One thing that has been important to me since my girls were babies was the fact that they become best friends, and that they truly love each other. I’m not always going to be here, but they’re going to have each other for the rest of their lives, and I want to know that they will take care of each other.
Friends come and go. They’ll always have their sisters.
I don’t have this mom thing figured out by any stretch, but I pray a lot. And I’ve figured out several things that are crucial to raising siblings that are best friends.
We implement these things into their daily lives. You have to weave it in where it makes sense, or it won’t stick. Be vigilant. Those little moments that are easy to let go are the ones that matter!
You’ll notice a lot of these start with “teach”, because that is one of our most crucial jobs as their parents. 🙂
Start instilling love as soon as you know of the newest sibling’s existence.
This can look different for different families’ situations, but as soon as we were ready to tell Sophia and Ella about Lexi’s existence, we started hyping up being big sisters, protecting her, and helping with the new baby.
Then from the time she was born, we put love in their hearts for each other by repeatedly telling them how much she loved them and including them wherever possible.
“Look how she looks at you!”
“She’s so glad you’re here.”
“She loves you so much!”
“You’re such a loving big sister.”
Teach them to give sincere apologies.
In our house, this is a requirement when someone wrongs somebody else. “Sorry!” with a stomp and knitted caterpillar eyebrows doesn’t cut it.
But I don’t tell them to apologize. In a round-about way, they know it’s expected; but I want them to think they’re coming up with it on their own. I want them to put together that when they do somebody wrong, they apologize; even when it was unintentional.
When they need prompted, I usually say, “You need to talk to your sister”; but sometimes they don’t even need that.
“I’m sorry that I _________. I shouldn’t have done that/That was wrong because ________. Next time I’ll do __________ instead. I love you. Will you forgive me?” Hug. Good hug. And “I forgive you” from whoever was wronged.
If you’re not ready to say that, that’s fine. You can sit down until you are; that’s your choice. We don’t let this one go.
Bonus tip: If you have a child who is less compliant in general and who makes a big fuss about things that could be easy, such as giving an apology, it helps in our house when she thinks she is in control (obviously, that isn’t the case). I use the different versions of the phrase, “This is your choice” often.
“You can make the choice to apologize to sissy now, or sit here until you’re ready. It’s up to you.”
“You can choose the kind of day you have. If you have a good attitude and use kind words and soft hands, you’re going to have a good day. If you choose to have a bad attitude, use a big voice, and be unkind; you’re going to have time outs and you aren’t going to have a very nice day. What kind of day do you want to have?”
Bonus tip #2: Positive language goes a long way! I try to minimize my use of “No” “Don’t” and “Stop” and replace them with things like “Kind hands, please.” “Soft voices.” “Please do this instead of that.” This isn’t always the case, but often, it does help.
Teach them to forgive.
And after a sincere apology has been given, “That’s okay, sissy. I love you!” Hug. Then life goes on. We don’t keep talking about it.
Teach them to be includers.
Everyone is included and everyone gets her chance to play; this is not optional. Selfishness is unacceptable. You’re not the only person here.
Bonus tip: Set timers on days they need a little extra help taking turns
Bonus tip #2: Since preschoolers’ grasp of time is still pretty loose, it helps mine to be able to watch a circular countdown on my phone’s timer.
Teach them to play in ways that work for both of them.
Instead of forcing sharing, I try to teach my girls to play in a way they’re both happy with. When they need a little extra help with this, I ask them how they can play in a way that works for both of them, then give them some ideas.
Express love to them how they perceive it – In fair (not “equal” doses.
This is going to vary a little bit by the day and by the personality of the child, but always, always love on them, unconditionally! Especially when it’s asked for. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve stopped what I was doing and sat in the kitchen floor to love on a girl that wanted her mama.
Different kids express love in different ways. Knowing your child’s love language can go a long way to showing them love in the way they best perceive it.
There is no way to express love “equally”. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t make an effort to give physical love, spend quality time, encourage with your words, or give gifts in fair ways. You simply need to be aware of how you’re expressing love to each child and if they feel it’s fair. Usually, they’ll let you know.
Never turn your kiddo away that wants your attention.
No matter how busy, tired, or touched out I am, I never turn away my girls when they want love from mama. No matter what’s happened that day. You can’t stay angry, Mama. Love them most when they least deserve it, because that’s when they need it most.
Sometimes a simple, “Do you need a hug?” can snap them out of the biggest grump fest that’s ever been had. They’re little people with big emotions and they’re not so hot at controlling it yet. Hugs are the ultimate neutralizer.
Make an effort, too, to give everyone little kisses, touches, and pats throughout the day. Tell each kid how special they are, how much you love them, that you’re happy they’re in your family, etc.; and let the other kiddos see.
Bonus tip: Make an effort to spend intentional, quality, one-on-one time with each child. This is harder the more children you have, but it’s also more necessary the more children you have. I make a real effort to spend at least a few hours a week one-on-one with each of my girls.
Let them see you love on AND correct siblings.
It’s important that they know that you love all of them whole-heartedly, and that no matter who it is, if you do wrong, you get corrected. I do this intentionally because I have one who it would be easy to always be the one who’s being corrected. I let her see me correcting her sister, and I let her sister see me loving on her. No favoritism.
Teach them empathy.
I’ve said for a long time that empathy is taught. Kids simply aren’t born with it.
I do my best to instill this by asking them often, “How would you feel if ______ did that/said that to you?” Most often this is followed by somebody doing something unkind.
“How would you feel if somebody hit you?”
“How would you feel if somebody pulled your ears?”
