Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Grace-filled sibling relationships

20 ways Christian moms can encourage good sibling relationships

When my husband and I talked about having kids, we talked about sibling relationships and what we wanted for our kids. Before deciding for sure to add a second child to our family, we talked about it even more. Sibling relationships can be wonderful, but they can also be complicated.

Both my husband and I have older brothers, and we have different relationships with them. From the beginning of our parenthood journey, we have worked to be intentional in encouraging grace-filled sibling relationships for our kids. We want them to be friends. Our prayer and desire is for them to be close and be able to turn to one another throughout their entire lives.

Now 9 and 12, my children do get along well. They enjoy spending time together. (And they also enjoy spending time apart!) They aren’t perfect, but all-in-all they have a good, solid relationship. They look out for each other and often, my youngest has more courage to try new things with his big sister than with anyone else, including me! My husband and I continue to be intentional about encouraging their sibling relationship and helping keep it on the right track.

20 ways to encourage good sibling relationships

So today I’m sharing 20 ways to encourage good sibling relationships based on our experiences. I even talked to my kiddos for their input for this post!

1. Remind your kids that they have each other and always will.

From the time our youngest was born, we have told our kiddos they have to stick together. Reminding your children that they have a special bod in their sibling relationship is important. Friends will come and go, but siblings will be around for most of their life. And that’s a bond to celebrate and grow. After all, as we remind our kids, nobody else in the world knows what it’s like growing up with their dad and me as parents. So they can always bond over that!

2. Don’t compare your kids to each other.

I know this can be tricky. After all, our experiences as parents rest solely on our experiences with our own children. But our kids have their own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them to one another only serves to drive a wedge between them, and that’s not at all what we want to do. It’s difficult to not resent someone who your parents are telling you is better at something than you are. With that in mind, be careful to not compare in subtle ways either. Praise and discipline as equally and fairly as possible.

3. Speak positively about their siblings to your kiddos.

A great way to encourage good sibling relationships is by saying good things about your kids to their siblings. Of course we have grouses and gripes with our kids, but focusing on those and complaining about them to their siblings is only going to weaken that relationship. Instead, mention to your daughter how funny her brother is. Or point out to your son how kind his sister is. This helps our kids learn to look for the positive attributes in one another rather than focus on the negative ones.

4. Don’t allow negative talk between them.

When it comes to positive language, don’t allow your kids to bad-mouth each other to each other or to other people. Your kids won’t always get along (mine certainly don’t), but there’s a difference between having a disagreement and being mean to each other. We don’t tolerate name-calling and putdowns in our family, including between our children. Our kids also aren’t allowed to bad-mouth their sibling to their friends or others. Doing so only hurts that sibling relationship.

One bonus we’ve found to this rule is that our kids’ friends treat the sibling kindly also. For example, the friends of my 12-year-old daughter are kind to our 9-year-old son and even say hello to him at school whenever they see him, regardless if our daughter is around.

5. Let them have a chance to work through conflicts but step in to help resolve the conflict when necessary.

Part of teaching our kids is helping them know how to work through conflict with other people. Managing sibling conflict is a great way to start, because our family should always be our safe place. But we want to make sure conflict is resolved in a positive way. Early on, my husband and I had to help our kids with resolving conflict much more often. Nowadays, however, I hear them have a disagreement and figure out a compromise without flying off the handle. There are still times we have to step in when someone is getting frustrated, but they are learning and growing. No relationship is perfect and learning how to resolve conflict in a positive way is important.

6. Create an attitude of grace throughout your home.

One of my biggest goals as a Christian mom is to create a home filled with grace, faith and love. And that attitude of grace extends throughout the entire family. We continue to work on helping our kids learn to give grace to each other (and us as well). One of the biggest ways we have done this is practicing a small attitude shift as a family in assuming the people we love are not intentionally trying to hurt us. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt goes a long way to forging better relationships.

7. Make opportunities for family fun.

The best relationships we have are those in which we have fun together. Sibling relationships are no different. Come up with ways to have fun as a family and put your kids together in fun ways. One of my kids’ favorite things right now is planning a family yes day. We pick a day and their dad and I have to say yes to whatever they ask us (with some rules). They work together to plan a fun day, and we all giggle together. Other times, it’s small ways that we have fun like having a water balloon fight, going out for ice cream as a surprise treat and playing games together.

