family time

Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

Two Families Sitting Outside House

First, your own sibling relationships help shape your expectations for how your children might get along. My brother and I got along great growing up. We played together when we were little and hung out fairly often through college. I expect my girls to get along. When they do play and hang out, I count that as it should be. My husband and his siblings didn’t get along so well. His older brother and he fought often and never felt close. His younger sister and he bickered often. When he sees the girls getting along, he is still surprised. He thinks it’s just short of miraculous they enjoy each others’ company.

Second, how you speak to and about your grown siblings models to your children how to speak to and about siblings. Read that again if you need to. When your children are within earshot, speak about your siblings in the nicest way possible. It’s great if it’s honest, and it’s okay if it’s a stretch, or just avoid saying negative things so openly. I speak very openly about growing up with my brother, how much fun we had on family vacations and how it was great to be at the same high school and college for a year. My husband speaks nicely about his sister and avoids speaking much about his brother as it’s still rocky.

Third, you may side more often with one or the other based on birth order or other related variables. I was the youngest in my family, and I find myself occasionally siding with my youngest Claire because her perspective makes sense to me. The goal is to recognize the tendency and be sure it doesn’t become a pattern.

Thanksgiving Day Parenting Tips

Thanksgiving day without children can be hectic between travel time, visiting family, cooking and cleaning. Add a seven, four and two-year-old to the mix, and it can feel overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to help with the day:

  • Do what you can ahead – This may be baking desserts, making and freezing side dishes the days before or really cleaning the house over the weekend.
  • Hire out what you can – I cheat. Each year I have at least one store bought dessert and side dish that I may claim as my own. Not a luxury I have often, but occasionally we have a housecleaning service before the holidays and out of town guests.
  • Keep children busy during prep – If you have an extra adult who is available outside the kitchen, have them lead a nature walk or help children to browse toy catalogs to cut and paste a Holiday wish list. If they are really gung-ho, provide a pre-formed ginger bread house with frosting and decorations (left over halloween candy in my house) for the children to make a centerpiece.
  • OR Involve them during prep – If they are old enough, include them in the preparations. Children can color placemats, write menus, butter vegetables, knead pie crust, take drink orders and set tables.
  • Stick to normal routines – This means mealtimes and naps as much as you can.  This can go a long way towards a pleasant day for all.
  • Include kid-friendly food – I tend to think traditional Thanksgiving food is pretty kid-friendly. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be sure there will be mashed potatoes or mac and cheese if it’s a favorite.
  • Use contribution during the meal – Children love to help. Encourage them to butter rolls, carry plates or refold napkins as needed.
  • Discipline in private – To provide a pleasant mealtime for all, step away from the table for discipline.
  • Set expectations a bit lower – Remember they are children. It can be a challenging day particularly if they’ve travelled, are not sleeping in their own room or sharing their room with a cousin.

Calm Parenting – Take Care of Yourself First

I speak with so many moms in our workshops, and lately a common complaint is they are “running on empty.” Moms comment they aren’t getting enough sleep, aren’t eating well and feel increasingly stressed. Basically, they just aren’t taking care of themselves. Some cite the time crunch, others the effort after taking care of everyone else in the family. Whatever the cause, feeling empty is such a difficult way to come at parenting.

  • Sleep – It’s suggested that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation provides this article on sleep needs: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.
  • Nutrition – I’ve never been one to count calories or limit foods, but, as I am getting older, I can feel food choices impacting my mood and energy levels. HelpGuide.org provides this interesting article on nutrition guidelines for women: http://www.helpguide.org/life/healthy_eating_women_nutrition.htm.
  • Stress – When you can directly manage the stressor, all the better. It’s best if you can cut back on work hours or better design your schedule, and relieve stress at the source. If not, here is an article with so many great suggestions for managing stress: http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/parenting/stress.shtml.
  • Exercise – When I can fit in exercise, I feel great. It is so hard to find the time and energy. I am inspired by one of our preschool teacher/moms who fits exercise in in small ways throughout the day. She lunges to take out the trash and stretches before she sits for each meal. Apparently, a little at a time adds up in beneficial ways. For lots of great tips about exercising read: http://exercise.about.com/od/fittinginexercise/tp/stayathomeexercise.htm, and visit a great blog at  http://www.exercisingmom.com/.
  • Relax – Do whatever it is that helps you relax. Read, run, sing, dance, wine with friends, walks in the park or nature hikes. The more you can refresh and recharge before you take on parenting, the better!

