At times, children naturally enjoy each other. But conflict is inevitable. If parents allow it, isolated conflicts can turn into a persistent rivalry with the power to dominate their children’s relationships with each other. In other words, if we wait for kids to fight to be engaged in their relationship, we’ve waited too long.
Do your kids fight a lot? And you keep trying different things, but they keep fighting? We can be purposeful about building connection between siblings by intentionally facilitating opportunities for children to enjoy each other. This means that when inevitable conflict happens, they are motivated to resolve respectfully and grow stronger in relationship. A helpful question to develop ideas for these connecting times is: “What are some treats or privileges the children don’t normally get that could be enjoyed together?” (If group conflict is frequent, try the divide-and-conquer approach and start with just two kids at a time.) Help your kids come up with their own ideas, but if you get stuck, the following list may spark your creativity:
- Spread out a blanket for children to share a special meal of favorite finger food.
- Facilitate a team experience like baking cookies together or making a gift or card for a friend, sibling, or relative. Serving others sets a caring tone for the interaction.
- Join forces with one child to surprise another child in a special way (e.g. make her breakfast in bed, clean up his room for him).
- Build affirmation as you connect at dinner. Each person states one positive thing they have noticed and appreciate about the person using the “Special Person Placemat” that night.
- Set up “slumber parties” in a kid-made blanket fort or a tent in the backyard for older kids.
- Ask an older child to tuck a younger one into bed and pray for him.
When you facilitate a special time together, maximize the connection and unity! Before beginning an activity, you can ask – “Do you kids think you’re going to have a good time?!” When they say yes, they begin to anticipate a positive experience. Then ask, “What are you going to do to make sure you have fun together?” Affirm any ideas they have.
While they are having fun together, take a picture to display or scrapbook as a reminder of their fun. When they are done, even if there was a few rough moments, wrap it up by talking about what went well, how each person felt, etc. Carry forth the momentum and start brainstorming ideas for the next outing/activity.
In our family, restaurant “dates” were a favorite. We don’t eat out very often, so it became a big deal to help the kids to do it with each other occasionally. I (Jim) took Bethany and Daniel on their first such date when they were six and eight years old. It was a time in their lives when their tendency to conflict dominated their interactions. I coached Daniel a bit in some etiquette and made sure he knew the importance of watching out for his little sister. I parked outside to provide some minimal supervision through the windows. What a delightful experience to watch them order, laugh, share food, and clean up when they were done.
This became a tradition enjoyed by any combination of our kids, even as adolescents. One time Lynne paid for their meal with the stipulation that they write a list of ten reasons to value and work on their relationship. (Five could be silly, but five had to be legitimate reasons.) They had a great time compiling the list.
For years, Lynne and I purposefully, persistently facilitated connection between our children. It is no longer necessary. Now in their twenties, our kids are best friends! As parents affirm children and set them up to affirm each other, they will learn to value each other, respect each other, and carry those skills forward into their lives.