This month, we’re going to talk about fostering sibling relationships as we move into the summer months.

Ashlee & Rachel’s Joint Dimmer

So we’re going to start with our dimmer first. A joint dimmer. It probably seems like we talk about this a lot, but this was too good not to talk about.

Our families met up for a little dinner playdate, and the kids were all playing so nicely together. But there was a point where I thought, “Things are a little too quiet.” So I went downstairs looking for the kids. I heard their voices in the distance. I went into the guest bedroom downstairs and looked through the window. In the window well, they’d created a little home for themselves and they had a bag of Cheetos and our boys’ shirts were off. They were truly living their best lives.

I captured that cute moment on my phone of the kids playing together outside and was showing Ashlee, talking about how well they were doing on their own. It made us remember how excited we were when we both had Levi and Brecken because we knew that they were going to be best friends. Sure, it took a long time for Levi to warm up, but we’ve finally hit that point. It only took three years, but they are like brothers now.

Not five minutes later, the dads come running around the corner, holding naked children and saying, “Poop! There’s poop! We need some help! We’re calling in backup!” Rachel’s two-year-old daughter had smeared it all over her body, and when John first grabbed her, he said, “I don’t know if it’s poop or mud.” But there was no question in our minds what it was.

But we’d just checked on them! And they were fine then! But somehow, only a few minutes later, they’d stripped down naked and all taken turns. Needless to say, we all got to know Rachel’s bathtub really well that night.

How to Build Sibling Relationships in the Summer

So as you know, if you’ve been following us, we each have three kids. Ashlee has two kids in school, and Rachel has one kid in school.

This time of year, we’re getting the family back together for the summer and things shift. It’s not the same. It’s not the same amount of structure, not the same amount of activities and a lot more home time together. Sometimes, that feels exciting, and other times it feels a little overwhelming. We find ourselves thinking, “How are we going to navigate this? What is this going to look like?” So we put together a list of some things that we think help foster sibling relationships.

Give Everyone Grace

Realize that it might take time to get back in the swing of things because we’ve had so much schedule and structure around waking up, eating breakfast and getting out the door. But that is going away. Our kids are going to have a lot more free time and a lot more time to be bored.

So just give them and yourselves grace through that transition. At first, there might be more arguing, more complaining and more boredom. Remind your kids that there’s a whole world out there, and they have the opportunity to think creatively and fill that time however they want. It’s not your job as a mom to entertain them always.

Allow Alone Time

Our oldest children are very similar. They need time to step away from others, take a break and recharge solo. We let them read, draw, or just spend quiet time with themselves. Our middle children, on the other hand, really struggle with being alone. They want us to entertain them when our other children are napping, at school or need that alone time.

Sometimes, our middle children don’t understand that their siblings don’t want to play 24/7. So, as parents, just recognize that every kid is different, and if somebody needs a break, we don’t have to suddenly go home, but still give them space to step away for a bit. Also be so happy for your extroverted kids that one day they’re going to have their people, and they’re going to get their cups filled every single day by being around others.

Set the Tone

Rachel was an only child growing up, and she didn’t have any idea what she was missing. People always ask, “Weren’t you so bored?” I wasn’t. I had a great childhood. But watching my kids, I now realize what a gift it is that they have each other—these built-in best friends.

And if you foster this relationship, it really can be special. They don’t have to be fighting all the time. I do believe that, as parents, we set the tone for our home and the way that the kids treat each other. If we’re treating our kids with respect and love, they can be really good friends.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be moments. There will always be moments, every single day. That’s just life.

Let Them Be

In moments like that, the other part is to teach them to work through things on their own. If the kids are playing and they’re disagreeing, try not to interject yourself as a parent when you don’t need to.

When they’re playing nicely, it’s easy to let them be. But it’s when they start to squabble a little bit that makes me want to jump in right away. But I’ve seen my kids work through it without my help. In any relationship, I think, when you have a fight and you work through it, that builds trust and that strengthens your relationship because it helps you realize that you can have a disagreement and still love each other. You’ll still come back together eventually. By not stepping in too soon, you’re allowing your kids to build their communication skills together.

