One of the first things people usually notice about our children is how well they get along.
Sure, they have occasional squabbles, but that is the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, they really love and admire one another and enjoy being in each other’s company.
They are friends.
When people ask us how this came to be the case, we’re always quick to credit God’s grace. It’s a heartfelt answer, but not particularly helpful.
So for parents who are searching for ways to encourage a deep and lasting friendship between their children, we offer these practical suggestions.
Turn off the TV
Have you ever noticed how poorly family members treat one another on sitcoms? Yet every snide remark is rewarded with liberal doses of canned laughter. If our children are raised on a steady diet of such fare, it shouldn’t surprise us when they emulate what they’ve been watching.
Even if the programing is good and wholesome, allowing children to watch too much of it precludes more meaningful, real-life interaction with their own family members. So switch off the set and make your own fun, instead.
Play Games Together
When you enter into your children’s world through play, you send them the message you enjoy being with them, and those warm feelings get sent back to you and shared with one another.
A few of our family favorites? Puzzles. Zombie tag. Spoons. Knock-Out. Chess. Checkers. Tea parties. Hearts. The Hat Game. Ultimate Frisbee. Putt-Putt Golf. Ping-Pong. Cabo. Bananagrams.
Allow for Kid-Directed Adventures
Sometimes our kids dream up things to do together that don’t include Mom and Dad: Build blanket forts. Ride bikes around the block or to the gas station for a treat. See how deep a hole they can dig in our backyard. Hike through the bamboo forest. Build bicycle ramps. Bake peanut-butter cookies. Sell lemonade on the street corner. Drive to Dallas to see Nana.
As long as the things our kids are asking to do are feasible and reasonably safe, we try to say yes to their requests. Not only do these sort of adventures build character, maturity, and confidence, but they bond siblings together in a special way that parent-directed activities alone cannot do.
Deal with Conflicts Swiftly
When arguments do break out or squabbles arise or feelings get hurt (as inevitably happens from time to time), we do our best to deal with the situation quickly. Ignoring conflicts only allows bad attitudes to fester.
We’ve found that our children’s behavior dramatically improves when consequences for misbehavior are swiftly and consistently applied. A zero-tolerance policy for fighting: that’s what families need.
Hide the Word in their Hearts
I firmly believe that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
To that end, the more of the Word we can plant deep in our children’s hearts, the more fruit we will see it bear in their lives. Some particularly good verses to memorize are:
- “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” (Proverbs 17:17, NLT)
- “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NASB)
- “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8, NIV)
Commit the Matter to Prayer
We can encourage our children to love and be kind to one another, but only God can change their hearts to make those desired attitudes and actions a reality. Enlist His help!
Pray that He will knit the hearts of your family together and give you, as parents, wisdom in training your children to be compassionate and sympathetic companions one to another.
Siblings in modern families are apart for so many hours every day — divided into age-segregated classrooms, involved in individualized extra-curricular activities, housed in separate bedrooms — it’s little wonder they have a hard time forging the kind of deep, meaningful friendships with one another that will last a lifetime.
That’s one of the beautiful benefits of homeschooling: Our kids are together for the vast majority of every day — they depend on one another for friendship and camaraderie. And although they normally get lots of interaction with others outside our family, homeschooling enables us to make good on the threat, “If you can’t get along with your siblings, you can’t spend time with other friends.”
When it comes to building friendships between siblings, you need to start early. Don’t assume your kids are just going through a stage and will be friendly when their older. Encourage them to begin building that friendship now. Today.
If your youngest child is still in diapers, so much the better — Let your other children hold the baby (with age-appropriate supervision). Tell them what a great big brother or sister they’re going to be. Imagine with them the adventures they’ll be able to have together as the baby grows. You can’t slap the siblings away with a “Hands off! Don’t touch!” attitude when baby is little and expect them to be excited about spending time with her when she’s big.
Even if your children are older and haven’t been previously close, there’s still hope. Use the suggestions in this post that resonate most and restructure how you do life with your kids. Lead the way, set the example, be consistent, define your expectations, give them freedom to plan some adventures, be patient, be supportive, stay on your knees, and don’t give up!
What are some things you’ve done to cultivate friendship between your children? It’s a worthy goal. Why not leave a comment and share what’s worked best in your family?