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1. Model it first
Children learn best by copying. If you are close to your siblings, your children would naturally be (even if they fight like cats and dogs). It makes sense, because if your children can see the benefits you derive from your close relationship, they would want a piece of the action, too. Having sold this to them on emotional and psychological grounds, you can move on to the implementation as outlined in the next steps:
2. Make time for family
It is a fallacy that if you live in the same house, you have a close relationship. I have seen sad incidences where parents and children are sitting round the table in a restaurant, each engrossed in their iPads and smart phones, rather than have conversations with each other. So set the first rule: talk to each other and make mealtimes family times.
3. Teach your children about your family history
Children love stories, so use this opportunity of telling them about your parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins. Give them a sense of belonging. Create that glue that binds the family together.
4. Teach your children to love each other
Many parents have the mistaken belief that because of biology, siblings will automatically love each other. This couldn’t be further than the truth. Children need to be taught love, and also taught to express that love so that it becomes richness in their lives. Simple ways to teach them to love each other:
If one sibling has done something selfless for the other, highlight that (in a casual way);
Encourage them to do nice things for each other;
Play team games where siblings are in the same team versus the parents;
Give them presents that they have to share with each other;
Encourage them to spend time together;
Devise a system where the older one helps his/her younger siblings as part of household chores that all children have to do (but do not overburden the older child with too much).
5. Create the environment
Love does not grow easily in hostile environments. Have lots of love and laughter in the house. A golden rule of my mum’s is never go to bed angry with each other. From personal experience, I discovered that having fresh flowers in the house helps with creating a happy environment. These can be flowers that you and your children pick on your walks.
6. Enjoy each other
There is a lot to be said about having good times together. Even when we struggled in the early days as cash-strapped young parents, we endeavored to put time aside to enjoy each other. The weekends were for the parks in summer and free indoor events in winter (the museums in London were free after 5pm). We took long road trips to visit grandparents, we collected coupons from newspapers for free trips and we read bedtime stories every night. From enjoyment comes warmth and open hearts.
Note: if your child is an only child, use this model with their cousins.