Jump In With Curiosity

But what if you do need to step in to break up an argument between your kids? Make sure not to pick sides. Jump in with curiosity, like “Hey, can you tell me more about what happened?” or “I want to hear what happened from each of you.” Oftentimes, just them stating their perspective is all that needs said. Then, you can validate the way they felt with phrases like “I could see why you felt that way.” And finally ask, “How can we work on it together?”

Create Friendly Competitions

Instead of doing kid versus kid, because that pits them against each other, find ways to put them on the same team. We like to do kids versus parents. We’ll make up races for bedtime routines, like who can get their jammies on first or brush their teeth fastest. Our favorite is the bad breath monster, where one of us pretends to be a monster that loves the smell of stinky breath. All of our kids will rush to brush their teeth so the monster doesn’t get them. They’ll close us out of the bathroom and laugh together. Anything fun motivates our families.

That way, they’re on a team and working together toward a common goal. We want them to be rooting each other on, as opposed to fighting with each other.

It’s just a great whole family bonding experience, which is exactly what summer is for. You have more time together, so enjoy it in a low-pressure way. You don’t have to get up so early in the morning, which means you have more time to make routines fun, instead of feeling like you have to get your kids to bed because everyone has to be up at a certain time.

Plan Family Meetings

We don’t always do this, but it’s something we both would love to start—meeting once a week and talking about what the week is going to look like.

  • What’s on our schedule?
  • Who has what camp?
  • What time do kids need picked up?
  • What are we going to have for dinner?
  • Are we having people over?
  • Who’s sport is happening this week?
  • How are we going to support our family in their activities?

Be Supportive at Sporting Events

Sometimes sports are long, especially with a three-year-old who is ready to go five minutes in. But for your older kids, I think it’s important to cheer on their siblings. I always ask my kids, “How could we make your brother or sister feel like a million bucks?” Emphasize that they’ll get their turn someday too by saying something like, “When it’s your time to do your sport, your brother or sister will be right there rooting for you!”

Ashlee’s oldest had a big team commitment this year, which made it feel like a whole family commitment. Anna, her middle child, wasn’t involved in much, which really fit her personality. She’s very curious and can make anything out of nothing, really. Even though she wasn’t involved in many activities, she was still so supportive of her older sister. It was really amazing to see. She set the tone for her siblings cheering on our family. And it’s such a special gift to not be envious or disinterested of someone’s passion. She truly was so happy for her sister doing something big. I’m beyond grateful for her and for how she handled that this year. I’m so proud of her. It’s a big deal.

Eat Family Meals

Anytime that you can be together as a family unit, make it happen. An easy way to do that is eating more meals together now that some of your commitments have slowed down. We just had a family meal the other day that lasted like 40 minutes. John and I were laughing so hard during the chaos. We were calming down potty words every five seconds, breaking into song while eating, standing on chairs and having so much happy chatter.

What was said at dinner doesn’t matter much. It’s the significant feeling of cheerfulness, happiness and contentedness that will stick with my kids. It was one of those moments where I looked at my family and thoughts, “Wow, this is our life. How amazing is this?”

Dinnertime is my chance to be with my kids, sitting down and looking at each other, to notice how wonderful life really is with them.

Set Aside 1on1 Time

I don’t know how I’m going to do this quite yet, but I’d like to try to do a little bit of independent, one-on-one time with each kid each day. Even if it’s ten minutes of playing their favorite game with them and having my other two kids play with each other during that time, knowing that they’re going to get their time with me.

It’s hard when everybody’s all together to still get any individual time. And if one sibling gravitate to one sibling, it would encourage them to play with the other sibling they don’t usually gravitate towards for a little while.

Rachel signed her son, Brecken, up for preschool two days a week through the summer, but really debated if she should do it. Because it wasn’t really needed. I’m home. But then I started to think my oldest daughter, Ellie, who hasn’t had any one-on-one time with me since before Brecken was born. That’s why we decided that it would be a good thing to have afternoons for one-on-one time with Ellie while Finley naps and Brecken is at school. Other than bedtime when I read to her, she hasn’t had my full attention in so long.

