Just Say No To Sibling Rivalry

“Mommy, we don’t want to play with him, he’s mean.” 

I have heard that line so many times from my daughter in reference to my son, my warrior lion boy who leaps through his day growling and preparing for battle.

“Honey, boys sometimes act differently than girls, and while it may seem like he’s being mean, he’s just really into playing lions.”

I bring my daughter and my son and her friend together, and we talk about playing together, and taking turns with what they play. I advocate that they find ways to include each other. I understand that sometimes girls need to play with girls, and boys with boys, but overall, I’m trying to instill a bond between my children where they want to play with each other.

I do not want to perpetuate the popular thinking that sibling rivalry has to be normative (sin, of course, is normative).

Almost every movie or T.V. show I see, siblings are at each other with ugliness; it’s a rarity to see genuine friendship or tenderness between them, especially between brothers and sisters.

I understand that there is conflict between siblings, we have plenty of it, but I don’t want to foster the idea that it’s okay to ignore or even encourage sibling bickering. I am holding my ground on this one in our family, and at every turn I’m reminding my children that God gave them to each other to be friends, and to love each other and be kind to each other. We deal with conflict daily, but my heart is to admonish my children to be close and tender-hearted with each other.

We even encourage our children to be best friends.

We tell them to watch out for each other, protect each other, and respect each other. We try and teach them to serve each other, think of the other before themselves, and treat the other how they want to be treated. Basically, we’re civilizing them. We’re preparing them for life, and even marriage.

I know the more I strengthen my children’s resolve in treating one another with love and respect, the more prepared they will be in marriage. Living with a sibling is like living with a spouse. You must choose to love, even when the days get long and the other person’s faults make you crazy. You choose love. You choose forgiveness and grace. The day in and day out of choosing to love someone, faults and all, is accepting the human story: we are mess makers, but the Maker loves us anyway.

I want my children to reflect the Maker. I want them to love well, to be gracious, and to be long-suffering.

I want to teach them to love the eternal soul of another, with all its intricacies, weaknesses, and beauty.

No, I will not accept the “cat and dog” mentality of the sibling relationship; I’m aiming higher. I’m aiming for love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7

How do you handle sibling conflict in your home?

Love, SM

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  • http://ihaveitchyfingers.blogspot.com/ Jessica Jensen

    I am aiming for the same goal as you are, but with two girls.  We have a rule that if you can’t play nice and love your sister, then you can’t play with an outside friend.  Siblings are not pushed out for a friend from outside the home.  We have other friends, but your sister is your best friend.  We have not yet had an issue with it with our kids.  Our bigger issue is to get extroverted people loving big sister to leave introverted little sister alone sometimes! 

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      That’s a great rule-I’m going to start using it!

  • Kendal Rich

    My thoughts exactly!  We in no way accept the worldly ideas of siblings.  Our children first must love each other before they can go out and love other friends.  They are each other’s best friend first.  And so far, my girls love each other!!  They play incredibly well with one another.  Truthfully, I believe home schooling kind of “forces” this, don’t you think?  All day, my children only have each other to play with and that also means there will be conflict.  But there is no escaping resolving that conflict.  So, we work thru all the issues and they learn how to lovingly respond to one another and they learn to turn the other cheek more quickly.  I’ve been downstairs and have heard world war III going on upstairs, but sometimes I don’t rush up, I wait.  And within sometimes seconds I hear peace.  I go upstairs and they are playing happily with one another as if nothing happened.  Love it!!

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      Definitely being the babes all day they have to confront conflict in loving ways, because mama’s around to make sure of it! ;)

  • http://www.wesandbailey.blogspot.com/ Jamie

    love this post! I have a son and a daughter, 14 months apart, and I am so blessed by their closeness and friendship. They obviously fight, but I try to remind them all of the time that God gave them each other. It is my hope that they will always be best friends.  I love the comparison to marriage. It is very true.  Great post!! Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/moretobe Elisa Pulliam

    Totally with you on this one!  And I won’t give up on seeing my children treat each other way!

  • Sharon

    Love this!  We only have one child right now, but I was horrified on Easter when I saw my niece and nephew (5 and 9) continually pick on one another and fight throughout the day.  And their Mom made a comment to my sister and I that this was what we had to look forward to when we had more kids. 

    I know my siblings and I didn’t get along great growing up, but I’m so glad we’ve turned things around now that we are older.   I pray my own children can be closer as they grow up than my siblings and I were.  I’ve never thought about a sibling relationship being similar to marriage, but it totally is!

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      Oh, it is so much like marriage in that you learn how to love, faults and quirks and all!

