This is the last school year all four of my boys will be around on a daily basis. Change is in the air.
My oldest, who just graduated high school, is currently taking a gap year to work, and work out the details of his college plans. He’s in and out of the house, mostly independent, but still spending a lot of time with his brothers. Meanwhile, the younger three are just beginning to face the reality that their big brother — the one they’ve never known life without — is slowly on his way out.
And they’re not excited about that.
They are very aware that they’ll be saying goodbye to more than their big brother; they’ll be saying goodbye to a best friend. These four are all very close.
Over the years I have received a lot requests for a post about sibling friendships. When kids are young and bickering over everything, it can seem like they’ll never get along, let alone become best friends. So parents reach out, asking for help and wondering — Have my boys ever fought? haha. Yes, they’ve had their moments (and sometimes they still do.) In fact, a few years ago this very issue inspired me to write a post about sibling squabbling. (<– read that if you could use some support right now.)
Of course it is normal for siblings to fight. Kids are bound to get on each other’s nerves, bicker, debate, and sometimes really duke it out. But I also believe, more than ever, that brothers can grow up to be the very best of friends. And though parents can’t force this to happen, there are a few things we can do to help make it a lot more likely. Here’s my list:
1) Make sure they spend time together.
The best way for siblings to become close friends is to spend time together. The more time, the more likely friendships will develop. I cannot deny that homeschooling has been a great contributor to my boys’ close relationships. They don’t have a lot of options, they are together all the time! Of course you don’t have to home school to be intentional about your kids’ time together; there are plenty of other ways we can facilitate togetherness in our children. —
–After school and weekends: Parents often set their kids up with constant activities, “playdates” or screen time, just to avoid them being home and actually having to get along. It might seem that keeping kids constantly occupied is the right thing to do, but it really can be lazy parenting. Let your kids hang out, together, and eventually they will come up with things to do — often using their imagination, (remember that!?) and simple resources. A little boredom won’t kill them either — when kids are bored together, they are likely to get creative together. Leave some space in your kids schedule, and see what happens.
— Holidays and vacations. Holidays and family vacations offer some of the best opportunities for family bonding! Some families always let their kids bring a friend on trips, or they travel with other families. This is fine, sometimes. But kids will be a lot more likely to bond with one another if all they have is…one another. We don’t exactly take road trips in Hawaii (bummer!) but I remember well the fun and torture of driving for days with my family in the station wagon as a kid. My brothers and I would draw the imaginary line across the back seat of the station wagon, and fight over almost everything. But somewhere along the way we would forget to fight and start having fun. Now we laugh about all of that, as my brothers and I are very close. I encourage families to take trips just as a family. Sure, there may be a bit of refereeing involved, but in the end they’ll be building relationships.
–Sharing bedrooms. For many reasons I love that my boys share bedrooms. First of all, it’s good for them to learn to share space and get along. Second, kids really don’t “need” their own room. (just having their own bed is a luxury compared to most places in the world.) Sharing a room prepares them for dorm life, apartment life, and one day — marriage. Finally, as they get older, sharing a room is great accountability. If one of my teens tries to stay up late on the internet, his brother will surely call him out. It’s a lot less likely for a kid to get into trouble when he’s got a roommate. With that said, sometimes I know it is really nice for a kid to have his own space. We have an extra room in our house which I have offered to my older boys. At this point though, they are all so used to being together that no one wants their own room.
2) Encourage them to support each other’s interests:
Kids are going so many directions, it’s hard for parents to keep up, let alone the siblings. Yet relationships are sure to grow when the kids are aware of, and involved in one another’s interests. Make sure kids go along to support each other’s activities when they can. It will never be totally fair or even, but it’s worth the effort to try.
Luke’s surfing takes up a ton of our free time. We do not require the brothers to be at all of his contests, but they try to come to some of them. We’ve been the same way about the other boys’ sports and activities as well.
Even if the whole family cannot attend events, it helps to make sure conversations are intentionally focused on each of the kids’ interests. Parents can direct dinner time conversations, or time in the car so that each kid has a chance to be in the spotlight.
3) Find common interests for them to share
Though we encourage our boys to discover their own unique interests, it is super helpful to have at least a couple things everyone in the kids enjoys doing together. Our boys have a long list, but surfing and music are two things they always come back to. They may go ten different directions in a day, but knowing there are a few things they love to do together will always keep them coming back together. Every family can find a game, hobby, art, or sport that all of the siblings can share. Put some effort into finding a few common interests, and they are likely to become “connecting points” for your kids for years to come.
4) Let them work things out on their own.
Whether they’re just having fun or really getting into it, kids are bound to have some scuffles.
They will disagree. They will argue and they will fight. We should never allow things to get out of hand, but we must give them a chance to work things out. This can be hard for those of us who
want to control everything like to help everyone get along, but most of the time kids will learn and grow when given the chance to work things out.
One rule that I believe is crucial for families is that siblings must never turn against each other on the side of a friend or anyone else. Friends will come and go but brothers are forever. They must never ever (ever ever ever) make fun of each other, or in any way put down or side with a friend against a brother. When we’ve seen even a hint of this, we have addressed it swiftly. Sure, siblings may battle things out at home, but when it comes to outside relationships: brothers must have each other’s back.
Finally: Keep in mind that all friendships take time to develop. If your kids are young and fighting like cats and dogs, be patient. They’re likely to outgrow it. Talk to them about the future and how important it is that they grow up to love each other; show them examples of other families who are close. Then, give them time.
Trust my experience when I say: The same kids who get on each other’s nerves today, are likely to one day be begging their brother not to move away, because they simply cannot imagine life without him. (insert mom tears here.)
Comment below!? How do your kids get along? Anything you’ve found helpful in getting them to become friends as well as siblings? Any specific challenges you are facing? We’re all in this together, so hopefully we can encourage each other here!
Here’s to parenting well, and enjoying the ride!
PS As I publish this, these FOUR boys and I are headed to the airport, to fly to Seattle to visit my side of the family. Follow along on all social media accounts as we go to my parents’ mountain cabin, go boating in the Puget Sound, and hang out in lovely Gig Harbor. We’ll also be attending the Dream Auction which raises support for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (in honor of my nephew Micah.)