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Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry10 Steps to Turn Your Kids into Teammates
By Todd Cartmell
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
CREATE A STRONG FAMILY BOND
Melanie was a fourteen-year-old girl whose relationship with her ten-year-old sister, Heidi, had been growing in parched, dry relational ground for several years. In a counseling session one day, I asked Melanie about her relationship with her sister.
"Do you and Heidi ever do anything fun?" I asked.
"Are you kidding?" Melanie retorted. "Why would I want to do anything with her?"
"Well, she is your sister," I replied, surprised by her distant response.
"We just annoy each other and we always end up fighting. It works out better if we just do our own thing," came Melanie's answer.
As Melanie spoke, I could almost tangibly feel the chill of this damaged sibling relationship. These two girls had hurt and annoyed each other until all the life had been drained out of their relationship. Luckily, there is hope for damaged sibling relationships like Melanie and Heidi's, and the first step is to create a strong family bond.
When family members have a strong family bond, it means that they feel valued by and connected with each other. It doesn't mean that they always feel happy with each other or have to agree about everything. If this were the case, then no family could maintain a close bond for long. Instead, there is an underlying sense of value and respect that permeates the family soil, making it a safe place to grow and learn (and even disagree).
When planting a flower, the first step is to choose good soil for your seed. If planted in hard, dry soil, your seed may die before it ever has a chance to take root. When you have found good soil, you dig a hole deep enough to protect the seed from intruders and allow it to benefit from the soil's rich nutrients.
In the same way, you want your family soil to be a nurturing and protective environment in which your children's sibling relationships can grow. Only when deeply embedded in healthy family soil can your children's sibling relationships blossom and flourish into all God created them to be.
There are two ingredients that will help you build a climate of unity and emotional bonding into your family: family time and expressed affection. Each ingredient will promote healthy sibling relationships and can be put into practice with a surprisingly modest amount of effort. Let's take a look at each ingredient now.
There is no substitution for positive time spent together to meld strong sibling relationships. Unfortunately, the concept of family time has been forgotten by many parents over the past decade. In contrast to the almost twenty hours the average child (ages 2-17) spends watching television each week, a miserly thirty-nine minutes are spent each week in meaningful conversation with their parents. That averages out to less than six minutes a day talking about things that really matter. With quality family bonding time conspicuously absent, sibling relationships are more vulnerable to becoming strained and damaged as children go through the paces of life without regular opportunity for deep bonding and relational refueling.
Take a minute and think about your family. How much time do your children spend together, enjoying each other's company or talking about important issues in their lives? If you think there is room for improvement in this area (which is the case for most of us), then this may be one of the reasons that your children's relationships are not as close as they could be. And the rest of this chapter is just for you.
Lora and I have had a regular family time in our family ever since our children were young. While we have found ourselves getting caught up in the busyness of life and missing a week more often than I'd like to admit, we have worked hard to prioritize our goal of having our family time once a week. Both Lora and I feel that establishing our family time has been one of the best parenting decisions we have ever made. Our relationships with our children have grown closer and we have experienced wonderful times of sharing and growing together as a family that could never have happened any other way.
Our boys' sibling relationship has been positively impacted too. I have watched my boys learn to pray for others and for each other during our family times. They have learned relationship skills, such as sharing and problem solving, that have helped them handle daily living-together problems with creativity and respect. I have seen their sibling relationship develop a strong foundation that has thus far carried them through the normal aggravations of family life. I can truly say that our family times have become one of the richest experiences that I have had the privilege of being a part of.
The following is a description of how we conduct our weekly family time. Use it as a starting point as you create a family time that fits your family best. While our family time is really quite simple, it includes two important components: a fun activity and a meaningful discussion.
A Fun Activity
We either begin or end our family time with a fun activity. Just as a student pilot needs to log many hours of flight time to get a pilot's license, you want your children to log many hours of positive time together. As Stephen Covey astutely observed in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the more deposits that people make in each other's emotional bank accounts, the more willing they are to overlook each other's shortcomings. This family activity is an opportunity for your children to invest in each other's emotional bank accounts as they share fun family experiences together. Over time, these accumulated positive family experiences of laughing and playing together will deepen your children's relationships and help offset the withdrawals that come with moments of sibling frustration.
