When you see my family of nine, you may see a big family. When you see my siblings and I getting along in public, you may see happy and strong sibling relationships. The truth is, though, both of these things took a long time.

My family wasn’t always a “large family”; I was even an only child once upon a time! For many years of my life, we were a very average 1-, 2-, and 3-child family. Like our growth in size as a family (as well as the progression of larger family vehicles and longer grocery bills), our relationships as siblings also took years and years to get to where they are today.

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If sibling relationships seem sketchy at best in your home, I would mostly encourage grace and time. Grace, because relationships are always hardest with people you are around most. People around you every day have the greatest opportunity to see your quirks, flaws, and even mistakes. These relationships will always be the hardest and require the most grace. Time, because neither beautiful pieces nor strong foundations are rushed.

With enough grace and time, I recommend these five practices for improving sibling relationships in your family!

1. Time and Good Conversations

Encourage sibling time together with simple activities or events that provide time together. Be mindful of what kind of activities promote talking and bonding; tickets to the zoo or a few rounds of bowling would be better than going to the movies!

2. Compliments Before Criticisms

There is a saying that goes that you should give ten compliments for every one criticism. I am the first to admit that as the eldest sibling, I have, at times, been very critical of my younger siblings! Sure, there are times when siblings can be that iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17), but to promote healthy relationships first that can withstand true constructive criticisms, start with those ten compliments!

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” my mom always said. As a rule, I do much better in my big-sister role if I keep my mouth shut (let my parents be the parents!), and remember to focus on building up rather than tearing down. Actively practicing giving genuine compliments to my siblings also fosters a sense of appreciation for them!

3. Intentional Gift Giving

Even though gift-giving was never one of my love languages, gifts have provided important connections with some of my siblings over the years. A few Christmases ago, my parents started having us not write “wish lists” for ourselves, but rather write three things we think each of our siblings would like/need for Christmas. In my family, it is a priority to think about what to get for others more than what we get ourselves—both for holidays and all the time!
This practice of thinking of your siblings more than yourself fosters a great bond! I trust any of my siblings to order for me at a restaurant because I know that they pay attention to what I like and know just as well what I would want as they know what they want for themselves. (Mark 12:30-31)

4. Serve One Another

Galatians 5:13 encourages us to not use our liberty in Christ to serve our flesh, “but by love, serve one another.”

I definitely have a lot of room to grow in this area, too, but I think it is important to continually remember that the people around us are the people God has given us to serve first. To grow us in this area specifically, my parents wouldn’t allow us to get jobs or even babysit for the neighbors as teenagers if we weren’t first serving our own family (babysitting siblings, caught up on chores, etc.)!

5. Apologize, Hug, and Make Up Often

Learning to apologize is probably one of the most important skills to learn as children and teenagers. Sibling relationships with humility, ready apologies, and regular hugs will be stronger and healthier, and are some of the best preparation practices for adult relationships possible!

And whatever you do, don’t give up! Siblings, and your relationships with them, are always worth it.

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