Sibling rivalry can stir up so many images in a person’s mind, but the reality is sibling rivalry looks completely different from family to family. My sister and I were not competitive in the same activities, but we still found plenty of ways to compete for attention, our parents’ time, who got to have friends over…well, you name it, we probably fought for our own way over it!
When we ended up with three boys, I knew sibling rivalry wouldn’t pass our family by, but it also looks very different from the clothes-stealing ways of my sister and I. (We get along just fine these days, just to give you moms of girls out there some hope!)
I’ve caught myself calling my boys the “sibling police” recently because it seems like they are always tattling or pointing out what the other one is doing wrong. Please tell me you’ve been there… just to make me feel better.
The way sibling rivalry looks in your home is really not dependent on whether you’re raising males or females as much as it does on the temperament of your children. And your response to each child shapes the interactions between them.
Instead of looking at ways to stop the fighting and bickering against one another, let’s take a look at how we as parents can help curb the problems before they start.
1. Spend time with each child on their own.
Don’t do the same thing with each of them, but make it something equally special to each child. You could do this at home with one-on-one game time or take them out on a special date with just you or you and your spouse. Making each child feel special and unique in your eyes will eliminate some of the need to fight for attention with their siblings.
Often times, when asked what they would like to do the next day, our boys will say they would like to do something with just Mommy or just Daddy. No matter what love language your child speaks, their love tank can be filled by some time alone with one parent. And children filled up on love are less likely to find reasons to pick fights!
2. Affirm their talents and interests.
I think most parents know they shouldn’t force their children into any activity they don’t want to do, but sometimes we harbor preconceived ideas about what each child should be good at and then we run with that idea. If you want your child to be special and unique in your family, notice them and know them. Ask them what sport they would like to play, what activity really interests them, or what they have always wanted to try. Signing two kids up for the same sport just because it is convenient for you will only spur feelings of discontent.
When our middle child turned five, he became old enough to do taekwondo like his big brother. They would be in the same class and that would be really convenient for me, but I actually tried to talk him down from joining because I thought it might cause extra rivalry. But it was his interest that spurred the desire, so we signed him up, and there has been no rivalry apparent so far! In fact, they have been very encouraging to one another, even practicing together at home.
In the book Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry, Dr. Todd Cartmell suggests a family night focused around 1 Corinthians 12:14-26. These verses compare the body of Christ to our physical bodies, with different parts doing different jobs, but all equally important. Use these verses as an anchor for your discussions about the special qualities of each family member!
3. Model the way to celebrate when others succeed.
Many instances of sibling strife come when one sibling has won an award, done well in a sport, or received some other accolade. Other siblings may feel less important or neglected in those moments and act upon their feelings. As parents, we have the job of showing our children how to rejoice in the successes of others.
How do you respond when someone you work with gets a promotion? Your best friend gets a book deal? If your kids hear you wallowing in self-pity or putting down the one who experienced success, this will be their mode of operation as well. Romans 12:15 says:
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Show your children that the success of their siblings is a reason for them to rejoice as well because we are all on the same team!
It’s a fact: our children will not always get along. But how we handle ourselves during those moments and how we ask our children to work through those times of aggravation sets a tone for future interactions. What are some of the best ways you’ve found to curb sibling rivalries in your home?