Having 8 children doesn’t make me an expert on this. Sometimes I think that our children were just born with a propensity to like each other. Sometimes I think we might have had a hand in it. But the reality is, there IS NO MAGIC FORMULA.
Did I burst your bubble? I’m sorry. But one thing I’ve learned more surely than almost anything else in these past 30 years is that there really is NO perfect way to raise children and have them turn out okay. BUT that doesn’t mean we should just throw in the towel at birth and watch Oprah (oh wait, she’s not on TV anymore, right? Can you tell how long it’s been since we’ve seen TV?). There ARE some things we can do to encourage friendships among our children.
1) Actually, my comment above is it…turn off the TV, video games, computer and encourage them to play with one another!
When our children were young, we were very poor. We did have TV but we really only got PBS and the old movie channel. And I was babysitting up to 6 other children (in a 500 sq ft apartment) so the noise of TV was not something I was interested in. We allowed 2 shows (but not every day and we didn’t order our lives around them): Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Reading Rainbow, later we added Magic School Bus. When we borrowed a movie from the library to watch, the children acted out that movie for days and weeks until another movie was borrowed. Some movies (like Robin Hood) were acted out for YEARS to come!
2) Don’t assume your children need daily Play Dates with friends.
We found that regularly playing with other children actually HAMPERED our children’s desire (and sometimes ability) to play well with one another. They became obsessed with being with their friends and they looked at their siblings as an irritation. Now I’m not saying we should live in isolation in the basement, but I am saying that the world’s obsession with socialization among peers is not always the healthiest thing for our children.
We afforded our children lots of opportunities to play with others, but it was always playing with other FAMILIES. This allowed some buddying up but mostly worked out with various age groups playing all together and learning how to get along and how to respect one another. It was always a delight when we saw our children actually being protective of one another!
3) If they are not playing well with each other, don’t allow time with friends.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but those times when our children were scrapping with one another was NOT a time when we rewarded their orneriness with time with friends. We told them, “If you cannot get along with one another, you are not ready to play with friends!” And it worked, every single time! I made sure that I did a lot of supervision during those times to quickly correct bad attitudes and behavior. And within a day we began to see major changes in attitudes, sometimes to the point of even forgetting about playing with others. THAT’S when we would invite friends over or go visit others.
4) Choose friends wisely for your children!
You may wonder what this would have to do with them enjoying one another, but influences from outside have a significant effect on the attitudes and viewpoints of our children. There were some children we simply did NOT allow as friends for our children. We saw disrespectful attitudes and speech: toward parents and toward siblings (sometimes toward everyone) and we chose NOT to allow that as an influence in our children’s lives. We figured, they had enough of their own sinful struggles (and ours) without bringing in more from the outside world!
5) Make home a fun place!
Well, I’ll be the FIRST to say I am NOT a Fun Mom kind of gal. I seldom played tea parties or sports with the children. But we did play lots of games, we sang, we danced, we laughed ALL THE TIME and we really loved being with our children! I think that rubbed off more than we knew. We spent LOTS of time talking and it almost always revolved around scripture. We never sent our children out of the room for talk that we thought was beyond them. We invited them in. Even now, if we have company and there are several conversations going on in different rooms, our children really struggle because they can’t be in all of them at the same time! They learned to love being with one another partly because we loved being with them.
Let me hear YOUR thoughts on things you’ve done to build enjoyment of one another among your children.