A mother’s dream is to see her kids supporting each other and being best friends long after she is gone. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why we all have more than one child, so they’ll have each other when that day comes. Sometimes, though, their sibling rivalry makes us worry that they’ll never manage to even get along, let alone become best pals. What can we do now to ensure that they’ll always be there for each other in the future? Below are 7 things you can do while they’re little that will help teach your kids to be friends for life.
7 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Be Friends for Life
Whether you’re just starting out on your journey of parenting more than one child or you’re already dealing with a hefty case of sibling rivalry, these tips will help teach your kids to be friends both now and as grownups.
1. Never (ever, ever, ever) compare one child to another
First things first. Never ever compare one of your kids to another. In other words, don’t say things like, “Your sister never gets in trouble at school, why do you?” or “Why can’t you be more like Susie? She always keeps her room clean.”
Even if you don’t mean to do so, comparing your kids to each other makes them feel like you definitely have a favorite. That, more than anything, builds major resentment and causes a massive rift between your kids that can last well into their adulthood. For example, a 2015 Bringham Young University study found that parents’ comparisons can actually set the course for their childrens’ entire academic life and influence who they will become.
Alex Jensen, the lead author of the study, wrote, “It’s hard for parents to not notice or think about differences between their children, it’s only natural. But to help all children succeed, parents should focus on recognizing the strengths of each of their children and be careful about vocally making comparisons in front of them.”
2. Encourage their mutual interests…
This is a two-part tip, hence the ellipses. First, definitely encourage mutual interests. If both Tommy and Susie love science fiction stories, start a family book club. If they both adore hiking, plan weekly (or even monthly, if time is tight) family trips to the local trail.
Basically, make sure they have an opportunity to indulge in their shared interests together. Along with giving them something that they both enjoy doing together now, you’re also making strong memories for them to reflect on later.
3. …but also teach your kids that it’s okay to have “nothing in common.”
Of course, sometimes kids literally just have no shared interests. Maybe one of your daughters loves princesses and pink dresses while the other loves scary books and gets her fashion advice from Wednesday Addams. Perhaps they’re passionate about different sports. My daughter is into gymnastics, my son plays tennis.
Teach your kids that it’s absolutely fine to have “nothing in common.” Some of the best friendships involve two people who are polar opposites. Encourage your kids to cheer each other on, even if they have no idea what “love” means in tennis or what a “front handspring” is.
Remind them that even if they feel like they’ll never share a single interest, they do in fact have one thing in common: you! Which brings us to…
4. Let them “gang up” on you!
Kids love to gang up on us parents, don’t they? Even two children who rarely speak to each other make brilliant co-conspirators. While it’s frustrating to listen to a chorus of “please, please, please” after you’ve already said “no” to something, that act of ganging up on you is actually a terrific bonding experience for kids.
Here’s the part you may not love- let them succeed sometimes (as long as it’s safe, of course). Yep, even if you already said “no” to their fervent request. It’s worth it to lose a few “parenting consistency” points by letting them triumph over you. They’ll feel like they’ve accomplished something together that they couldn’t have done alone.
Plus, letting kids (all kids) win arguments from time to time helps them develop good negotiating skills later in life. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics even agrees. In an article on HealthyChildren.org about family arguments, they write,
Let your child win sometimes. When you and your youngster argue, you need to do more than listen to her point of view; when she presents a persuasive case, be willing to say, “You convinced me. We’ll do it your way.” Let your youngster know that you value her point of view, and that through communication, conflicts can be resolved – and that sometimes she can win.
Of course, like all things in parenting, you have to use common sense here. Don’t let them convince you to do something dangerous, obviously. Wait until they ask for something reasonable, or something you’re already on the fence about. Maybe they’ve been asking for a puppy for ages, and you’re already “this” close to saying yes anyway. Rather than just giving in, encourage them to work together to present their argument. Then tell them that they’ve convinced you.
5. Eat together as a family as often as possible
You already know that studies show eating together as a family at least four times a week makes kids more successful as adults. It’s also a great way to teach your kids to be friends for life. During those meals, even kids who rarely spend time together throughout the rest of the day have a chance to catch up and learn more about each other’s passions.
In fact, these family meals are especially important for developing a bond between two kids who don’t have much in common. During the rest of the day, they can often feel like little more than tiny roommates sharing the same space and set of parents. Family meals help them actually feel like a family.
While just sitting down together at the same table is enough to reap the rewards, take it a step farther by playing conversation games. You’ve heard of “high/low,” right? Basically, everyone shares both the best and the worst thing that happened to them that day. I like to focus on the positive, so I prefer “two highs and one low.” Encourage your kids to celebrate each other’s wins and empathize with the not-so-great things. If you need more ideas, Smithsonian Magazine has a great list of games to play around the dinner table. Just adapt them for your kids’ ages a bit.
6. Don’t take sides
Even if you do all of the above, your kids are going to argue from time to time. Hey, it happens even among the very best of friends! Just like it’s vital to never make comparisons, it’s absolutely imperative that you do not take sides (unless one child literally just bonked the other on his head with a firetruck or something, of course).
Most of the time, your job as a parent isn’t to decide which child was in the right, but rather to remain an impartial mediator. As I said, if one kid hit the other for no reason other than the fact that he was there, then yeah, you’ll kind of have to take sides. Just make sure you do it in a way that shows both kids that you love and support them equally. Make it about the action, not the child.
However, if they’re just arguing over which cartoon is the coolest (a debate that can get oddly heated), follow the next tip closely.
7. Stay out of disputes as much as you can*
I know you want to step in and make everything better when you see your kids fighting, but you can actually do more harm than good. A friend once said to me, “Kids fight and get over it within minutes. Parents step in and they end up hating each other for months.” Now, she was referring to two kids and parents from different families, but the spirit of the sentiment still applies to siblings.
Basically, unless you see blood flying (or about to fly), stay out of it and wait to see what happens. Your kids could get into a vicious screaming match about cartoons and stomp off into different rooms. Then, three minutes later, they’re back to playing like best friends again. If you get involved, though, the fight lingers on.
There are discussions about feelings, forced apologies, resentment because one kid feels like you took the other one’s side. Then, they’re annoyed that their precious free time was filled up with discussions about feelings and apologies and resentment, which leads to more resentment. You get the point. A fight that would have been over in minutes has now taken the entire day to resolve.
So, like I said unless one child has or is about to direly injure the other, stay out of it and wait to see how it unfolds.
* Some parenting experts believe the complete opposite, that we should take sides and get involved in disputes because our kids aren’t born knowing how to resolve conflicts. So, before you follow those last two tips, first lay the groundwork necessary to help your kids learn how to fight “fair.” If this is their very first fight, then get involved only enough to make sure they have the tools needed to resolve it on their own. Give them guidance, remind them of your family rules (be respectful to each other, no hitting, etc).
If your kids break those rules in subsequent fights, you can step in with a gentle reminder. But beyond that, step back and give them a chance to resolve it on their own.
Even kids who fight like cats and dogs can become best friends later in life
If you notice, these ways to teach your kids to be friends for life have a few common threads. They teach your kids to find shared passions but accept that sometimes opposites attract. They help them create memories to draw on as adults. Most importantly, though, they teach kids that they’re entirely capable of resolving their own issues together.
That is so important for when the day comes that you can’t resolve problems for them.
Here’s something that will make you feel better if you’re worried that your kids will never like each other. Growing up I used to fight with my sister so much! But now we are best friends!