Now, she’ll get intentional time with me. I know that’s not everybody’s situation, where you have that option. If that’s the case of you, finding pockets of time (only five or ten minutes or so) to give your child your undivided attention is key.

Our girls actually called us out for that the other day. Fridays are family movie nights in our house. John and I had gotten to the point where we didn’t even realize it, but they were watching the same shows over or shows that we became disinterested and gradually started having just the kids watch the show. But not too long ago, they said, “Hey, this is supposed to be a family movie night. You and dad need to be there.” That showed us how important it was to them, which I didn’t realize. So John and I got down at their level and said, “You know what? You’re right. We will make sure that it is a priority and that we are there with you.” With that promise, we did make sure that we’re going to keep variety in the shows too. We’re not going to just watch cartoons. We’re going to sometimes watch educational or inspirational shows, like Planet Earth.

Build Up in Public

The last thing I wanted to say is that we have little ears always listening to us, especially at these younger ages when I think parents are a kid’s biggest role model and impact on their lives most. When you get into those teenage years, maybe the peers have more influence than parents.But at this stage with the ages of our kids, we have a huge influence on their thoughts and their feelings on the people around them, the things around them and how they process the world.

So, if we’re saying negative things about their siblings in front of them, they are hearing that and they are internalizing that. Even if they don’t realize it, it is impacting the way that they may treat their brother or sister. So just really try your hardest, even if you’re so frustrated with one of your kids, to not say that in front of another child. Save it for after they’re in bed. Take a moment away from the kids to vent to your husband or let it out in another way. But build up your kids, as opposed to tearing them down.

An example is my youngest daughter, Finley, loves to sing. Every time she sings, I say, “Finley, you are such a good singer.” One day, my daughter Ellie was singing, and Finley looked at her and she goes, “Ellie, you’re a good singer.” I can tell that she hears me, and she knew that was a nice thing to say to her sister. She wanted to build her sister up.

There are always two ways of saying something. Find a positive spin on a negative situation. I’ve noticed that with my son, Levi. When he’s crying, I try to remember that he’s three and doesn’t know how to work through emotions yet. He won’t always feel these emotions this big. For now, we need to be his safe place and normalize to our other kids that you have hard times when you’re little, instead of telling him, “Stop crying” or “What is wrong with you?” or “Why won’t you stop?” Because my kids are going to hear that and think, “Yeah, what is wrong with Levi?” Nothing. He’s normal. He’s three. He’s having a hard time.

To keeping things positive between siblings, parents have to model it themselves. Anyway, we just wish you all luck as you move into your summers. We know you’re doing a great job. Have fun!

Ashlee Hendricks

Ashlee Hendricks

Real Life Conversations Host

I am a mom to three awesome kids: Ellie, Anna, and Levi. My husband Jon works as a professor at the UNL Business College. While we are not natives to Lincoln (this year marks five years in Nebraska), I did grow up on a dairy farm in southwest Missouri and feel quite at home here. I work as a full-time mom and a part-time nurse at a clinic here in town.

As a family, we are happiest outside and having adventures. We lived in South Carolina before moving here so we’ve had to toughen up quite a bit! We love biking, camping and anything involving water. I have been supported and inspired by so many amazing women and men along my parenting journey. Rachel and I have talked a lot about our shortcomings and wins as moms. I hope as we share some of our story that you’ll find some relatable information that can nurture and inspire you wherever you are on your journey as a parent. We are all in this together!

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Real Life Conversations Host

I was born and raised in Lincoln. I am a stay-at-home-mom to three amazing kids named Ellie, Brecken, and Finley. I worked as a PE teacher at Scott Middle School for 8.5 years and turned into a SAHM when my second kiddo was born. I love being home with my kids. It is so fulfilling to me to be home with them through each stage, to care for them and to be a part of the little details and the big moments in their lives.

My husband, John, is a men’s gymnastics coach at the University of Nebraska. Our kids love to go to the gym and play. We love that they now have a relationship with the college athletes. It is really fun. Go Big Red! I am very excited to be chatting about things motherhood here on CapitalMom. I hope you enjoy and are able to relate as we share our motherhood journeys.

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