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What's the secret to friendly siblings?


5 tips to encourage friendships between siblings.



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"Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way." - Pamela Dugdale
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As upsetting and frustrating as it can be for parents, conflict, jealousy, and competition between siblings are a common occurrence.  Siblings' tolerance for each other can swing from one extreme to another in a matter of minutes:  from adoration to contempt.  So, how do you keep the squabbles and bickering at bay?  How do you encourage friendships and create a connection between them?  How do you turn your children's proverbial lemon moments into savory lemonade?

Creating sibling relationships as sweet as lemonade takes work and commitment.  As Maya Angelou says, "I don't believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at."          

 Bonding as brothers and sisters happen when parents take advantage of all opportunities to nurture friendships and foster respect between them.  It helps to create an everlasting bond that their children will experience for a lifetime.  The following five tips will help encourage making your siblings friends.

SET THE EXPECTATION

When Gil and Stephanie Rubio found out they were having triplets, they were determined to raise children that weren't going to fight with each other.  "We set that environment from the beginning," says Stephanie.  "We didn't give them a choice."

While raising their children, Gil and Stephanie taught them conflict resolution and made sure to rein in any serious arguments.   Now 11 years old, the triplets, Gabbi, Bella, and Roman, have learned how to handle disagreements when they arise.  "We have taught them that they have to really try and figure it out for themselves," Stephanie says.

Experts agree that children learn important life lessons when they solve their own problems.  Jane Isay, author of "Mom Still Likes You Best," agrees with this in her blog at www.janeisay.com.  "When people worry about the fights between their kids, they are tempted to intercede and have a say in the outcome," she says.  "But my research into siblings has taught me that, with some guidance and some limits, kids do better as adults if they learn to settle things between themselves."

The Rubios continue to instill in their children the importance of family and faith, and being considerate of each other.  "I tell them all the time that family is who you always want to have in your corner," Stephanie says.  "I believe that family and faith in God sets the foundation for everything."        

ACTIVITIES  & OPPORTUNITIES

Experts agree that family traditions and rituals create a bond between siblings and ultimately a shared identity.  Families can spend time together participating in activities such as vacations, riding bikes, playing games, walking the dog, or simply being bored together.  Playing games together can instill a sense of teamwork and create an environment for healthy competition.  

"Sibling closeness is somewhat of a paradox," says Dr. Michael E. Kirk, a local clinical psychologist.   "Typically siblings tolerate one another in childhood, unless they are twins or are born relatively close together and thus share essential interests. The thing that eventually brings them together is an ongoing offering of parental and family interactions."

"Children learn to be with one another as they continue to engage side-by-side with one another with the parent offering direction," says Dr. Kirk.  "Eventually children learn to enjoy one another's company and the relationships emerge from the ongoing activities."

Children can also learn a lot from each other.  Stephanie says her children have really learned how to "laugh with each other. They also have learned how to be more sensitive and how to support each other as they go through things," she says. 

Older siblings can also learn what an important role model they are for their younger brothers and sisters.  Adam and Tiffani Alvidrez have successfully navigated the world of a blended family and created a solid family unit where their children get along well.  Tiffani's two older children from a previous marriage, Alex, 20, and Madison, 13, take care of their younger brothers, Sebastian, 7, and Maxwell, 5.      

Alex realizes what an important job his role as big brother is for his younger siblings. His little brother, Maxwell, will say quite often, "I want to be like Alex when I grow up."    

"They are very observant at what I do - even something as simple as how I wash my hands," Alex says.  "I know my actions have a huge impact on their lives."    

ONGOING COMMUNICATION

Keeping the lines of communication open between family members is a vital component to creating a bond between siblings.  Adam and Tiffani, who both have backgrounds in psychology, knew that the key to a happy family was keeping the lines of communication open and practicing active listening.

"Each child is an individual and you can't pigeon hole them and say this one thing is going to work for this child," Tiffani says.  "You have to be open-minded and watch their maneuvers, watch their behaviors.  Usually if they are acting out, they need something."

Tiffani works on practicing active listening skills with her children.  "Active listening is about really being engaged, listening, watching their body language, and paraphrasing back to them," she says.  "It really helps them to be heard.  Sometimes that is all they need - just to be heard."

TEACH COMPASSION

In order to have close relationships, all siblings need to learn to have compassion for each other and value their uniqueness, especially when one of them has special needs.  In Phil and Kristine Estelle's family, this value became extremely important after their son Alex, 12, was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), bipolar, ADHD, and learning disabilities.  His sisters, Amaya, 14, and Rose, 4, have learned to help their brother when needed.  

"Amaya has been raised with this.  She knows that her brother has disabilities," says her mother Kristine.  "She has shared in his successes and tries to be more patient with him when he's frustrated."

Through H.E.A.R.T.S. Connection, Amaya has gone to several camps for children who have siblings with disabilities.  "It's helpful to know that you're not the only one out there with a sibling with a disability," says her father Phil.   

"Every child is unique and should be appreciated.  If you praise and appreciate each of your children according to their strengths, they will feel equally loved," says Susan Graham, H.E.A.R.T.S. Connection Director.  "Siblings of special needs children are often given additional responsibilities and sometimes become resentful of their special sibling.  It is important not to give them too much responsibility until they are of an age when they want to help out."   

MAKE TIME FOR ONE-ON-ONE ACTIVITIES

One of the ways to ease competition and jealousy between siblings is for parents to spend quality time with each child.  The Alvidrez family makes one-on-one time a top priority.  "We try to make them feel like they're special.  Adam and I both like to give them individual attention," says Tiffani.  "I think it helps decrease the jealousy because it makes them feel special and that they have had the attention they need."     

The Estelles also give their children a chance to experience a lot of one-on-one activities – even if it's just a trip to the park or having ice cream together.  "This is a chance to check in on sibling relationships," says Phil.  "It opens the door for them to communicate more with you and you go home and communicate their needs with the family.  It gives your child the opportunity to be with you in a relaxed situation and not competing with their siblings for time."  

"Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring, quite often the hard way." - Pamela Dugdale
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