My family recently gathered at my youngest son’s home to meet his firstborn, a son named Wesley. My little granddaughter moved from room to room checking out her Aunt Rachel’s home and meeting her new cousin for the first time. Little Wesley was passed from Grandma to Grandpa, to his Aunt Candice and to Uncle Ryan. I watched all of them laugh and enjoy one another and realized that most of what mattered to me was in that room. One of my favorite moments was watching “Uncle Ryan” hold Wesley while Craig looked over his shoulder.
My boys didn’t fight very often. I have a paper Craig wrote on his first day of second grade. The teacher had assigned a “get to know you” paper and the kids were to write down their answers. I remember reading Craig’s paper and smiling when I got to the question: Who is your best friend? Craig had answered, “My brother Ryan.”
I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of my boys growing up. They grabbed one another’s toys, yelled at each other on occasion, and occasionally the Nerf wars ended up with hurt feelings. But honestly, most of the time, they played together and genuinely enjoyed one another’s company. They were normal kids, but they had, and still have, a sweet friendship with one another.
Sibling rivalry is normal, but it doesn’t have to be acceptable in your home. There are things you can do to create strong bonds between your children and strengthen the concept of “family.” For example:
- There are things you can do even before a sibling is born. Spend time looking through photo albums with your children while you are pregnant. When you show them pictures of you, caring for them, you can get them ready for the amount of time you will need to spend with the new baby. You can talk to them about how they can help to take care of “their” new baby when he or she comes home. Ryan used to bring me a diaper for Craig saying, “you didn’t have a helper when I was a baby.”
- When the new baby arrives, hold him or her and talk to him about his sibling. Tell the new baby how “lucky” he is to have a brother or sister and how much their sibling loves them. Your new baby won’t understand anything other than you are talking, but brother or sister probably won’t know that. All they will hear is that they are an important person to that baby.
- Parent’s can control sibling rivalry. Just because it is normal for kids to argue or fight doesn’t mean it has to be acceptable in your home. (That rule will carry you all the way through their college years!) It is normal for siblings to shove, hit, say mean things and ignore one another. Just because those things are normal doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. Your children can learn at an early age that they have choices to make in life, and consequences result—good and bad—from their decisions. If you strongly reward their good character, and immediately discipline bad character, you will begin to see them becoming better little people.
- Kindness and love can be the standards for behavior in your home. Meanness does not have to be an option—ever. When children are given high standards, they usually aim for them. Perfection isn’t possible, but siblings who treat one another with love and kindness, most of the time, can be your reality, if those standards are non-negotiables for your home.
- Be very careful what you say to your friends about your children. I wish I had paid more attention to what I said when my children were close by. It is normal for moms to get together and discuss the “challenges” they are having. But, if big brother or sister overhears a complaint about their sibling, they might think it is their job to discipline that behavior. Siblings should never assume the role a parent is supposed to have. Don’t allow your siblings to “help” you discipline because it could foster resentment between your kids later.
- Allow your children to be different from one another and embrace those differences. You don’t have to treat your kids the “same” because they are not the same people. Obviously we don’t want to have a Cinderella situation. We need to treat our kids fairly, but that doesn’t mean we treat them the same. Expect your children to have a different set of strengths and weaknesses and treat them individually. Siblings will not be as competitive or as “compare-a-tive” if they know you plan to raise each of them as a one-of-a-kind kid.
- Be careful not to give to one child what you expect another to earn. We don’t mean to do that because we tend to expect different things from children of different ages. There was a reason the older brother resented the “prodigal son.” Children recognize the concept of “unfair” at an early age and often translate those actions as, “she loves my brother more” or “he likes my sister better.”
All of that said, the most important thing you can do for your home is set biblical standards for your children and bring Jesus into your home every chance you get. The best chance of having sibling harmony is for your children to experience unity in Christ. The apostle Paul was writing to a church “family” when he wrote these words—and his words apply to finding harmony in our families as well. He said:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1–5).