How do we navigate sibling rivalry?

What guidance does the Bible provide?

The issue of sibling rivalry dates back to the first two sons of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 4, we see Cain blaming and eventually killing his brother, Abel, over jealousy in his relationship with God. In Genesis 25, we see the conflict between brothers Esau and Jacob, leading to a lifetime of competition and battle. Just a few chapters over, in Genesis 37, we see the results of parental favoritism that fuel rivalry between Joseph and his brothers. These examples are negative responses to the issue of sibling rivalry, but can help us learn to avoid the pitfalls with our children as we raise them to love and respect each other.On the positive side, Romans 12:10 tells us to "be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves." God's desire for us is to seek peace and harmony among family members, as a testimony to the world of our love for Him.

Things to think about:

The conflict between siblings is inevitable as children develop and are learning to relate to each other. Kyla Boyse, a registered nurse in Michigan, lists several factors that contribute to sibling rivalry[1]:

  • Competition-children are discovering who they are and defining themselves as individuals
  • Vying for parental attention
  • Feeling threatened by a new addition to the family
  • Developmental stages-maturity will affect how well a child can get along with others and share attention
  • Hunger, boredom, being tired
  • Inability to choose positive ways to get attention
  • Family dynamics and history
  • Lack of family time
  • Stress

There are several signs that sibling rivalry has taken hold in your family dynamic:

  • Name-calling
  • Hitting
  • Bickering
  • Immature behavior

The rivalry between siblings is a natural part of growing up and helps your children learn to interact in positive ways while developing independence. Learning to resolve conflict is a necessary skill to succeed in life, so helping your kids learn positive skills while at home is a great tool for their future.

What do I do now?

There are several steps you can take to encourage positive relationships with siblings:

  • Look for the uniqueness in each child: don't play favorites, but avoid conflict by identifying the unique positives and needs of each child. One child may excel at sports, the other in the arts. Build on their individual interests. Find opportunities to help your kids see the talents in siblings and encourage their growth in specific abilities.
  • Avoid comparing your children: comparison brings competition and insecurity in your children. Model mutual respect for your children and find reasons to praise each child for his or her individual abilities.
  • Make the rules clear: help your child understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not in your home, then be consistent in follow-up. Set age-appropriate boundaries and be quick to acknowledge when your child is behaving in positive ways with other siblings.
  • Stay out of battles whenever possible: encourage your children to settle their differences on their own. Never take sides. Teach your children to express their feelings in appropriate ways, and negotiate a win-win solution together.
  • Anticipate problems: you know your children better than anyone else, so you can often see triggers that could escalate into conflict. If sharing is an issue, help them set up a schedule so that each child has equal time.
  • Look for the win: celebrate the times your children get along well; look for opportunities to compliment them. Help your child practice situations of settling disputes calmly and peaceably so they can work through issues when parents are not around.
  • Love who your child is, not what he or she does: as much as possible, spend individual time with your children. Participate in activities that reflect their personalities and interests. Build relationships that allow for future conversations when frustrations occur.

Sibling rivalry is normal and even constructive when you can use these opportunities to help children learn to resolve conflicts on their own. Listen to your child and treat them as the unique individual God created them to be.

Want to go deeper?

This article gives practical tips for encouraging kindness in the home:

Building Relationships and Sibling Rivalry

This article explains the causes of sibling rivalry, tips for helping your children get along better, and when and how to intervene in conflicts:

Med.Umich.eduT

his article provides helpful information on what to do when the fighting starts:

KidsHealth.org

[1] Sibling Rivalry by Kyla Boyse, R.N. University of Michigan Health System