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How can I help my kids be friends?

Hearing your precious kids yell at each other, ‘I hate you!’ is always stressful. But that doesn’t mean they will be enemies for life … or even for the next hour. And as parents, we can encourage their special relationship.

To adults, children’s relationships often seem turbulent and even cruel. But it’s important to remember that our children are still developing as human beings. A pre-schooler, for example, hasn’t yet learnt to empathise and think of others’ feelings.

A child yelling angrily at their sibling, ‘I hate you!’ can actually be a sign of a deep attachment. After all, even as adults, we only ‘let it all hang out’ within our most intimate relationships.

As parents, part of our job is to teach empathy—we intervene and help them make peace, which becomes part of our children’s emotional development. Renowned psychologist and relationship researcher John Gottman calls this ‘emotional coaching’. This is a three-step process, in which we:

1. Label and validate feelings: We teach empathy by showing empathy for our children’s feelings. So we say, ‘You are feeling really mad, why are you mad?’

2. Deal with the bad behaviour: ‘It’s okay to feel mad, but it’s not okay to say mean things.’ Set down an appropriate consequence—such as a timeout, followed by apologising to their sibling.

3. Problem solve: Once the crisis is over, find a moment to chat—coach your child through their feelings, and allow them to come up with solutions. For example, ask them what they want to do next time they feel mad. When a child comes up with the strategies, they are much more likely to follow them.

Research shows that children who play together, stay together. So even if they are quite diff erent, find something your children enjoy doing and give them opportunities to do it together. This creates a sense that their positive experiences as siblings outweigh the negative.

Perhaps most important is that your children sense you treat them both fairly, giving them equal warmth, affection and attention.

SWEET SIBLINGS Simple ways to strengthen bonds between siblings.

Talk about your own siblings: Talk about your childhood and adventures you shared with your own siblings.

Promote affection: If you have a baby, it’s easy to say, ‘don’t touch’. Instead, encourage your other children to touch Baby, with just a little guidance.

Catch them loving each other: When you see them playing nicely or showing each other love, point it out to them and praise them.

Let them be teachers: Older siblings love to teach younger siblings new skills.

Night-time stories: If your kids are reading age, let them take turns reading each other a bedtime story.


by Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 11 March 2017, pp10
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.