Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What Parents Can Do to Raise Children Who Are Friends

Growing up in the 90s, one of my favorite things on TV was Clarissa Explains It All. As all preteen viewers of the show were supposed to do, I idolized the main character.

Clarissa was designed to be like all of us (except maybe a little cooler.) She was quirky and offbeat and funny, just like us. And her annoying little brother Ferguson made her life miserable. How relatable!

Fast-forward 20 years. I've got six kids ranging in age from 1 to 13, and lately I've been searching for books to interest my 9-year-old reluctant reader.

I check out library books on his reading level, but before handing them over I always screen them first. Of course I have an eye out for things like language and violence. But do you know what I'm really looking for when I screen books? I'm looking for Fergusons and Clarissas.

And they are everywhere.

There's one thing I've learned about coaxing good behavior out of your kids, and it works to help them get along with their siblings like it works for everything else.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Clearly, his two sisters are NOT reluctant readers.

As a kid, I consumed episode after episode of Clarissa Explains It All and never questioned the sibling dynamic, but as a parent it makes me sad to see kids' books, movies, and TV shows perpetuating the idea that siblings are one step away from primates ready to attack each other at the slightest provocation.

Worse still, I'm not so sure it's just the kids who have bought into it.

I know parents who buy doubles of everything, even when it's one child's birthday, so neither of the kids feels resentful of the other.

I know parents who read picture books teaching their preschoolers to cope with jealousy when a new baby is coming, and some who bring home a gift "from the new baby" right after the birth.

I know a mom who once, when we set up a playdate for two of our girls, declined our invitation for the younger sister to come along and play with my other children because "Hannah* probably wants to have her own playdate." As if the very presence of a younger sister in the same vicinity would've ruined Hannah's day.

(*Hannah isn't her real name, by the way.)

Ironically, all of these well-intentioned attempts to head off sibling rivalry might be contributing to the very problem we're trying to solve.

What if we, instead of anticipating sibling rivalry and doing all kinds of things to prevent it, simply expected the kids to be friends from Day One?

It’s sad to see how so many books and movies out there normalize sibling fighting, because siblings can be natural best friends! Parents play a huge role in how siblings get along, and here is one simple tip for raising siblings who love each other. #siblings #familygoals

Is that naive? Maybe. But maybe not.

I say that because of a poem my 13-year-old wrote in school the other day as an assignment for her language class:

There’s something in the word “hate”
that means bad.
There’s something in the word “kill”
that means wrong.
But there’s nothing in the word “brother”
that means mean.
There’s nothing in the word “sister”
that means awful.
There’s nothing in the word “parents”
that means annoying.
But when I tell you “I have five siblings”
And you say “I feel so bad for you”
There is a whole sea of reasons why that sentence
should make me reply,
“No, I feel so bad for you.”
There’s something in the word “family”
that means wonderful and loving and right.
I’m sorry you didn’t know
that families don’t have to fight.

The media tells us that siblings are natural enemies, but I think we can reject that idea and parent as if we expect them to be friends.

We can refuse to tolerate fighting that goes beyond age-appropriate, situational bickering.

We can encourage a team mentality by having many shared toys and spaces instead of designating ownership of every little thing.

We can seek out books and movies where families work together and siblings are friends who have adventures together.

We can prioritize family time over individual parent-child date night.

We can say good things to our kids about their brothers and sisters, both when they're around to hear it and also when they aren't.

We can praise them for cooperating or helping each other.

One thing I've learned about raising kids is that good behavior starts with the expectation of good behavior.

The Fergusons and Clarissas in the media can keep on fighting like cats and dogs, but as parents, we have the power to raise children who are friends.

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Jenny said...

Thanks for your inspiring words. The fighting and teasing can be unbearable sometimes but then you catch them talking, laughing and actually helping each other. (-: We have our four girls (ages 16, 10, 8, and 4) share a room. We have enough rooms for the older ones to have their own room but we decided that having them share was what they needed to be loving and caring siblings. We believe it has helped them bond and love and appreciate each other. And they never complain about it. They love it.

Marilyn said...

