We all want our kids to to get along, right? Nothing grates on our nerves or breaks our hearts more than listening to our kids fight with each other. And I am not writing this post today because I have it all figured out and my kids get along beautifully– I don’t, and, sadly, they don’t. But, the title of this post has a long-term perspective to it and that is what I want to talk about. Instead of focusing on the short-term, make-the-yelling-stop solutions to the problem, if your goal is helping your children become lifelong friends, it changes how you view the situation and how you respond to it.
There are certain words that just don’t fly at my house beyond swear words. Shut up is one of them. Name calling is also not okay. Making fun of someone’s appearance in any way is also not tolerated. It is an individual decision what you are willing to put up with coming out of your kids mouths, but I believe setting the standard high here is important. If it is a word that is disrespectful, hurtful, and can cause long-term damage to your children’s relationships with each other, it should probably not be something you ignore and let continue.
Of course your kids, like mine, are going to test the limits and in the heat of the moment use words on the black list, but make your expectations clear and deal swiftly with any infractions so they know it is not something they can get away with. This will carry over into their interaction with kids at school and in the neighborhood as well. They will be kinder and more respectful of their peers if they are held to a high standard at home. And we, the parents of their peers, will be so grateful.
Teach your kids by example that we all make mistakes and that is okay as long as we follow them up with sincere apologies, restitution, and an effort to change and do better next time. This is what is most important in the long-term. If we teach our children how to really apologize to each other and how to forgive one another, we can help them avoid the built-up bitterness and resentment that would permanently damage their relationships with each other. Teach them how to nip problems in the bud quickly, how to fix them and move one.
At the end of each day, we pray together as a family. I was chatting with a friend recently whose kids are older now. She said the best thing she did as a mom was have everyone in the family say what they loved about the person who would be saying the family prayer that night before the prayer was said. They did this for the majority of their kids growing up years and it had a huge impact. No matter what happened that day, how many fights broke out and tears were shed, the day ended with love being expressed and that made all the difference.
The magic of this simple tradition is that the person who is receiving the love that night gets a boost of significance and belonging in the family, which is so critical if you’ve ever studied Positive Parenting Solutions by Amy McCready. Most sibling rivalry and fights, as well as negative behavior in general, stems from your child not feeling significant or that they belong in the family. This is an easy way to help your children get a regular dose of significance and belonging doled out from everyone in the family. And all the kids learn how to express love and gratitude for each other. We started doing this and I can tell you it is one of the best traditions you could ever start with your kids.
Help your kids recognize and take opportunities to serve one another. You love who you serve. I believe that with all my heart. Maybe they could write a note of encouragement to their sister before her recital, read to their younger brother, sneakily make their older sister’s bed, help take care of their brother when he is sick. There are so many ways they can reach out to each other and those experiences will help them grow closer and feel more love for each other.
Make sure screens are not monopolizing the time they should be spending playing with or just interacting with each other. It can be so easy for each family member to come home and disappear into their own little worlds through a screen, but that screen will not be there to help them when they have their first baby, when they are down for weeks after a back surgery, or when they lose a close friend. Your kids are going to need each other as they get older and especially after you pass away. Make sure they interact more with each other than they do with their screens so they have an opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with each other that will last forever.
I want my kids to have the kind of relationships with each other that I have with my siblings. They are my very best friends and I know they are always there for me if I ever need them. I would rather be with them than anyone else. What gives me hope is that we had plenty of fights growing up, but my mom did do many of the things I mentioned above, and I think that is the reason we still love each other and don’t hold any bitterness towards each other now that we are grown. I hope if I keep consistently trying to do these things, even though we will no doubt lose many battles along the way, eventually, we will win the war. There is nothing I want more than to see my children love and serve each other throughout their lives. I think that is worth fighting for.