8. Develop your own family traditions.

We often have family traditions for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but having smaller traditions is just as important. Sometimes these traditions can look like routines. For instance, each evening before bedtime, our family gathers to pray and read. Usually we read chapter books. We’ve read through the entire Harry Potter series, part of Percy Jackson and are now nearly finished with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” from C.S. Lewis. We know that each evening, we have 15 to 20 minutes as a family that we don’t do anything else, and we love that time! These traditions and routines help our kids feel closer to each other as well as to my husband and me.

9. Pray together as a family.

That evening time we have to pray together is great for building sibling relationships as well. We don’t go for super long prayers that are highly personal and in-depth. Instead, we talk about people we know who need prayer. In joining together in prayer for someone or something, our children’s relationship only deepens and grows in ways that matter most.

10. Have dinner together at least a few nights a week.

If you can’t manage dinner together every night, then at least make it a priority a few nights a week. During the school year, we have dinner together at the table nearly every night. During the summertime, we are a little more lax and have dinner together while watching a favorite show or movie a couple of times a week. Having that time to eat and talk about what’s going on in our lives is important and helps grows our kids’ relationship. It gives them a chance to be more involved in each other’s lives and happenings. They learn more about each other and what’s important to each other.

11. Support each other’s activities and interests.

We do our best to encourage our kids to support each other’s activities and interests. If there is a school program or performance or anything else, we expect everyone to go and be supportive of the other. This past school year, for example, our daughter was a manager of the middle school track and field team. So, her dad, brother and I showed up for and even volunteered at some of the meets. While our kids go to the same school, their concerts are on different nights. We expect them to go along for their sibling’s performance and be just as excited for them. Knowing that you sibling supports you goes a long way toward bettering your sibling relationship!

12. Pray for their relationship.

We’ve got so many things to pray about for our kids, so it might be easy to overlook praying for their sibling relationships. But don’t forget that. I have prayed from the beginning that my kids have a good, strong and healthy relationship. I want them to enjoy each other and like each other, not just love each other. So I ask God for help in growing their relationship together and guiding my husband and me to raise them in a way that draws them together rather than apart.

13. Help them grow in their own relationships with God.

It’s important to help our kids grow in their own relationships with God as well. Their relationship with God impacts every part of their lives and all of their relationships. The closer they are to God and growing in Him, the more loving and caring they’ll be with everyone — including their siblings! (Don’t miss this free printable of a parents’ prayer to help you pray for yourself as you are raising your children.)

14. Watch and listen to wholesome content.

We don’t only watch and listen to Christian entertainment, but we are careful about what our kids are exposed to. Some movies and shows just aren’t appropriate for them due to bad language, inappropriate content and wrong attitudes. The more they are exposed to those things, the more normal those things seem and the more likely they are to behave differently. If we’re watching something and see siblings working against each other, we talk about it with our kids. What should the characters have done?

And I am a huge proponent of listening to Christian music. It’s hard for me to be grumpy with the kids or for them to argue with one another when praise music is playing. Sometimes if they start getting short with each other in the car, I turn up the worship songs until they can’t help but laugh and move on. It works!

20 ways to encourage good sibling relationships

15. Promote teamwork.

We’re big on family teamwork. And family teamwork includes giving our kids a chance to work together on tasks. They may grumble sometimes while cleaning their bathroom (hey, it happens!), but in the end they feel accomplished together for what they did. Having a chance to work as a team and take pride in what they do together strengthens sibling relationships.

16. Encourage playtime together.

When our children were younger, they were more inclined to play with each other because they didn’t have much choice. Nowadays, one of our kids is old enough that she’s not as into playing while the other is still at an age where he enjoys playtime. So sometimes we require them to play together. That can look like anything from pretend play to doing art together to building something together to even watching a certain series together. The goal is to make sure our kids get time to spend together in a playful way and enjoy each other’s company.

17. Protect their time together.

Speaking of spending time together enjoying one another’s company, we must protect our kids’ time together. I’m big on not over-scheduling our kids. I want my kids to have a chance to be bored and to find their own things to do. That also means we aren’t so overscheduled that they don’t have time to be with one another. Protect their time so they can have time together as well. Having time together in positive ways is an important part of building strong sibling relationships.

18. Have one-on-one time with them.

Spending time one-on-one with your kids can strengthen their bond with each other. No matter how old they are, our kids want our attention. They want to know we are listening and paying attention to them. Making sure to find ways to have one-on-one time with them helps them not be resentful of each other seeming to get more attention at different times. Our family has found a variety of ways to do this. Right now what’s working best for us is to allow each of our kids to have 20-30 minutes of one-on-one (or two-on-one) time with us after bedtime two nights a week. We read through special books or just talk during that time.