Benefits of Eating as a Family

Here are a few reasons to make eating as a family a priority:

  • Children learn valuable life skills – There is benefit in children learning how to prepare and cook food, as well as how to clean the table. This sounds crazy, but I have fond memories of washing and drying dishes after meals at my grandparents’ house. Maybe these are fond memories because we had a dishwasher at home.
  • It’s a chance to reconnect socially – Eating together regularly gives families an opportunity to check in with each other, share their day and laugh together. As a basic, this is time to teach children how to carry conversations and how to ask and answer questions.
  • Build and share family traditions – While this may be a small piece, it’s a chance to pass along blessings and prayers. In some families, this can be a time to share recipes.
  • You can model healthy eating habits – Parents tend to provide children a wider range of foods when families sit and eat together. Modeling healthy eating habits is a nice, low key way to encourage them to eat.
  • You can teach and practice manners – Table manners are a learned skill that’s best taught over time with lots of repetition. Try to make this fun with related storybooks and games.
  • It’s related to better long term childhood outcomes – Children who regularly eat at least five meals a week with their families show higher academic scores, lower rates of later behavior problems and lower rates of obesity.

To learn more about these ideas and ways to avoid picky eating habits and mealtime battles join me for my workshop on Managing Mealtimes & Picky Eaters, September 5 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Mantras in Our Family

  •  Avoid Creating Work for Other People – Maybe this comes from waiting tables through college, or from how hectic our careers feel now, but I’m reminding the girls often to not create work for other people. In little ways, this means checking under the table at restaurants to be sure we’ve not left a mess. In big ways, it means being prompt with letting people know where you are and what’s your plan, so they are not left to work or worry around you. It’s being responsible for your own stuff.
  •  Different Families Do Different Things – I have answered so many questions and started so many conversations with my children by saying, “different families do different things…” This has ranged from other families living in bigger houses and other children not having a set bedtime, to other sets of siblings slinging horrible names at each other going unchecked and a mom friend who slapped her then 4 year old during a playdate at our house. This works in both directions. Sometimes it’s nice to be in our family, sometimes they are wishing they could stay up nightly til they just conk out. In either direction, it brings them back to the focus on home and who we are.
  • Grow Up Slowly – While I understand they can’t really know this til they know it, I want my children to recognize that it goes by fast. That there’s no need to be in a hurry to be on top of the ticking clock. I want them to hold on to being a kid for as long as they can. We’ve made a great effort to enjoy things with them and talk about how even daddy’s not too old to enjoy an afternoon spent on mastering the Slip’n’slide. He notes The Wiggles as one of the best concerts he’s seen, and he’s seen many big acts in the last 30 years. We’ve put effort into putting off getting ears pierced, wearing make-up or having cells phones until they are following their friends rather than leading the charge.
  •  Enjoy Where You Are – I am still learning this one myself, so the mantra brings me back as much as them. For my 14-year-old, this is actually turning off her phone when we are at lunch with Grandma and Grandpa, so she can be fully engaged in the conversation. For me, it’s watching an entire gymnastics practice rather than taking the time to get caught up with work.
  • Move Forward in Peace – Okay, this is just mine.

Sibling Tips for Summer

Summer days can be a great time for siblings to spend real time together and play. These can also be days full of bickering, name calling and short tempers. Here are a few ideas to give them elbow room and hopefully improve their time together.

  • Get them outside – I was talking to a mom just the other morning who said she didn’t remember bickering with her brothers so much growing up and is amazed at how much her kids are already bickering with each other this summer break. Then, she remembered how much time she and her siblings spent outside during breaks riding their bikes and at the neighborhood playground with friends. I know you can’t just send them outside to amuse themselves for eight hours a summer day like my mom did in the 1970s, but you can get them outside more. Everyday plan to ride bikes, hit a playground, scooter, go for a nature walk or just play in the backyard.
  • Time apart – As much as I want my kids to enjoy their time together, a little time apart can go a long way. This means having some stretches of time where they each pick a room of the house to play in separately. In a bigger way, you might plan for them to have individual playdates when the other is out of the house. This can take some doing, but will allow them to focus on play while you avoid having to run interference.
  • A need to protect the older – So often, we excuse our younger child’s behavior and expect the older child to understand. If the younger messes up an older’s puzzle, we might say, “oh, she doesn’t know. She’s just three!” Over time, the older’s frustration may hit a breaking point. The answer is to find somewhere in the house the older can work on projects uninterrupted or store activities mid-build. My older daughter spent a bit of time playing up on the kitchen counter with more detailed toys when her sister was a toddler. It gave her a time she could relax without worrying about defending her space.
  • Shake up the time – Back to spending time together, get creative. Slumber parties complete with sleeping bags and popcorn can be a novel way to spend a summer night together. Having a picnic lunch in the backyard or even in the living room can be a fun change.

Join me for my upcoming evening workshop on Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry. This in depth discussion will provide more ways to build successful play as well as better manage bickering, fighting, aggression and guidelines for parents to dampen rivalry. This will meet on Wednesday, July 11th from 7:00-9:00 p.m.  For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924

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