A good male friend recently described the relationship between his two teen sons as “non-existent”. Different social circles, different schools, unconnected lives living in the same house. If one is away for a while, the other will eventually ask about him, but only casually, and he certainly doesn’t want his brother to know that he cares. My friend assures me that his boys are going through the normal stage of wanting nothing to do with one another, and that he is sure they will reconnect down the line.
He had to assure me of this, because I’ve not experienced a phase where any of my three children didn’t get along fairly well with each other. The fact that several years separate each of them (3 years between my first two, then 4 years between the second and third) could be a big factor. They had to spend a good deal of time together when they were young, of course, but they were always at different developmental stages, so the competitive level generally stayed pretty low.
I am sure that my friend is quite right about his sons, and he is wisely adopting the “don’t sweat the small stuff” parenting approach. But I have to confess that it would bug me if my children weren’t close. I am not talking “we don’t need any other friends” close, but at least “I’m cool with hanging with you around the house” close. This leads me to wonder: what, if anything, can parents do to promote friendship among their children?
“How to Get Siblings To Get Along” in Chicago Parents, found here, had some good suggestions. I particularly liked the following:
Encourage an Expectation of Closeness: Katie Allison Granju, a mom of five kids and author of Attachment Parenting, suggests that parents have a baseline expectation within the family that siblings will be friends, and subtly make sure that everyone understands that expectation. Encourage your children to view each other as allies. As Pat Shimm of the Barnard Toddler Center says, your ultimate goal is to have your children join forces together against you, the “management”, for that is how their bonds form and grow.
Support Each Other’s Activities: Insist (where reasonable) that your children attend some of their sibling’s activities and games. It involves them more in each other’s lives and gives them an opportunity to cheer for (or console) one another.
Family Conversations: I groan a bit at any forced encounters (like a planned “family meeting”) but making time for family conversations, be they around the dinner table (a great place to promote togetherness) or in the car, allows your children to listen to one another’s thoughts and ideas. Enforcing rules that everyone has to be polite and not interrupt will help keep the conversation civil and productive. It also gives everyone an opportunity to laugh together, which is always good.
Don’t Compare: A surefire way to poison sibling relationships is to play favorites or suggest that one child should act more like another. Don’t do it, even if one seems to have all the common sense (smarts, talent, whatever) in the world and the other none. Nothing good comes from your saying “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister”? Nothing.
Establish Family Traditions: Chicago psychologist Dr. Mark Sharp notes that anything that helps kids identify as a part of the family is particularly helpful. “Family traditions, family rituals, these experiences create a sense of bond. That helps create a shared identity, which helps them feel closer.” When my children were young we established Fridays as Pizza Night, which ensured that the three of them (and often all of us) would enjoy yummy casual dining at the end of the week. Even now if one of the older two is home from college on a Friday, he or she expects to see the pizza boxes on the counter and whatever sibling is home seated at the table.
These are suggestions, not prescriptions. Sometimes no matter what you do your children will refuse to get along, and will seem not to care about one another. But it certainly won’t hurt to focus on some of these tips, and it could even help.
What do you do to encourage your children to strengthen their family ties to one another? Please share your tips!