Recently, my kids were seeing each other off at the airport after a particularly special long weekend together – a rare treat for us, these days. As I watched their intense love for each other, it choked me up.
I commented to my husband, "whatever else we did or didn't do, THIS we did right. I just wish I knew what we did :-)." Overhearing me, one of my kids turned to me and said, "Mom, it's simple. You didn't tell us to love each other. You told us that our siblings loved us, even when we or they were mad."
Sure enough, if you want to know how to get siblings to love each other, the answer is in helping them discover for themselves that they do (even though siblings can be annoying).
My daughter's comment sparked a conversation about not telling kids to think or feel things, but providing information for them to interpret it for themselves. I don't think I really realized what a huge difference it made before that day.
Don't Tell Them How to Feel
For example, one of the things I used to tell my kids all the time is that their relationships with each other are going to be the longest relationships they have in their lives. Long after mom and dad are gone, they're still going to have each other. They didn't always love that idea – but at some level, it clicked for them that they are in this for the long haul together. I think they figured that if they're going to be stuck with each other, they might as well learn to like it.
We also put a lot of effort into celebrating differences and accepting each other's 'quirky' behaviors. We used code words to help when kids were hungry, cranky, tired, or irritable – and they applied to everyone. Even though "broccoli ice-cream" was really created for one of my girls, and "don't poke the bear" was designed for another, we applied them to everyone in the family, because everyone gets irritable now and then.
In addition, all too often we parents get caught in the trap of trying to 'tell' our kids things that we feel is essential – so much so that we actually tell them how to feel. "Tell him you're sorry" or "you don't want to hurt your brother, you love him." We are so invested in their seeing things a certain way, that we forget how important it is for them to come to these revelations for themselves!
Trying to convince children and teens rarely works, of course. Our kids are smarter than that – and they really do want to think for themselves (planning and organizing, not withstanding!).
Show – Don't Tell – to Get Siblings to Love Each Other
So instead of trying to convince our kids, we usually do better when we slowly provide information, matter-of-fact-ly, over time – information that they can interpret for themselves. When we observe and comment on a kind or loving gesture toward a sibling, it speaks volumes – and our kids can 'own' that loving feeling. They are less likely to feel like you're trying to indoctrinate them.
So when we want our kids to get along with each other – and ultimately, get siblings to love each other – there is an enormous value of remembering to ask, "what's in it for them?"
Turns out, it served my kids better to know that their siblings love them than to tell them to love each other.