While I won’t pretend our kids love each other every minute of the day, they do generally get along and respect each other. I think part of this is due to Steve and I simply not putting up with bullying, or constant harping on each other. Sure, we have our moments, and I can be the queen of crabby when I haven’t had enough coffee in the morning, but we try not to let things fester. I think parents must be insistent that the home is a place where everyone should always feel safe. Some picking on each other is just going to happen (and kids need to learn to stand up for themselves), but it should never get to the point where someone feels uncomfortable, or threatened.
We instigated something early on that has been great, and I think has helped our kids get along. We call it “Special Plate Night”. I made a plate at one of those ceramic places (or you could just buy one or use a plate that is different than all the others), and we randomly select a person to have that Special Plate. We have used eenie meanie miney mo, we have gone in birth order and then continued to rotate through, or Steve and I have sometimes just chosen a child who simply seems to be having a rough time, and we deem that night “Special Plate Night”. What this means, is that at dinner that night, everyone at the table must pay the Special Plate person a compliment. And the compliment must be specific and genuine, not something vague, such as “You’re a really good sister”. The person paying the compliment must be called on and then look you in the eye during the compliment. We have even instigated the “Lame O Meter”, if the compliment is deemed lame by the group (yes, the pressure is on to come up with something really good). If you cannot think of anything good to say about that person (and yes, this happens but not very often), you have to tell them that you love them and give them a hug. Sometimes I think the boys have made an extra effort to come up with good compliments just to avoid having to hug a sibling. And Steve and I get to be a part of the rotation as well, this isn’t just for kids.
It’s a great exercise, as it teaches kids (and adults!) to think of something positive about a person, and to hone their complimenting skills. No, we don’t do this every night, or even every week, but we do this often enough to keep the positive reinforcement coming, and you just never know how good some kind words can make someone feel after a rough day.