“How would you feel if somebody hit you in the head with a microphone?”
Usually they answer: sad, hurt, or mad.
*Empathetic mom face* “Yupp, I bet that made her feel that way, too.” Usually after this they get the hint and make it right on their own.
Instill togetherness – and celebrate their individuality.
We do 90% of everything we do as a family. Sometimes even down to going to the grocery store or running errands, just because we want to spend time together.
We also intentionally celebrate each girls’ individuality. I try to make them feel special on their birthdays, they get gifts separately and together at Christmas, and Joey and I will randomly take one child with us to the store or for a donut date for quality time.
My most recent example of this (and one of my favorites) is in how we redid the Sophia and Ella’s bedroom. It had been Sophia’s before we moved Ella’s bed in there after I had Lexi, and I knew I wanted to redo it from its former Minnie Mouse glory into something that felt like Ella’s room, too; not just Soph’s room that we had moved Ella’s bed into.
We made a bunch of colorful decor with pictures, flowers, and encouraging quotes and scriptures. I purposely chose pictures of me with Soph, me with Ella, and Joey with Soph, and Joey with Ella. We have an arrow that says, “sisters” and a few things quotes that are plural (“build each other up”; “happy girls are the prettiest”). We also did an “S” and “E” and each girl got her own gallery wall above her bed.
It was the perfect blend of encouraging love between them as sisters, and celebrating their uniqueness at the same time.
Encourage them to laugh together.
Instigate play that makes them laugh, then include each other in it. Get one laughing, then get the others in on it. Nothing bonds people like laughing together.
Teach them kindness, and joy in kindness.
This is in the small things. Getting a water cup for sis, holding doors for people, choosing kind words and voices.
When they do something kind, I tell them that I saw it. Positive attention yields replication. Often I’ve asked them, “Doesn’t that make you feel good/happy to make sissy happy like that?” to which they always giggle and agree that it does.
And when they aren’t kind, they hear about it. If I had a nickel for the times in a day that I say “Kind hands”, “Kind feet”, “Kind words”, “Kind voices”, or “Are you being kind?” I think I could buy a boat. I don’t let opportunities to teach kindness slip by. And when they miss it, I do my best to guide them right back to it.
Teach them conflict resolution.
I’m so bad for wanting to step in and solve it for them that I’ve joked that I need a referee whistle; but I’ve learned they do better when they know how to do it on their own. When they’re disagreeing, I prompt them to work it out.
“Ella, how did that make you feel when Sophia took that toy from you?”
“Sophia, why did you take it? Did you want to play, too?”
“Work it out. How can you play in a way that makes you both happy? Can you try to take turns? How can you make sissy happy again?”
When they can’t or don’t want to, usually they lose the source of the conflict until they try again. More often than not, they come up with a solution that works for both of them.
Teach them to be helpers.
Always encourage them to be helpers. I started this when they were babies. Sophia and Ella always get me burp clothes, diapers, clothes, passies, and anything else to help Lexi; just like Soph did when Ella was a baby. They wipe her mouth, hand her toys, get her teethers, talk to her, and love on her. They help me “watch her”. And they do things to help each other, too, and when they do, I acknowledge it positively every time I see it.
“You’re such a helper, Ella!”
“Soph, that really helps Mama. Thank you!”
“I saw you helping Lexi, Ella! She loves you so much. Thanks for helping Mama take good care of her. You’re such a kind sister.”
At first it sounded cheesy and almost even felt unnatural, but it works.
Don’t compare kids.
They are all their own individual people with different needs, different strengths, and different places they need improvement.
Focus on how you can individualize their approach as each kids’ mom and less on what you wish one was better at.
And absolutely never use the phrase: Why can’t you be more like your sister/brother?
The answer is an easy one: they are not their sister/brother.
Teach them how to build each other up.
This one is crucial. Words can wound deeply, and once your heart is hurt, it’s so hard to repair. Words can only be forgiven, not forgotten.
I’ve talked to mine many times about the power of life and death in their words. We can either use our words to tear down, and hurt people, or we can choose to use them for life; to be kind, and build each other up.
I remember the single time I ever heard Sophia call Ella stupid. We were driving in the car, I was half zoned out, hardly even listening to them talking in the backseat; when I heard Sophia say plain as day, “Ella, you’re stupid!”
I popped up in the mirror, “What did you say??”
“Um… I said Ella’s nice.”
“Sophia, you’re lying to mama. I heard you.”
She looked like a deer in headlights and I was little blindsided… In my head I prayed, “Lord, how do I come at this? What do I do?”
It dropped in my heart: Instill the opposite.
That word: Instill.
I easily could have spanked her or sent her to the corner when we got to my mom’s, but I wanted this to be a lesson that stuck and that definitely was not repeated. Ella’s countenance sank at those words, and it broke my heart. I wanted to build her up again, and I never wanted that to be said to her again.
I knew what we had to do, and after talking about life words and the importance of them, Sophia gave a sincere apology, then I helped Sophia write a list of 10 things that Ella is.
She came up with all of them. Ella is nice, kind, smart, a good sister, loves God, and several others. We read them to her, and you could see joy come back into her little heart as she giggled and listened to the list. They hugged and I said to Sophia, “Doesn’t that feel good to make sissy happy like that?”
“Yes!” Then they danced together.
And it hasn’t happened since.
Nothing in this world beats seeing your kids loving on each other. They fight because they’re sisters and they won’t always get along, but everybody knows how much those girls love each other. The way they look at each other, protect each other, and help each other is unmatched. I sure am blessed to be their Mama!
What do you do to raise kids that are best friends?