Six Ways to Be Intentional In Sibling Bonding

Intentional Siblings

“Dear God, I thank you that we get to be home and do school together. Thank you that we are in a musical and can spend that time together as well…”

…This was an excerpt of a prayer one brother was praying for another. It took my breath away. We all want our kids to love one another, because, let’s be honest, it makes us feel pretty warm and fuzzy. There are however, other reasons we want our children to get along with their siblings.

It’s practical:

Rob Reinow shared at a retreat how he was always hoping for a prayer partner from his youth group, never thinking he had a built-in prayer partner right down the hall: his own brother. So often, we find ourselves discontent, even into adult-hood, looking for new experiences and new people. When our children form tight bonds in childhood, they can live their entire lives with their best friends. Siblings can given amazing spiritual support when it’s a natural part of life growing up.

Mom and Dad won’t always be around:

If things go the right way, our kids will out live us. When parents are gone (so I’ve heard), you can feel a little alone in the Universe. When our children have grown deep bonds, they can be there for one another. We share many of our first life moments with our siblings. Who understands us better than those who we spend day in and day out in our childhood?

Sibling relationships are training ground for all future relationships:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…amazing life-lessons can spring up from sibling relationships. Our children will some day be someone’s roommate, employee, employer, spouse, or friend. What better way to hone relational skills than with the people we see the most (and have the hardest time getting along with)?

How do we intentionally help our children form bonds of friendship?

1. We’ve taken Jim & Lynne Jackson’s advice and we “send our kids on dates.” We have encouraged our kids to pair up, pack a favorite shared activity, and give them money to split a treat in a restaurant. We sit nearby to make sure they are safe, but far enough that the entire activity needs to be directed between the two of them. What an amazing bonding experience this has provided! (We especially like to pair up kids who may have been having trouble getting along in recent days or weeks.)

2. Our kids share bedrooms. We have plenty of bedrooms in our house, but it is entirely normal for kids to pile up in one or two rooms each night. They giggle, debrief their days, and bond in this way. Sharing bedrooms always challenges different personality types to work together in stressful settings. This is a good thing!

3. We encourage our kids to give each other hugs. This actually occurred recently, when I found out one of my sons told the director of his play that he didn’t want to hug a female cast mate and that he doesn’t hug his sisters! I made a fun game out of them all hugging each other until everyone broke out laughing. Since then, I occasionally nudge one to hug another. I don’t like to make a big thing out of this or do it all the time. I’ve noticed however, there has been a new warmth among the crew since implementing this idea. I’ve even seen them initiate a few hugs to one another without my prompting.

4. Strategically placing kids in the car or at the table has been amazing. Two of our feistiest kids struggle often with loving one another. We decided to place those two in the very back of our van for a very long road trip. Just the two of them. With no one else to talk to or rely on for entertainment for hours on end. This devious little plan was brilliant beyond words! They had a couple doozy fights back there. But in those fights, they gloriously worked things out…and they enjoyed each other immensely. Parenting win!

5. Our children pray together. We shared about our prayer day in a previous post. On the day when that child is singled out for more significant prayer, if brothers and sisters are around, they pray too. This plan has done two things for our kids: the one who prays has grown in love for the one for whom is prayed; the prayer day kid has grown vulnerable by sharing requests in front of siblings. As time goes on, I hope to encourage more independent prayer between our kids. It is my hope that into adulthood praying together (without mom and dad) will feel natural.

6. Our kids school together. This is a unique benefit for homeschool families. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching kids say their scripture memory passages to one another during the day. My oldest daughter has often included younger siblings in school projects that have been fun such as baking, olympic games, science experiments, etc. Our oldest son has followed her lead and is exhibiting the same kind of inclusion with the younger kids. Nature hikes, sledding, basketball, read alouds, three meals a day, devotions, prayer time, we are together a lot. There is definitely a lot of distinction in their learning as we have almost a decade spread between the five of them. However, we joyfully bump into each other all day as we circle around our to-do lists. I can’t help but think this is knitting their hearts together in a special way.

I really did feel warm and fuzzy when my son prayed that prayer of thanks for his brother. But more than that, I am deeply grateful for the relationships they are forging with one another. I hope and pray that as we are intentional about our children bonding with one another, that their love for each other will grow and reflect the love of Christ.

Intentional Siblings




Sibling Peace


Typically, my kids are masters at making peace among themselves. After years of practice they are able to work out most of their problems on their own. Sometimes, however, when big blow outs spring up, they come to me for help.

This time, Jules and Catty came to me first. The boys were unfair, mean, speaking rudely. We talked about how the girls were feeling and I asked if they were in a place to respectfully explain these feelings to the boys. When they tried, the results were not what they were hoping for. I asked the boys to join us. The girls seemed to be ruining the game by not following the rules. We did our usual routine of hearing each other and speaking back what each other felt. When that was complete everyone was still angry and hearts were still hard. I asked each of the kids to look at the situation and think of one thing they could have done differently. Everyone had an answer. But no one seemed to care about anything but their own perspective. We weren’t anywhere near peace.

I paused for a moment, pondering what to do. It seemed like Jules and Peebs were at odds and Odes and Catty could hardly look at one another. I made a decision. “OK guys. It seems like we all did a good job of sharing how we felt, listening to each other, and even understanding. But that didn’t seem to soften hearts. Jules and Peebs, pick out a board game to play together. Odes and Catty, you get a board game to play too.” I pulled out Candy Land and played with Cupcake. We all sat in the same room, in our pairings playing games. Slowly Peebs and Jules began to soften, laugh, and smile. Odes and Catty were not quite as responsive. At one point, I saw the board for “Guess Who” go flying across the couch.

swanniehouse peace

I asked Catty and Odes to put the game away and go to Catty’s room and pick out their favorite lotions and bring them back. Then I set a timer. “Odes, you get to use the lotion Catty picked and rub her feet for ten minutes. Catty, when he’s done, you get to rub his feet with his lotion choice. Odes, she will rub your feet as nicely as you rub hers.”

Odes reluctantly rubbed the lotion on his sisters feet, passionately asking me, “Is this your method of torture?” I smiled and went back to the princess game of “Memory,” Cupcake and I had moved on to. After a few minutes, the foot massaging kids were laughing and talking.

When the 20 minutes of foot rubbing had ended and all the board games were put away, Jules and Peebs asked, “Do you think we could re-try our original game with each other now?”

Four smiling faces found themselves in a joy filled do-over. They needed to step away from the problem and remember they love one another. Sometimes, we can work out our problems with words. Sometimes we find peace in a little lotion and a foot rub.