I've thought a lot about this too, and you're right--those cultural influences that tell us "little sisters are annoying!" or "big brothers torture their siblings" are so pervasive! I don't know if I do as well at screening books as I should, but that's one reason we don't have TV and are glad of it! My kids do like each other and I think they get along fairly well. But I'm still uncertain as to if or how that will transition to adult friendship between them. My husband just doesn't really...LIKE some of his siblings (though he loves them, of course! :)) So I don't know if that is just something that happens, or if there's something we can do to help prevent it among our kids...I guess we just keep trying and hoping! :)

Jenny Evans said...

None of us can be really sure we're doing the right thing, but we can try, pray, and hope. We don't have a TV either (well, we do, but it's just for movies and gets no channels) and I'm glad for the same reason.

Jenny Albertson said...

I love this and I'm sharing it! I've had such a hard time with my girls not because they fight but because they are best friends. The problem happens when the younger sister isn't invited to play with the older kids. She doesn't see the age difference what she sees is that her friends are leaving her out. I hope my kids all stay friends. I wasn't close to any of my siblings until I was married...or at least out of high school. And I don't want to have that for my kids.

Anna said...

I love these posts. As an only child and now the mother of two little kids I have no idea what to expect. I didn't even think much about it until I read some of your posts about it. I've told my husband about your approach and I love it.

My kids adore each other right now, but they're both still in diapers so there's lots of time for that to go sideways. I never would have even thought to look through books for that reason. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Jenny Evans said...

Not to say that one book normalizing sibling rivalry is going to destroy their relationship, but I think being limiting how much they're generally exposed to it is a good idea. Just like anything else, the more they see it, the more normal they're going to assume it is.

Jenny Evans said...

Honestly, seeing the kids playing and having fun together is my favorite part of being a mom.

Kathryn said...

Your daughter wrote a beautiful poem. Your suggestion of telling the kids good things about each other reminds me of what my great-grandma would do. She would look at her children and say, "Do you know (insert sibling name) loves you?" It's a beautiful thing to be reminded of.

AnneMarie said...

I love that poem! It's interesting you mention this, because when I was growing up, my mom wouldn't let me read the "Molly" American Girl books, because of the sibling bickering and teasing. I think it's cool that she was trying to teach me that siblings fighting and hating each other shouldn't be something that we normalize. While I think it's good for kids to have some personal property and toys of their own, I definitely agree that it is incredibly important for them to have lots of stuff in common. Though it does make it weird when people move out of the house and grow up-for example, who gets the Wii that we co-purchased? that kind of thing.

Jenny Evans said...

That's so sweet. When he was 2 my son used to do the same thing if I said "I love you." He'd say "And Daddy loves me. And (insert a sibling's name) loves me. And..." He'd cycle through everybody in the whole family (sometimes naming each person two or three times because a 2-year-old's short-term memory isn't that good!) and it took several minutes.

Jenny Evans said...

Of course every kid's clothes and bed are their own, and there are some toys that the younger kids aren't allowed to use because they'll break them. Most of their birthday presents are their own, but generally after a while it just becomes everybody's because they're used to sharing. We don't make them do that, it just happens.

Budget Splurge Beauty said...

you know, I never really thought about this concept until reading about it on your blog. I mean I'm a few years off from having kids of my own, but yeah. I really love this. and if one of my kids wrote that poem I think my heart would burst.

Jenny Evans said...

Oh, it totally did! It made me cry. I have made lots of mistakes as a mom but it makes me so happy to know I have kids who love each other!

Unknown said...

Wow, that is a wonderful poem it almost made me cry lol. I have a 2 year old and expecting baby #2. I was going to get him one of those "big brother" books but now I'm rethinking. Loved this. :)

Jenny Evans said...

I think there are definitely some great ones that highlight all the wonderful things about being a big sibling, but I would definitely screen them first so you find one of those.

My issue with many of those books is that they include a brief scene where the big sibling feels jealous or resentful of the baby - of course that's resolved in the book within a few pages, but I just don't see the point in planting the idea in a kid's head that having a new baby will in any way be a negative experience before they even arrive!