by, Christa Melnyk Hines
Do your boys prefer to duke it out rather than talk it out? Raising brothers to work out conflict respectfully despite wildly different personalities or fierce competitive streaks can prove challenging. But set a positive example, and you’ll find that nurturing brotherly love isn’t impossible!
Encourage healthy competition. The good news is sibling rivalry is normal. To keep competition good natured, avoid labeling and comparing one child to the other. Encourage your sons to compete against themselves instead of each other.
“Teach them that it’s not about whether you are better than anyone else. It’s whether you are doing better than you were at the beginning of the year or at the beginning of the season,” says child psychologist Dr. Jane Sosland, who is also a mom to three children, twin sons, ages 18, and a daughter, age 15.
If your son expresses sadness or frustration over a loss, acknowledge the disappointment. “We all feel disappointment.Validate how he feels without trying to convince him that the way he feels is wrong,” Sosland says.
Inspire cooperation. “Parenting boys is a lot of fun,” says Jenny Brandt, an early education childhood professional, and a mom of two boys, ages 3 1/2 and 2. “Whether they are wrestling in the living room or helping me cook dinner, they bring a different perspective to my life which I greatly appreciate.”
Brandt says she and her husband started early teaching their sons to cooperate by defining how to play nicely.
“We encourage them to use their words, offer another toy to use, and take turns,” she says.
Build empathy. Brandt fosters empathy between her boys by teaching them to acknowledge each other’s feelings. She might say to her older son, Rhett, that Hank looks sad and involve him in finding ways to make his brother feel better.
“Rhett, now on his own, notices that Hank is sad and he’ll say: ‘Hank do you want me to sing your favorite song?’” she says.
Reinforce the positive. Describe what respectful behavior looks like. For example, if one child answers a question from his brother with a grunt, explain that to show respect he must answer the question.
“You can say: ‘I don’t want to talk about it right now.’ Just as long as the response is something civil,” Sosland says.
Identify times when your children are most likely to squabble, such as when they are tired and hungry. When the car ride home from school became a sibling battleground, Sosland started a program where her kids earned a poker chip for mutual respect and cooperation. In order to attain the reward of a special outing, her kids had to work as a team to compile an equal number of chips.
Stop bullying behavior. While it is important to give your children space to solve conflicts, intervene if one child is hurting the other, physically or emotionally. Separate your kids and tell the offender that he can rejoin the family when he agrees to treat his brother kindly.
Role model. Many of us share the funny or frustrating things our kids do with friends and extended family members. But Brandt says this behavior may inadvertently teach our kids that it’s acceptable to portray family members in a negative light in front of others.
Make a family rule that you won’t embarrass or say negative things about each other in front of people outside of the family. Instead make it a habit to point out the positive things each person does.
You and your partner can also model a respectful relationship to your children through your treatment of each other. Celebrate each other’s wins and empathize with each other’s frustrations and losses.
Over time, your sons will learn that their brotherhood is unlike any other bond. By honoring and respecting each other’s differences, their friendship will last a lifetime.
Freelance writer, Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two close-knit brothers, 9 and 11, who are keen on aggravating each other (and their parents). Christa is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.