19. Travel together.

No matter how big or small the trip, traveling together is a great way to grow family bonds and strengthen sibling relationships. We have made memories on bigger trips like to Orlando, Fla., and the Grand Canyon as well as on smaller trips like camping in a nearby state park. Even day trips and staycations count. Basically any time spent out of the daily grind works!

20. Reminisce together — even the about the crazy moments!

Take time every so often to reminisce together. I love memory photos that come up on social media or through my Google Photos. I often show them to my kids as well. Showing them things we’ve done that they’ve forgotten or how they snuggled together when they were small help them feel closer. One of the fun things about family and siblings is having memories with them that nobody else in the world has. Don’t forget to help your kids remember those moments that connect them!

A message for my oldest before she becomes a big sister

What I want my daughter to know before her brother is born

I originally wrote these words two weeks before my son was born in January of 2013. I was preparing to become a mother of two. And I also tried to prepare my daughter for becoming a big sister. While we have grown and changed throughout these years, the message here remains the same.

As I get closer and closer to having our baby boy, I’ve been thinking about the things I want my daughter to know. I know that becoming a big sister will forever change her life. Because I am the youngest of two, I will never completely know her station in a family. I’ve never been an oldest sibling. I know my own older brother wasn’t too excited to have to share our parents with me when I was born, but I like to think he came around eventually.

Right now, my daughter is excited. She talks about the things she will teach Baby Brother. When my parents and in-laws were here painting his nursery just over a week ago, she sat at the kitchen table and painted him pictures to hang on his wall. With every stroke of her paintbrush, she talked about how he would love them. And he will one day. We will hang them on the wall in the midst of the superhero art we’ve chosen as the nursery theme.

However, she still doesn’t really know what’s coming. We’ve tried to prepare her as much as possible by explaining that Baby Brother will be small to start with and not able to play with her. We’ve explained that he might cry a lot, because that’s the only way babies can communicate (or “investigate” as she sometimes mistakenly says). I’ve even mentioned to her that he might wake mommy up a lot a night, so I might be more tired after he’s born. I’ve talked with her a little bit about nursing so she’s not utterly shocked or anything. 

But, I can’t explain to her what having a newborn in the house is like. I can’t really explain to her what it’s like to go from an only child to a sibling because I’ve never done it. I was born a sibling. So was my husband.

I am incredibly excited to have this new member of our family. At the same time, I know it will be an adjustment for my daughter (and us!). I’ve been praying about it. And I’ve been thinking about what I want her to know before he’s born and she becomes a big sister. There are things I tell her, but there are other things that she just isn’t old enough to understand, yet. Some things I want her to know I will just have to show her and go without saying because she’s still only a 3-year-old.

I will always love you.

I want my daughter to know that no matter what, I will always love her. My heart is big enough to love two children. I have loved my husband for so long and love him so completely. I can’t imagine life without him. When our daughter was born, my heart grew to include a deep love for her that is complete and so strong it takes my breath away. Already my heart has grown to love this child along with my daughter. A mother’s heart has plenty of room for love.  I never want my daughter to question that. I want her to always feel my love.

Having a sibling is cool.

I want my daughter to know that having a sibling is cool. My brother and I aren’t super close, but he’s my brother. He’s the one other person in this world who grew up with the exact same parents I did. We’ve been through challenges together throughout the years. We’ve learned how to work together to help our family through crisis as adults like we did back in 2005 when my dad had an accident and his life dangled precariously in the balance for weeks. 

I want my daughter to know that her brother will be her brother for life. And she’ll always be his big sister. My prayer is that the two of them are close and have a good friendship and relationship. I want her to know that even when she has times he drives her crazy (and vice versa!) that at the end of the day, they will still have each other and the love of a sibling.

Being a big sister is an important job.

I want my daughter to know that she will be a role model. One thing I know as a younger sibling is how much we look up to our older siblings. I looked up to my brother and my cousin who was like another older brother for years. Her Baby Brother will do the same. It’s a cool responsibility to be a role model. She’ll be a good big sister with her compassionate heart and sensitive spirit. I’m excited to see how she rocks her big sister journey.

You don’t have to be a little mama.

I want my daughter to know that she’s a good helper, but she doesn’t have to be a little mother. She only has to be a big sister. My daughter loves to help around the house. With any task we’re working on, she’ll ask if we need help and try to help however she can. There have been many times I’ve carried the laundry basket lower through the house so she can hang on to one end and help me with it. She loves helping unload the dishwasher. Yesterday she wanted to help wipe down Baby Brother’s crib, so I armed her with a baby wipe and she had a great time. She just loves to help.

