How can we cultivate sibling friendships in our children as they begin learning about conflicting desires?
“You—–!! ” Jeff screamed at his brother. Taking her son aside, Jeff’s mom, said,
“Son you know those words aren’t allowed, You will have to go to your room.“
“But Will made me say it,” wailed the furious child. “And you’re punishing me, not Will and it’s all his fault. Why aren’t you punishing him?”
“Nobody makes you talk like that. You are responsible for what comes out of your mouth, son. Your brother is not.”
“I hate my brother.”
Sound familiar? Scenes like this happen every day and cause us to ask ourselves, Did I handle this right? Will these children ever like each other?
Sibling rivalry has been around forever. The Old Testament story of Joseph and his jealous brothers is a well-known example. While the causes of sibling rivalry are many, they can be reduced to one basic source–original sin.
We all want what we want when we want it. We want to be the favorite. We want everything to go our way. We want the most recognition, the most attention. And we don’t ever want to share, wait, or let someone else get the credit.
Because the challenges of dealing with sibling rivalry are different at every age, it’s helpful to look at some ways of building friendships between brothers and sisters at three important stages of their life: the early, middle and later (teen) years.
How to Build Sibling Friendships in the Early Years
After all the fuss and excitement over the new baby, her toddler sister turned to her Mom and said,
“Take baby back now, Mommy. He go bye-bye now.”
Even at her young age, this sister was quickly tired of competition. Early years are important because seeds of character are beginning to develop. Personality qualities such as patience, thoughtfulness, gentleness and caring need to be nurtured. Here are some practical things to do during these early years.
1. Prepare for the new baby.
When a new baby is due, begin to give your older child a positive vision. Say, “You are going to be the best big sister in the world; our new baby is so lucky to have you for a big sister.”
When my husband and I brought each of our five children home from the hospital, we laid the new baby on the couch and had family members put their hands on the infant as we prayed a special prayer giving this child back to the Lord. We asked God to keep him safe and help him grow up to love the Lord. And we asked God to help us learn to be good parents, brothers, and sisters for this new baby.
Before I went to the hospital, I wrapped a gift for each child at home and put it in the trunk of the car. This gift was brought home with the new baby as his gift to each sibling. With it came a note saying, “I’m so glad you are my big sister or brother!”
2. Make a plan for the big kids.
Older siblings often misbehave when Mom is caring for the baby. A special activity box can help and make the older child feel special. Fill a plastic box with markers, stickers, and other tools for creativity and keep it in a specific place. This is the “big boy” or “big girl” box and comes out for play at special times of need. Plan dates with the big kids. Get a sitter for the baby and take an older child out for ice-cream or to the movies.
3. Teach kids to wait and to share.
Our children will have to learn to wait. And they won’t like it.
But much of life is waiting. As adults, we still don’t like to wait. But we do our kids a disservice in preparing them for adulthood when we satisfy all their needs immediately.
Siblings are a blessing because they force us to teach our kids to wait their turn, to share. There’s a toy no one has wanted to play with, and then someone finds it, and everyone wants it at the same time. A timer with a bell is essential. One child can have it until the bell rings then it’s another child’s turn. The argument over who gets to sit next to the window on a three-minute car ride can begin a sibling war. Who would ever imagine something so trivial can be so disruptive?
4. Teach kids to respect each other’s person and property.
Don’t permit verbal abuse of parents or each other ever. All kids will try it. When our kids verbally abused each other or talked back to us, we washed their mouth out with yucky tasting soap. A friend uses white vinegar, another Tabasco sauce on the tip of a tongue. You may have a better idea. Whatever you choose, make it swift, and consistent. A young child who is allowed to get away with verbal abuse will develop into a teenager who talks back to parents and teachers, and a spouse who abuses his own wife and kids. Teach your child how to argue fairly.
“You aren’t being fair. You make me feel stupid. I disagree with you because…” are better phrases to use.
Teach young children to return borrowed toys. They should ask permission before playing with a sibling’s toy. If they begin to learn this at a young age, it will make the middle and teen years easier.
Every family will experience the frustration of sibling rivalry. How it plays out in each family will be influenced by the sexes of the children, their age differences, their personalities, their birth order, and how the parents handle the problem. Our job as parents is not merely to keep our kids from killing each other, but to give them the tools for learning to be friends.
After all, our greatest desire as parents is that our kids will love the Lord with all their hearts, love us as their parents and love each other as well. Our children will not always have us their parents to turn to, but they will have each other. We are building for that day.
Blessings, Susan Alexander Yates