  • Rosann

    One of the ways I’ve started handling conflict within our home is by making the offender stop and hug the person they’re hurting and tell them why they love them.  For example, my 6yr old has taken on a sudden eye roll when she’s not happy about what she’s being told.  So when she rolls her eyes, I immediately make her stop and hug the person who’s talking and tell them she loves them and why.  I’m incorporating this into sibling battles as well.  She gets so frustrated with her 3yr old sister (who adores her big sister and always does monkey see, monkey do around her.)  So my 6yr old will raise her voice trying to get her sister to stop copying her, at which point I’ll intervene and make them both hug it out and say “I love you because…”   My hope is that over time, they will naturally feel the desire to see the good in each other, even if the other is driving them crazy.  Well, here’s hoping it doesn’t backfire in a negative way.  Lol!   Oh how I wish they had come with instruction manuals.  Haha!

    Blessings,
    ~Rosann  

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      I think that’s a good idea! As for the eye rolling, my six year old picked that up from ME! I’m the culprit! Her and I talked about it and we are going to keep each other accountable. :)

      • hippie4ever

        I love the accountability, that’s what I do with my son when I see my undesirable behavior in him. They are like little magnifying glasses on our character!

  • http://radiomomrhetoric.wordpress.com/ Radiomom Rhetoric

    :)  I am so glad there are others who don’t adhere to the “that’s just the way siblings are” theory.  

    I have been very careful to explain to them (10, 8, 7 and even 2) that their sibs are there for life.  That friends may come and go, but their sibs are their most important friends.  It is thru them that they learn love and forgiveness.  They are the first choice of playmates.  I have to remember to include other children purposefully, as they really do play well together. (yes-there are conflicts here too)  

    I was really proud to hear my 10 year old stood up for my 7 year old at school when someone was teasing him.  He was really quite protective!  

  • http://www.purposefulhomemaker.com Kristin

    I love this! There is absolutely hope. I have an older brother and a younger brother right under me (and 7 younger siblings too) and we were so close growing up. We still are. Not that we never fought but I think my parents did a good job of teaching us to love one another.
    I tell my own kids all the time that friends come and go but family (sisters and brother) will be friends forever and to cultivate and cherish their sibling relationships. Sometimes when my kids argue and fight I’ll tell them that siblings need to choose love and ask them if I should fight with my brothers and sisters. They always think that is such a silly thought for me to fight with or hit my siblings and I really think it makes them think twice about how they treat their siblings even though they are children. To them, the thought of me whacking my sister is appalling and it should be just as appalling for them to whack each other.

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      What a good visual lesson! I’m going to try that!

  • Theresa J.

    I completely agree with you that this does not have to be the “norm”. My kids are now 20, 17 and 16 (2 girls and a boy), and are truly best friends. When they were growing up, I stepped in when I felt I needed to, but often let them work out their own battles. We also made sure we did plenty together as a family – from vacations to even grocery shopping together, and we never took friends along on our vacations – that was family time. It blesses my heart to see my kids getting along and caring about each other.

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      Yes, spending time as a family is so important to nurturing the bonds!

  • NellieSue2

    Excellent!  I agree totally.  In today’s media, even the “innocent” age appropriate programs found on the children’s learning channels, display a negative relationship between siblings.  I have choosen to take a stand in our home.  I choose not to let my children watch programs that do not support a loving/serventhood relationship between siblings, parent/child or even children/adults. 
    I believe the God has given each child a lifelong friend in their siblings.  This relationship will be one that binds them and their future families together even after my husband and I are gone.  
    Thank you for making this an important Blog Topic that reaches so many readers.  What a perfect example of another Generational Bondage that needs to be broken by today’s Mom’s and Dad’s!!  Excellent!

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      Thanks Nellie! I want to give my babes the best shot at a lifelong friendship, as you put it, and we are guarding against certain movies/shows, but when we do see it, we talk about it. 

  • Tracy LaRoy

    This is something I struggle with because I don’t have a relationship with any of my 4 siblings. We have 5 children and are currently in the process of adoption our 6th. The younger 4 are all close in age (4 kids in 3 years). Most of the time they play together really well. We homeschool, so I think that helps with their closeness. My heart breaks that I am not close with my siblings. I don’t want them to grow up the same way. I think what helps in our home (at least I hope it is helping) is that we do everything together.  We encourage them to support and encourage each other. We encourage them to be best friends. Most importantly, I pray that they will have a close relationship into their adult years. That they will continually be there for each other.