I will love for her to help and feel included with the baby, but I never want her to think she is responsible for him. First and foremost she is a little girl and I want her to enjoy being a little girl for as long as she can.

Life can be good, even when it’s difficult.

I want my daughter to know that even when life doesn’t seem fair, it’s still good. I know there will be struggles coming our way with who’s getting the most attention. Newborns are needy. They aren’t one bit understanding. Honestly, 3-year-olds aren’t super different in that department. There will be times she won’t think it’s fair for me to be doing something with the baby when she’d rather I was playing with her. I know that will happen. It can’t be avoided. 

But I want her to know life is still good. I want her to come to understand that if she gives me a few minutes to take care of Baby Brother then I will have more time to peacefully play with her later. And when he gets older and does things like knock over the blocks she’s building or tears a page in her favorite book, I pray she’ll have compassion and understanding with him.

You will always be my baby girl.

I want my daughter to know that she will always be my baby girl. I tell her this often. She agrees that even though she’s a big girl now, she’s OK with still being my baby girl. But, she doesn’t really know what I mean. What I mean is that no matter how big she gets, I’ll never forget the first time I saw her after she was born. I’ll never forget looking deep into her eyes during middle-of-the-night feedings and wondering about the person she’d become. I’ll never forget snuggling close with her at all stages of her life thus far. Of course, I’ll never forget her first steps or her first words. I’ll never forget her own language she created for a while before she could really talk. 

There are so many things that I’ll always remember every time I look at her. She is my precious girl. And just because I will have another baby with whom to experience so many of these things doesn’t make the times I shared with her any less precious.

Change is coming around these parts. It will be good, and it will bring challenges. My daughter continues to have lessons to learn as she navigates life and my son will be coming right behind her. Their dad and I have a big responsibility in raising them together. We’ve all got messages we need to hear from one another loud and clear, even when they come through actions. After all, that’s what being a family is all about.

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5 Ways to build family teamwork

The importance of team mentality within a family

Early on in our marriage, my husband and I developed an attitude of teamwork. It was us against the world, so to speak. Once we had children, we wanted to create an atmosphere of family teamwork. We haven’t always been perfect at it, but we’ve found a few reasons why promoting family teamwork is important and how to do so.

Why family teamwork matters

One of the biggest aspects of family teamwork is thinking about other people. In this case, it’s thinking about your family members and what they need. As the old saying goes, “There’s no ‘I’ in teamwork.” And I can’t think of a better way to build good relationships within your family than thinking about what each other needs. I’ve seen my children care for and look out for each other (and their dad and me) at different times that I know is a result of our family teamwork attitude.

Another benefit of family teamwork is that you can more easily celebrate victories together. It helps eliminate competition among siblings. We have often told our children that what’s good news for one of us is good for all of us. We’re not competing to see who is the best or who can get the most. We are celebrating the victories along the way and understanding that those victories look different for each of us.

Basically, family teamwork encompasses the attitudes I want most for my family. I want us to be a safe spot for each other. I want our family to look out for and support one another. And I want to make sure each of us know we are part of something bigger. We are all an integral part to our family and the team doesn’t run as well if a member is down.

What family teamwork looks like

Throughout the years, we’ve seen the family teamwork mentality at work in our family in a variety of ways.

– When our children get a sweet treat without the other one around, they ask for a treat to share with the other so nobody is left out.
– Our kids have worked together to organize their bedrooms and shared spaces. (I mean, two weeks ago, I found them voluntarily working together to sort through and organize their bookcases together!)
– The entire family worked together this summer to redo both of the kids’ bedrooms. We all painted part of my daughter’s bed together, and we all spent an entire weekend sorting through and organizing toys in my son’s room.
– When my daughter is up before me, she makes breakfast for her little brother (and sometimes for me!).
– Our children have teamed up together to plan fun activities like a family yes day.
– We have family laundry folding “parties” and work together to get laundry folded and put away.

Ideas for building family teamwork

You don’t just wake up one day and declare that everyone is a team and that’s the end of it. We’ve been working on it for about a decade now, and we are still finding ways to make improvements. Nobody is perfect by any means. But, there are some things you can do to help encourage teamwork within your family.

1. Work on projects together.

Not much builds teamwork better than working on a project together. Getting the entire family involved in projects around the house helps everyone learn how to work together and builds the family teamwork mentality. Our kids haven’t always been excited about projects we have had them work on with us. We have definitely had discussions about attitude adjustments. We remind the kiddos that we are working together for something to help or benefit our entire family. And we do our best to make sure we also have good attitudes while being clear that bad attitudes won’t be tolerated.

