One of the most valuable contributions a homeschooling parent can make to a child's character is the ability to get along with others. For families who homeschool multiple students, however, keeping a balance between the books and the bickering can be a challenge. If you find schoolwork consistently falling by the wayside while you mitigate a spat between siblings, try these tried and true tips for making peace on the homefront.
Lay a loving foundation. While play dates and group settings can give a youngster a basic set of social skills, it's the parent who instills lasting qualities like kindness and generosity. Start by letting each child know he or she is loved. Plan one-on-one mommy or daddy time at a park, a movie, or even a grocery store, where you and your child can bond. You can also arrange plenty of family activities to create warm memories. Children with a history of positive experiences are more likely to work out their differences now and later in life.
Inspire respect. According to Scott Myers, a professor of communication studies at West Virginia University, we are much more verbally aggressive with our siblings than with anyone else. To strengthen family ties, Myers suggests children simply become more aware of their tendency to take their brothers and sisters for granted. Take note of such behavior when you see it, and speak to the offending child privately. Most importantly, take every opportunity to remind your children to respect each other's feelings, ideas, and belongings, and take care that your own behavior follows suit.
Foster cooperation, not competition. Sometimes the best way to head off sibling disagreements is to teach your children to get along from the get-go. Encourage your children to tag-team with their chores, quiz each other on spelling words, and share snacks, toys, and TV time. Rather than racing to see who can clean their bedrooms the fastest, challenge them to beat the clock by picking up toys together. By stressing sharing and playing fair from an early age, you can lay the groundwork for a lifelong friendship.
Stay tuned. Pay attention to situations that tend to spark conflict and heed them off ahead of time. If one child gets cranky before lunch, for instance, hold off on the group learning activities until the tummies are full or consider serving a half hour earlier. If another child often picks fights during the going-to-bed routine, consider introducing more calming activities, such as low-key bedtime stories or soothing background music.
Encourage empathy. Many children have tunnel vision and aren't emotionally mature enough to think through what will happen when they when they say or do something hurtful. Therefore, it's important to put children on the path to understanding the cause and effect of their actions. You can start by taking the child aside and saying, "I know you didn't mean to hurt your brother's feelings when you left him out, but not being included made him sad. He would feel better if you said, ‘I'm sorry.'" You can also share Matthew 7:12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Helping a child to put herself in her sibling's shoes will make her less likely to repeat the negative behavior in the future. Then, follow up by encouraging your other child to forgive the action. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38-39).
Celebrate each child. Let each child be who he or she is, and try to avoid playing favorites, pigeonholing or labeling, and comparing one child's successes to another's failures. Talents run the gamut, and enjoy and accept each one for what it is and for the joy it brings your child.
While parenting more than one child can be a handful, it's also a blessing occasionally disguised. Not only are you giving your children playmates and confidants for life, but you're also instilling lasting social skills by laying a foundation for cooperation, kindness, and love.
Do you have suggestions on how to strengthen sibling bonds? Share them below!