“Aren’t siblings supposed to hate each other? Can’t we just teach our kids how to survive under the same roof?”
Sibling rivalry is as old as…well, siblings. (Cain and Abel ring a bell?) But that’s not a reason to give up. It’s all the more reason to make sibling love a priority. This takes intentionality and commitment from us as parents. Just like our kids don’t know how to get dressed, feed themselves, or tie their shoes, they also don’t know how to be kind. They have to be taught and we are their teachers.
Right now my sons are practicing on each other. One day they will be serving in their local churches, making sacrifices for their wives, and working diligently for a boss somewhere. Their siblings are their training ground for every future relationship they will have. Will they be best friends with each other years after they leave the nest? I sure hope so. But that’s none of my business. My business is to teach them how to love the people God has placed in their lives. And right now it’s the annoying little brother who just ran off with big brother’s Lego dragon. Here are nine practical ways to help your kids love – not just survive – each other. Try taking one point each day and talk through it with your kids. Look up the accompanying verses together and discuss how they apply.
1 Share Success
“Your brother’s success is your success.” My husband started saying this to our kids when they were toddlers and now it’s a family mantra. When something good happens to one boy, we tell them it’s like it happened to all of them. Why? Because we all get to share the joy together. When one brother gets a new present we tell the others, “Go give him a high five and tell him how cool that is!” When one wins a prize we say, “Go tell your brother how proud you are of him!” We’ve practiced this so much that they are starting to do it automatically. Think for a minute how this will translate into adulthood: One brother gets a promotion and all the brothers can cheer for him. One brother gets a nice car and the other brothers can feel happy for him. Jealousy comes naturally, but this does not. We have to be intentional about it when they’re young. (See Romans 12:15)
When the newborn is old enough to play with the toddler’s toys, trouble starts to brew. It’s easy to turn a blind eye when the toddler grabs a toy away from the baby because the baby doesn’t care. But this is training time. We tell the toddler, “You may not take a toy out of someone’s hands. Go find another toy for him and gently trade.” Trading teaches thoughtfulness. It stops fights before they even begin. I hear my big boys say, “Can I trade you my redstone for your netherrack?” The question alone shows respect for the other person (even if I have no idea what they are talking about). It shows that one brother took time to think about what the other brother might like to have, instead of just insisting that he gives up his toy. Trading says, “Your feelings have value. I am not more important than you.” (See Philippians 2:4)
3 Mix Your Ideas Together
You know the scene. One kid wants to play this way and another kid wants to play that way and neither wants to give an inch. When my kids do this I call them over and have them hold out their cupped hands. I take imaginary “ideas” out of each of their hands and mix them together. Then I hand back the new mix of ideas and say, “Mix your ideas together to get a new, fun game you can both enjoy. If a brother wants to add some ideas of his own, let him mix them in.” Since we’ve done this so many times, now all I have to say is, “Mix your ideas.” They know exactly what I mean and they work it out from there. (See Ephesians 4:32)
4 REAL Apologies
“I’m sorry,” is important – but it’s also not enough. Real reconciliation starts with real apologies. We give our kids three tips for real apologies:
1. Eye contact. Look at the person you are apologizing to. (My kids tend to stare at me when they apologize instead of the person they hurt. I say, “You didn’t ram me in the stomach with your head. Look at your brother.”)
1. Say, “I’m sorry FOR….” Own what you did. Be specific.
3. Hug. When the other person says, “I forgive you,” hug it out. This brings closure. And usually lots of giggles. (See James 5:16)
5 Give Opportunities to Share
Whenever Daddy goes on an errand he takes one kid along and gets them a treat. But it’s not just for them. It’s to share with their siblings when they get home. Before they walk out the door Daddy says to the others, “When we get home we’ll see what your brother brings to share!” It gets the kids excited about sharing. It shows them sharing is a special privilege – and responsibility. It’s their job to share. Now it feels strange to the boys not to share. If they get a treat at a friend’s house they often save some for their brothers. If there is a little cereal left they take less than usual so someone else gets to have some. This takes lots of conversations about how fun it is to share and bless others. For example, instead of distributing the afternoon snack yourself today, put a kid in charge of it. It gives them a chance to practice fairness. If they resist sharing, say, “I can only share with you if I know you will be generous and share with others. I need to give this job to someone who will be generous.” (See Luke 6:38)
6 Defend Each Other
A team mentality is crucial to sibling unity. Talk through scenarios in which your kids could defend each other: “What would you do if you saw someone picking on your brother? What would you do if someone was hurting your sister?” Help them see each other as teammates instead of enemies. “If your brother is sad, comfort him. That’s your job.” When my kids pick on each other I gasp and say, “Are you being a bully? Uh, oh. Brothers defend each other from bullies.” This helps them see how silly it is to pick on someone they are charged to defend. (See Mark 3:25)
7 Speak Only in the Positive
“You can’t have that! You can’t do that!” I first thing I say when I hear this is, “Tell your brother what he can do and what he can have.” This brings the fight to a screeching halt. When little brother jumps in with his race car and makes it shoot fire balls at everyone, big brother says, “Here, you can make your car drive over here. Instead of destroying everyone with fireballs, can you help us mine for ore?” Little brother is happy, big brother is not on fire, and the argument disappears. (See Colossians 4:6)
8 Kind Words
This expands a bit on #7. Help your kids replace every unkind word with kind ones. Get some poster board and make two columns. On one side write all the unkind phrases your kids say the most. In the other column write the kind replacement. For example: 1. “Stop it!” changes to, “Please stop.” 2. “That’s mine!” changes to, “Can we please trade toys?” 3. “Give it to me,” changes to, “Can I please have a turn when you’re done?” Every time you hear your kids use unkind words, take them to the chart to find a replacement. Have them practice – over and over and over. New habits take work! (See Ephesians 4:29)
9 Is Everyone Having Fun?
I tell my boys, “Playtime is not just about you having fun; playtime is about everyone having fun. That means if someone you are playing with is not having fun, something’s wrong. Playtime is broken. Do you hear someone crying? Is someone angry? Stop what you’re doing and help your brother have fun. What does he need? Does he need help finding a toy? Does he need encouragement? Does he need you to stop poking him in the eyeball with a Tinker Toy? Do whatever it takes to help those around you have fun.” (See 1 John 3:17-18)
When sibling fights get you down and you want to throw in the towel, remember you’re not just doing this for peace in your own home. You’re doing this for the good of the whole body of Christ. Unity in the church starts with unity in the home. Teach your kids to love each other and they will grow up knowing how to love Christ’s bride.
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