What has ended up happening is that even when the kids grouse about working on a project they don’t want to, they get on board with it. In the end, when we finish the project together, they feel just as good about it as we do.

Another bonus of working on projects together is teaching the kiddos life skills. The kids have helped my husband change the brakes on the car, helped me prepare food, helped clean rooms, helped organize closets and more. Some skills are bigger than others. I wouldn’t trust my 8- and 11-year-old children to change the brakes on the car by themselves, but I love that they have an understanding of how car brakes work and the benefits of being able to do that work ourselves.

Other things, like helping me prepare food, have already paid off as my oldest has really taken a shine to cooking and made dinner for our family as well as multiple other dishes completely on her own. She’s learned the satisfaction of making food for people she loves.

2. Talk about being a team.

While actions speak louder than words in general, words are still important to reinforce the family teamwork mentality. The best way we’ve found to communicate about teamwork is in small ways in the moment rather than sitting down for a long lecture. Because, let’s face it, long lectures aren’t a great way to get through to kids (or adults!).

Instead, we compliment the kids when we see them working together to help each other or one of us. We will literally say things like, “I love how you guys worked together on that.” When one of our kiddos struggles with feeling jealous of something the other one is doing (one child struggles with this more than the other), we instead help them focus on being happy for their sibling. Because, as we remind them, what’s good for one of us is good for all of us. We can celebrate something good happening to someone in our family knowing there will be times the family will be celebrating with us.

It might sound a bit cheesy, but we also will sometimes give high fives and say, “Go, Team Shannon!” None of us are super into sports, but we are super into being together and working well together. Even cheesy statements help us remember that we really are all a team working together.

3. Keep competition fun.

Competition in families should happen only in games and nothing else. Any other competition is not going to build a family teamwork mentality and will most likely cause it to crumble to the ground. In a good team, everyone is working together for the common good. Nobody is working to look better than their own teammates. Comparing the abilities of our children to each other is not going to help build a team mentality. Instead, it will end up dividing our children rather than bring them together.

And beware of ways your children might perceive that you’re comparing them, even if you aren’t. For example, I grew up as the youngest of two kids. Sometimes I felt like I had to live up to something my older brother did and that my parents were comparing us. Looking back now, they weren’t comparing us. I just felt that way. So I try to be intentional about reminding my kids that they are both doing a great job and they both have different strengths and skills. All we want them to do is their best. Will that look different for them? Absolutely, because they are different people!

4. Play cooperative games.

I’m not necessarily thinking of team-building exercises like trust falls, but I’m thinking more of games in general that you can play together as a family without competition. We even play some competitive games, like charades, without keeping score. Listen, I’m a competitive person. I want to win when I play games. But I have found I most love playing cooperative games with my family that we work together to win.

One of my recent good memories with my family was playing a game of Monopoly together on the Xbox. My husband ran the controller and our family played collectively as one game piece. We each had input on strategies and what we should do as we competed against computer players. When we pulled out a victory after thinking we were going to get beaten, all four of us celebrated together.

Another great team building game we’ve played recently is story telling together using the alphabet. One person starts a story by saying a couple of sentences with a word that starts with letter “A.” The next person starts with a “B” and adds a couple of more sentences. The story builds itself through to the end of the alphabet. Nothing is competitive about the game and it just results in lots of laughs as you work together to tell a story. Ours have taken all sorts of twists and turns I didn’t see coming!

5. Be an all-inclusive team coach.

If we go with a sports analogy for family teamwork, the parents are the coaches and the children are the players. That’s how it ought to be. But that doesn’t mean the team members never get a say in what the team is doing. Though my husband and I get the final say on family decisions, we get our children’s opinions in some matters as we are making plans.

For example, this year we were trying to decide what to do for vacation. My husband and I came up with four destinations and presented all four to our children. As a family we discussed what we liked about each option. Then we talked, voted and came up with our final selection together. When the kids were younger, we didn’t do this, because they were too young to have a say or really care. But as they are getting older, they love being able to have a say in decisions.

Any time you can involve your kids in decision making for your family, go for it. While it does help them build important skills about decision making, it also helps them feel more connected and part of the team. My husband and I definitely make many decisions without their input, because we are the adults and have the experience and wisdom to make good choices. But in other areas, we love to let them be involved. In the vacation example, the kids also learned how much work goes into planning a vacation and finding things for us to do that are fun. Since they got to be involved in the planning, they were even more excited for the trip and we were able to better choose the things they wanted to do.

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