I get comments all the time on how well my girls get along. Whether from strangers commenting on how they’re sweetly holding hands walking the aisles of target, or from friends and family visiting observing my girls playing well together. I have been reading some great books lately that have inspired me to share some of how we are raising these sisters to be best friends.
It is my belief that the love and relationship between these sisters started even before their journey to this earth. How much our children have loved each other from the moment they meet is always a sweet surprise to me, and what I often remind expectant mothers worrying over their toddler’s life being uprooted by a new baby. “You are not considering how much that toddler will LOVE that new baby,” I urge. “Once they’re born, that toddler would not likely choose to send her back.”
Harlo was 19 months old when Stella was born. She LOVED her baby sister. It was like having the best little baby doll. All day we played and doted over our sweet baby Stella, Harlo and I both. I enjoyed letting her help me in every aspect. She would pat the baby as I burped her, she would fetch me diapers and wipes to change her, she would rub her head sweetly while I nursed her. This stage of sibling relationship was a sweet one – and quite easy to maintain.
As Stella grew, so did her personality and defiance. When they were 1 and 2 and a half, Stella found quickly that she could pull Harlo’s hair and get any toy she wanted. Harlo was quite timid and would shy away, giving into Stella. I would quickly correct Stella, letting her know I was displeased about her actions toward her sister. I would compliment Harlo’s patience with her younger sister and explain that she was still learning our rules and we would have to teach her how we behave and respect others. I always made it a point to communicate this with Harlo so she understood that Stella was purely acting out of natural instincts, and not ill intent. My goal was that no grudges were being bared between sisters.
That hair-pulling phase taught me a lot about communicating with my girls about each other. Aiding their relationship to a more positive and loving one. When my girls would do something nice for each other, I would (and still do) let them know that it pleases me, and tell them why. “Harlo that was very sweet of you to get Stella’s boo when she asked, that’s how Heavenly Father wants us to treat our sisters.” or “Stella thank you for sharing your treat with your sister, that is so thoughtful of you!” I also point out how they have made the other sister feel, “Look how happy Stella is to have her boo. Doesn’t that feel good to make your sister feel happy?” We also talk about how special sisterhood is often. I remind them how blessed they are to have been given a sister as a best friend to navigate this life with. In this instance, I am especially grateful to have my own sisterhood to model. “Do you think I would treat Auntie like that? Or would I share with her and enjoy her happiness?” That helps give my girls a different perspective of sisterhood outside their emotionally charged situation. I have experienced the blessing sisterhood brings to my life and I have also experienced how unsettling it can be to have strife in sisterhood. My goal is that my girls will think of each other in how they act and what they say that they might be able to enjoy the blessings of sisterhood many years to come.
Saying my girls get along well and enjoy a sweet friendship is not to say that they don’t bicker and fight sometimes. However, they are corrected the minute I hear an unkind word. Talking disrespectfully to your sister is unacceptable in our home. Using fighting words and not acting out of love will not be tolerated. In their relationship right now, I step in and guide them through their frustrations. I remind them to use kind words, communicate what they need from the other sister and that the other sister respects the boundaries being set. “If we treat each other with love, we can all enjoy ourselves and have a good time!” I say often. Just as I teach my girls to respect adults and use their manners, I teach them to act sweetly and lovingly toward their sister.
In A Charlotte Mason Companion, she writes, “Every childish quarrel loosens a bit of the family bond of esteem or love, til it eventually grows too slack to hold the members together.” She continues, “Sisters who never give in to each other when it comes to sharing playthings or sweets are likely to become jealous rivals of each other in later years.” My heart was lifted when I read this passage. I feel that if I want my girls to grow up to cherish each other, I must help them have healthy habits in their relationship in these earlier, younger years. Some people say you should let them work it out, but they can easily form bad habits in their relationship and right now I am directing them to a healthier pattern in problem solving rather than leaving it to their own, more limited devices.
I read an excerpt from Raising Godly Tomatoes that spoke to my heart. I went on to order the book and have really enjoyed it. On sibling bickering, she writes “If you really want to stop all bickering (and you should), then watch them closely and step in at the first angry look. But don’t just tell them to stop. After you tell them to stop, watch and see that they do. If the bickering resumes, step in and give them specific instructions on how to act nicely and get along with one another. Discipline as needed.” Another concept Raising Godly Tomatoes teaches is called “Tomato Staking” when the children need to have an attitude adjustment, you keep your child near you until they can adjust their attitude. My girls have responded really well to this. I allow my girls plenty of free time in their day, but if they are going to talk disrespectfully or not act sweetly with their sister, they need to come stay by me and maybe get their hands busy with chores or helping me until I can see that their attitude is nicer and they can resume enjoying their sister. I have found this to be much more effective than time out.
This may seem like you would be over your children all the time, correcting behaviors and I’ll be honest, some days I feel like that’s what I’m doing. But when they get the gist that disrespecting their sibling is unacceptable, you will be jumping in less and less and you will be able to enjoy your children more – and they will be able to enjoy each other more – which is the goal. I have kept up on my girls from the beginning, but I think they would respond just as well to this method now if I hadn’t. The “secret” so to speak in having children that get along is simply training them to do so. Harlo doesn’t view Stella as an annoying younger sibling who interrupts her games and life in general. She views her as her best friend, a companion to play with and enjoy life with. I remind my girls often how lucky they are to be blessed with each other. Both when they’re together and when they’re alone. I make it a point to say nice things about Harlo when I’m with Stella by herself, and vise versa. I want them to think fondly of each other. Sometimes when they’re alone I can point out nice things about the other sister to give them a minute to think nicely of their sister, even when she’s not there. I’ve had a lot of special conversations this way.
I know I’m lucky to have girls that are nice and act nicely to each other, but I feel like luck only gets us so far. If I am an active and intentional parent, I am much more likely to aid them to choose right choices. Intentional parenting is always my goal and so far, it is paying off for us.
My effort in sharing this parenting style is not to correct another’s, but to give insight to how we do things and maybe that is helpful to someone else struggling with bickering children. This is just simply our method and what works well for us. If you have another method that works well for you, I feel happy for you! Keep up what works for your family!
I would love to continue this conversation in the comments if any of you have something to add to this or have any specific questions.
I am now off to enjoy these little sister girls of mine for the rest of the day – preparing for the big Halloween day tomorrow! Pictures to come!