful. The goal I have is to give negative actions a negative connotation in my children’s minds.
Let’s say one of my kids is pushing their sibling’s buttons out the yin-yang. The sibling finally snaps by walloping them over the head. No matter how much reminding and reprimanding you do, I’m pretty sure that when the “walloper” thinks back on the event, they will feel a sense of satisfaction. But if you engage a punishment that overwhelmingly out ranks that satisfaction, those negative feeling are what they will associate with walloping their sibling. Make sense?
6. Go Deeper
This is a tip that I have found to be very helpful in our home but I completely understand that is may be outside of some family’s comfort zone. It is your call if your children are ready for this one.
When I say that I teach my children the basics of theology, take that with a grain of salt considering that they are three and four years old. Let me back up a bit.
About a year ago we were watching a Disney movie and one of the characters died. My daughter, Heidi, turned around and asked what happened to that character. I thought for a minute about the downsides to transparency and decided that I thought she could handle it. And she did!
To help her understand, I held her hand on her neck so that she could feel her heart beating. I said that if someone’s heart stops “bumping” they are dead. I tried to expand on what dead means by saying that we won’t see them anymore etc. Being the inquisitive child that she in, there were MANY more questions on the topic. The more she began to understand, the more uncomfortable I was with the idea of her understanding the basics of death but not knowing about the possibility of seeing people we love after we die.
So, a few months ago, I sat my kids down and using Bible stories, pictures, and my own explanations, I tried to convey the idea of God vs Satan and Heaven vs Hell. At that age, I usually assume that in any heavy conversation, it will be about 50% initial explanation and 50% follow-up questions. Surprisingly, my 3-year-old, Daniel was very interested and involved. After that conversation, I listened very closely the next few days to see if they were retaining any of it and if they seemed confused by anything. Over all, I think they have a fairly good grasp on it and seem to be handling it very well.
But you might be saying, “What on earth does this have to do with harmonious sibling relationships???”
It is all about the end goal. As I said in the previous point, my PRESENT goal is to create a negative connotation to associate with negative actions. My END goal is to create a desire in their hearts to do what’s right because they love God and want to follow Him!
Once they had an understanding of Heaven and Hell, I was able to help explain WHY I wanted them to do the right thing and WHY I punished them. I tried to make it very clear that if they did the wrong thing that DID NOT mean they were going to “Satan’s house” as long as their heart was sorry and wanted to follow Jesus again. I also spent a lot of time talking about the glories of Heaven and conveying that the reason God made it so wonderful is because He loves us so much. But when we snatch or hit or sin in any way, that makes Jesus so sad.
Daniel is still trying to grasp some of the concepts. But there have been many times when Heidi realized that Jesus, who has made such a beautiful eternal home for her and loves her so much, has become sad because of what she did to her brother, it has brought her to tears!
As I mentioned before, it has also helped me to explain why Mommy has to punish them. If we aren’t following Jesus and don’t want to obey Him, we won’t go to His house someday. And if Heidi or Daniel didn’t go to Jesus’ house, it would break Mommy’s heart forever! So, Mommy wants to help Heidi and Daniel learn to obey what Jesus wants them to do!
Thank you for reading! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!