7 ways to strengthen your relationship with your child despite sibling rivalry
December 30, 2016
There are always good moments. Moments when they are cuddled up together reading a book, times when they are helping and encouraging each other, coming up with some funny game, or giggling about an inside joke.
Then there are the other times.
You know, sibling jealousy stuff. Little behavioral outcries for connection. Totally understandable, right? I mean, could you imagine having to share your partner, your one-and-only, with two other people who are angling for his/her affection? And can I just bemoan, for a bit, the lamentable fact that there are only TWO SIDES of my body while sitting on a couch reading a book, and TWO HANDS available while out on a hike? I know. I wish that, with the birth of my third child, I also acquired a third arm. Octopus appendages preferable.
When I consider the long view of parenting, what seems to be the most important factor (and ultimately, the only one I can control) is my individual relationship with each of my three children. As adults, they may end up good friends, they may end up living far from each other and seeing each other only occasionally, or they may be so different that they don't find much common ground. Of course, I hope that I'm building a strong sibling connection through homeschooling, family adventures, and traditions, but in the end, their relationships with each other are theirs alone. But my relationship with each of them is totally in my hands, and I strive to connect deeply with each of them.
Going through a phase where my kids are bickering more often that usual means that I need step back and observe if there are any needs that aren't being adequately met - unmet needs which might correlate with the uptick of feelings of jealousy.
For us, that generally means that there has been a dearth of time alone with me. Time when I can focus on each child without distractions. Totally impractical, yet totally necessary for my kids' emotional health. Some days I struggle to get food made, shuttle kids to a lesson here, write a blog post there ... let alone make time for my own self-care. But here are some ways to connect with each child individually that have worked for me in the past. Starting today, I'm going to take my own advice and implement as many of the following strategies as possible. I should note that, for my kids, stealthy "special time" is better for sibling harmony than announcing to everyone that "Mama is going to spend 15 minutes playing with Lachlan. You other two do your thing, then it will be your turn!" That only rubs vinegar in their wounds.
Here are some ways that I can sneak in moments of connectedness with each child even amidst a full day:
1.) Steal little moments: Out of eyeshot of siblings, whisper sweet words of love and appreciation into each child's ear. Look at that child with a twinkle in your eyes. If you find it helpful, keep a little tally sheet for your own use, showing the number of whispered love messages/hugs each child has received that day.
2.) Take advantage of quiet moments to have a big, juicy conversation: When the other kids are engaged in their own activities/play, sit beside the free child and start a conversation about what he/she is doing. Follow conversational tangents, be curious about what that child is thinking. Express sincere interest in his/her interest(s).
3.)Little love notes: A simple note of appreciation or something that you noticed about the child's experience that day, left under a pillow, in a lunch box, or in a book that you pick to read together.
4.) Whisper to a child who needs some extra lovin' that you'd like to share some special time with her, and ask if it's ok if you invite her siblings to listen to an audiobook together while you play/chat together. I find having a multi-headphone splitter a great tool for this. The kids are able to hear more clearly, and thus focus more easily, on their story. Each of my kids has a different version of these animal headphones.
5.) Schedule dates with each child: We are lucky in my family - we have three children, one set of grandparents who live in town, and two parents. This means that we have the freedom to set aside a morning or afternoon where each child receives some special attention - one with me, one with Patrick, and one with my parents. Ideally, we do this every few weeks, rotating kids.
6.) Focus on the positive interactions: Write down the good moments. Do a little mental tally of those moments of kindness and mention your gratitude for such moments to your child before he or she falls asleep.
7.) Every week, have a meeting with each child: Ask what their priorities are for the week - what do they want to play? Who do they want to see? What are they curious to learn? Write them down, and discuss how you might be able to fit their interests into the family calendar.
And don't forget to take lots of pictures and videos of them having fun together. My husband thought that he and his siblings constantly fought, but was surprised to see some long-lost family videos that indicated that his memory was slightly skewed. They were all being so darling and sweet to each other! For your kids' sake, make sure they remember the positive interactions that they shared. Tell stories about those funny and kind sibling moments, watch the fun videos, and pull out the photo books often.
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