As a child psychologist, I meet new children on a weekly basis. During our first meeting in my office, we usually talk about why they have come to see me and end by playing a game. One of the questions I always ask during our first hour together is, "What do you like best about your family?" While I have received many different answers to this question, the answer that is by far the most common is: "We do fun things together."
I further inquire about what kinds of fun things they do and get answers as varied as the children themselves. Vacations. Going on nature walks. Eating at a favorite restaurant. Playing board games. Watching movies. Going to sporting events. The common thread that runs through each of these activities is that it is a time of meaningful family bonding.
In the past, our family times have included a variety of fun activities, some of which are included in the adjacent list.
As you can see, the possibilities for activities are endless. The only criterion we have is that we choose an activity we all enjoy. Your first family time activity can be to get together as a family and make a list of fun family time activities. As time goes on, continue to update your list as you think of new activities that you can enjoy together.
FAMILY TIME ACTIVITIES
Walk through a forest preserve Play board games A trip to the zoo Strolling through a shopping mall Miniature golf Playing volleyball with a balloon Hitting baseballs Going to a movie A video rental and popcorn night Trip to the ice cream store Making brownies Swimming Bowling Playing a computer game together A parent vs. children basketball
game A treasure hunt Playing at a park
If you are just beginning regular family times and suspect that your children may not be able to successfully handle longer activities together, start with shorter activities and slowly build from there. Even if your fun activity lasts only ten minutes, that will be ten minutes of positive sibling relating and family fun that will set the stage for the next time around.
The second component of an effective family time is meaningful discussion. When we attended Willow Creek Community Church a few years ago, I remember hearing Pastor Bill Hybels talk about "doing life together" with his family. This phrase reflects an overall effort to purposefully walk through life together as a connected family unit. Your regular family times are a crucial part of this journey, as they give you a weekly opportunity to talk together about the important issues of life. They also help you to keep your family relationships current. To stay up-to-date on the important events in each other's lives. To rejoice together in victories and help each other in defeats. To stay connected as parents and children, siblings, and followers of Christ.
I have found that our family time discussions often fall into one of four categories:
1. Family devotions
2. Personal/family issues
3. Character traits
4. Life skills
Whether reading straight from Scripture together or using any of several devotional books designed for children and families, we have found our family times to be perfect for talking about the truth in God's Word. Our family devotions include a time of reflection upon what we have read, by discussing our reactions to it and ideas for how we can apply God's truth to our lives. I particularly value these discussion times, and love listening to my boys think through challenging issues as we talk together about how God wants us to live.
FOR A LAUGH
Family Time Activities That Are NOT Highly Recommended
1. Conduct a hot-dog-eating and soda-drinking contest.
2. Spend an evening watching the newest Ultimate Fighting Championship video.
3. Have the kids wash and wax the cars while parents supervise.
4. Take a daylong trip to the Museum of Nuclear Fusion.
5. Fertilize your garden.
6. Watch a two-hour documentary on the exciting world of bacteria.
7. Go to a local restaurant and have a spit-wad fight.
Family devotional books that you may enjoy include Little Visits for Families by Allan Hart Jahsmann and Martin Simon, Kids-Life Devotions (complied by Cook Communications), and the Heritage Builders series of family night materials, such as Ten Commandments: Family Nights Tool Chest or Basic Christian Beliefs by Jim Weidmann, John Warner, and Kurt Bruner.
Another type of meaningful discussion we have is staying in touch with personal and family issues. We often start by asking if anyone has an issue or subject they would like to talk about, or we go around the circle, asking each person to share one important thing happening in his life. I particularly like the activity of choosing a good question or two (or having someone else choose a question), and having us go around our family circle, taking turns giving an answer. See the list on page 39 for some of the circle questions that we have used in our family times.
As you can see, the possible questions are endless, and provide a format for discussion that moves quickly and is easy for children to engage in. There may be times when one person has a significant issue going on in his or her life, and the majority of the discussion time will be spent on talking through that issue. Regardless of the topic, your children will experience talking about important real-life issues with their family from a Christian perspective, and they will get the clear message that their thoughts and feelings are highly valued in their family.
A strong inner character is one of the qualities that we want our children to develop. There are many character traits you can discuss with your children, including courage, self-discipline, endurance, love, honesty, compassion, forgiveness, and respectfulness. Galatians 5:22-23 contains a wonderful list of character traits that God desires to cultivate in your family atmosphere, each of which would make an excellent family time discussion: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
Excerpted from Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry by Todd Cartmell Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.