Is it “siblings who play together stay together”? Well, maybe, but close sibling relationships rely on far more than just playing together. Brothers and sisters are immeasurable gifts. So, how do we start fostering close sibling relationships from day one? Here are 18 tips to encourage your kids to stick together.
Retelling childhood memories of your own sibling relationships and talking about how much you appreciate your brothers and sisters today is a great way to show your children how important that family bond is. Make sure your children know the great stories behind a beautiful sibling relationship; they need good role models!
Every child loves different things, but when you find an interest that siblings share, they're more apt to enjoy each other's company. Asking your children to play LEGOs together isn't going to be a bonding experience if one really isn't into LEGOs. But if both of your daughters love ballet, make it a regular occurrence to turn on classical music, pull out leotards and encourage them to perform together.
When bringing new baby home, set the tone for physical affection between siblings. Too much "Don't touch! Be careful! Let him sleep!" can quickly discourage an older sibling from bonding. The baby's not going to break, so let older siblings explore their natural curiosity and (maybe with a little guidance) kiss, hug, touch and hold hands.
Find special jobs for older brothers and sisters that make them feel like they're helping their little siblings. Toddlers may not be able to give their little brothers a bath, but they can certainly push him in a swing, hold a bottle or put a sock on a tiny foot.
When you see little siblings adoring their older siblings, point it out. I love telling my older daughter, "See how she's looking at you? She loves you so much. You make her so happy." My older daughter always smiles and runs to hug her sister, and she appreciates her honored role of Big Sister a little more.
The simple physical act of holding hands represents protection, guidance, connection and love. Not only can encouraging hand holding keep a wandering little one from running off, but continued practice of it can nurture that sibling bond. Siblings who hold hands together stay together.
To avoid any sibling resentment, watch that you don't quickly abandon an older sibling to run and help a fussy baby. Some great advice that was once given to me: If the baby starts crying and you're playing with his older sibling, even if you're on your way to attend to the baby, say something for your older child to hear such as, "Just a minute, baby. I'm playing with your sister right now, and I'll be there in a minute."
When you see older siblings gently nurturing their baby sisters and brothers, compliment them. I love to see the pride on my daughter's face when I tell her what a great big sister she is--how gentle she plays with her brother and what great mama skills she has.
Large sibling age gaps (in our case, with half brothers) can be more challenging for creating deep relationships as older siblings are generally out of the house more and busy with things unrelated to Curious George, block towers and dress-up clothes. These relationships can be fostered by finding as many opportunities as possible for babies to be a part of their older siblings' world. Encourage holding, tickle fights, little brothers chilling on their big brother's bed, story-reading and open conversation as much as possible.
No parent likes to disrupt the well-oiled machine of good sleep routines, but every once in a while, it's nice to let siblings sleep in the same bed. Even if you just let them fall asleep together and move them to their respective beds later, it creates a beautiful bonding moment with sweet memories (alright, and adorable pictures) to follow.
Older siblings take great pride in teaching skills to their little brothers and sisters. Not only is the learning experience great for their connection, but the bragging rights are pretty endearing and last for life. How special is it to be able to say "I taught my little sister how to ride a tricycle," or "I showed my little brother how to play soccer."
When your kids make things for each other, show them how valuable that is by displaying their art. Frame pictures and tape sibling art to bedroom walls. It's a constant reminder for them to know how much they are loved by their siblings.
Older siblings love being trusted with baby care tasks, especially with newborn siblings. Teach them some basic tasks such as diaper changing or helping with a bath by using a doll to practice. Trust goes a long way and allows your older child to accept a nurturing role for their little brother or sister.
Reading books to each other is such an important tool to encourage closeness, and it doesn't necessarily require reading skills. Making up stories based on pictures is a fun way to foster imagination and allows even the littlest of siblings to feel special for being able to read to their baby brothers and sisters.
When a younger sibling is sad, let their brother or sister try and help before you jump in. When my younger daughter falls and runs to her sister for comfort, it always makes me smile. We need our siblings for crisis resolution later in life; it's great to foster it early.
There's something about the word "babysit" that sounds official. Even if I'm in the next room, my oldest loves when I give her the very important task of babysitting, and I love watching how seriously she takes the job.
Collect your favorite photos of your kids together and make a sibling book for each of them to keep. Frequently looking through it will solidify what your child is sure to know--that family is everything and that loving brothers and sisters is pretty special.
Remind your children often of the incredible gifts they are to each other. Right now, they may be simply play mates and best friends, but over the years they will cry on each other's shoulders, show up for celebrations big and small and guide each other through every up and down in life. "Use your resources," I'll tell my kids. "You'll always have each other."