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12 Ways To Help Your Kids Become Better Friends (Even If They're Total Opposites)

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Because siblings make the best friends — now and in the future.

The relationship you have with your brother or sister is among the longest relationships that you'll ever have — usually longer than the bonds that you have with your parents, spouse or best friends. This relationship between siblings is so important that National Siblings Day was created to honor our brothers and sisters.

And while the present is always a great time to deepen your own bond with your siblings, National Siblings Day on April 10th creates a great opportunity for you, as a parent, to help your children become even closer, too.

You may wonder how your kids can be biologically related, have the same parents and grow up in the same house together, yet be so different from one another. These differences may even cause a lot of fighting and sibling rivalry. Age difference, gender, and birth order together are also critical factors that affect how your children's sibling relationships will develop and endure over time. 

But you know how important having a friend in your sibling can be. The bond between siblings is critical for your kids' happiness now and in the future, which is why it's important that you help your own children bond, get along and become better friends. 

Not only can a sibling be a playmate when you're young, they can become your confidant, your sound-board, and your pillar of support as you age. 

Several studies published by Brigham Young University (BYU) discuss the greater impact siblings have on one another. One of their sibling studies found that “having a sister protected adolescent siblings from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful. It didn’t matter whether the sister was younger or older, or how far apart the siblings were in age.” 

And in a 2014 report, researchers found that boys learn “altruism, affection, and pro-social behaviors” through sibling relationships. In other words, when brothers have a sibling, they are more likely to be giving, better listeners, more sensitive and loving toward others.

That's why helping your kids become better friends now is one of the best gifts you can give them as a parent.


RELATED: Siblings Or BFFs? 5 Ways To Help Your Kids Become Both


Here are 12 ways to help your children bond and build a lasting friendship — even if they're total opposites:

1. Don’t compare your children to one another.

Whether in positive or negative ways comparisons foster division and conflict between them that can have negative lasting effects. Instead, encourage their differences. Not only will this make them more adaptive adults, it will help them learn from each other and celebrate their uniqueness by seeing the value in people who think or behave differently than themselves.

This can be done within and outside of your home. The simple act of tolerance, acceptance and embracing everyone’s unique gifts and qualities will set the tone within your home that differences are often a good thing. Varying interests do not need to be fought against, but rather accepted and celebrated.

2. Make “kindness counts” a mantra in your home.

Check in on acts of kindness as much as grades. Make a point to ask each child at dinner or in car rides, what was something they did that was kind for their sibling. Let them know that being kind to one another is as high a value as grades or sports in your home.

3. Create opportunities for teamwork instead of rivalry.

As a parent, this could be as simple as replacing phrases like, “Whoever cleans their room first gets to pick the movie…” Instead say, “Help each other clean up and then we will all decide what movie we will watch tonight….”

4. Help your kids resolve problems in a clear, productive way.

Explain what you are doing and why you are advising them in certain ways. It lays the foundation for problem-solving skills that they can apply when they are alone or older and need to figure out a solution on their own. If you tend to come in and just quickly solve it for them with no explanation, your kids have missed out on a lifelong learning opportunity.

And when you want them to “figure it out on their own,” explain why as well. Otherwise, the process seems chaotic and unpredictable.

5. Make it clear that a value in your family is respect and kindness.

Though you may think this seems obvious, kids often report that it is not overtly stated or miss the message.

6. Build in 1:1 time for each child throughout the week.

Given that popular thinking around sibling rivalry reasons that siblings fight so much, in large part, because they are trying to get their parent’s attention, by spending special time with them regularly they get that affirmation that they are loved, valued and celebrated. It can be 10 minutes each time a few days a week.

You might also try having special "parent-child" dates or rituals, like just the two of you getting ice cream after your oldest child's soccer match.


RELATED: 4 Unexpected Ways To Be The COOLEST Parent Ever


7. Use humor in resolving conflict or diffusing tension.

This approach typically works and also models another way of handling situations instead of every conflict needing to be talked about.

8. If you have a sibling, show your kids how important they are to you.

Talk about your memories, your fights and the love between you all. It will be a good example to them that you can still love your siblings and fight.

If you do not have a sibling (or one that you are close to) but have a childhood best friend that feels like a sibling to you talk about your relationship in family-like terms and do the same thing. Talk about childhood stories and the ups and downs of loving someone so much.

9. Help them bridge the age gap.

When you have kids that are farther apart in age, set them up for opportunities to bond that work well no matter the age. Examples include going to the beach, going to a large playground with multiple structures, going to the pool and other activities that appeal to many different ages, interests, and stages.

10. Provide play breaks and personal space.

One of the things that I often see are that siblings, especially when they are younger, spend a lot of time together. I hear all about how much siblings fought during vacations and breaks.

I suggest giving kids breaks, when if things are going fairly well, so that they don’t tire of the sibling, take them for granted or just get grumpy because there is so much compromising that makes up a sibling relationship. This tip applies to all ages of kids.

11. Teach your kids to stop holding grudges.

One thing that the adult sibling research finds is that all too often grudges are held from things that happened years, even decades ago that gets in the way of closeness.

So, help your children to accept, forgive and let go of their conflicts after they have been resolved. Notice if they have not moved on past something and teach them about grace and forgiveness. It’s worth the investment now to preserve their relationship down the road.


RELATED: 10 Tips For Raising Perfect, Unspoiled, Angel Kids


The importance of siblings may be even greater than you imagined! So, as a parent be sure to nurture yours, teach problem-solving to your kids so you can stay out of their every fight and give them the special time and attention they crave — so that they don’t grow to resent their sibling for taking you away from them.

The positive long-lasting effects of their sibling relationship extend way beyond your family dynamics and will set them up for future success as adults. Happy National Siblings Day!

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler is a mother, Doctor of Psychology, speaker, and author of the new book, Mommy Burnout: How Addressing Yours Will Make You A Better Mother And Create A Better Life For Your Children. You can follow her parenting advice in her newsletter by signing up today or visiting mommyburnout.com.

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