  • Amber

    I like what you say about instilling love between siblings, but I do think there is also a danger in parents over stepping and not allowing their children to become conflict resolvers themselves.  Granted, at certain age brackets and especially early on, we need to be the examples and help them to navigate the rocky waters of interpersonal relationships through conversations.  In the example given, I don’t know that I agree that your daughter must be accepting of the sometimes rough play of boys, although understanding is good.  Perhaps young boys should be taught to be gentle to girls and girls should be taught to put aside their princess gear in lieu of finding common ground.  Again, that is all dependent on the ages of children.   At any rate, I love what you say about choosing to be loving because it is a truth that no matter how difficult the person, you must be willing to love them lion growls or demanding princess and all. :)

  • walkeke

    I too explain to the kids that they’ve been given each other by God and they are called to treat each other with respect.  When a fight occurs we make the kids say sorry and “will you forgive me?”  If we need to get the giggles going (our kids are 7,5, & 3) then we incorporate “Huggie Rolls”:  The kids hug each other and then roll around on the ground or we make them hold hands looking at each other and say something they like about the other person.  It usually is something like, “I like your hair,” or “I like your toe.” They usually forget what they were fighting about and are cracking up trying to find ridiculous things to like about the other person. 

    We also take time to make sure the kids get one-on-one time with Mom and Dad each week. The weeks that we are very good about making sure each child has their own time with either mom or dad, we find there are less issues between the siblings (of course, this doesn’t happen all the time, daddy has to travel sometimes and life gets carried away).  When the fights start, we, as the Parents make sure to create a “family” time out, in order to give the kids the time they need with us, so they aren’t fighting with each other to get our attention.  When they know they are loved as an individual by mom and dad, they tend to be more secure in their sibling relationships. We are also  blessed to have grandparents that will take one or two children at a time for a few days. There is a different dynamic when one child is away and this gives the other siblings time to work on their “relationship.”   Our eldest is at her grandmother’s house at this time and the two boys have had a great time playing games that their sister isn’t always very eager to participate in (Knights and Dragons, pirates, etc)  it also allows our middle son to take on the roll as eldest, and he revels in that – we also finds he talks a LOT more when his oldest sister is gone for a bit :)

  • Beth Williams

    I have 3 older siblings (13,9 & 7 yrs older).  We are so far apart in age that we didn’t really get to know each other well.  The youngest of my older sisters had a very hard time when I came along as all the attention switched from her to me.  She resented me for many many years.

    I’m soo glad that you are not adhering to the world’s standrads.  We need to teach children of all ages the right (Christian) way to live life.

    I, too agree with the idea that living with a sibling is kin to living with a spouse warts and all.  I wouldn’t trade my siblings or my spouse for anything in the world!

  • Mirinda Dawe

    We felt- and still feel- the same way and have been adamant about how they treat each other. Now at 10, 9 and 7…..and home schooled all day (meaning they rarely are away from each other) it just hasn’t worked. They still fight- some days almost constantly. I feel like the majority of my time is spent sitting them down, finding scripture relevant to the issue, praying, hugging and forgiving. ALL. THE. TIME. Yet, they still fight….I’m growing a bit weary with it all. Just praying one day…..soon!…..it will click. :) 

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      Remember, sin *is* normative. ;) Keep at it mama, and pray!

    • Jen Hasseld

       I’ve found that http://www.amazon.com/Wise-Words-Moms-Ginger-Plowman/dp/0966378660/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334153688&sr=1-2 resource is excellent! It’s a big ol’ chart of the offense, heart-probing questions, a put off and put on verse. Truly, it’s been a great help to me with my little ones!

      • Mirinda Dawe

        Jen, I have that chart and LOVE it! It’s almost falling apart LOL A friend gave it to me when mine were just wee little ones :) We also have the book For Instruction in Righteousness from Doorposts. If I didn’t have these to reference me to specific scripture, I would go crazy ;) 

  • http://www.notconsumed.com/ Kim Sorgius

    I love the comparison that you make to marriage. Turning it around the other way- if we treated our spouse like a sibling, we would never use the big “D” word, never even think about leaving, and always be faithful.  How wonderful!

  • http://twitter.com/SprinklesInLife Rachel Shearer

    My girls never like to be apart. Which, is lovely- until they start bickering. Our method of eliminating the bickering is to seperate them for a little while.  This gives them the chance to decompress and reflect- but they really don’t like it! By the time they are allowed to play together again, they end up in tearful embraces apologizing and forgiving. Fortunately, this process has helped to minimize the bickering in our home. :)

  • Sjacky

    Love this!  We have a six year old girl and twin 3 year old boys, and they are the best of friends.  They play together for hours.  It is a bond I hope lasts a lifetime.  I am so thankful for the love and influence they share with one another.

  • Beret

    We have found that homeschooling helps alot, only because the vast majority of the time they’re all they’ve got:-) I’m feeling more and more that we have gotten away from a family based culture to a “friends” based culture, even among adults. Our kids all have friends, and that’s important too, but family has to come first, which means it has to be the majority of our time. When our kids do fight, I remind them that it almost always means one or more of them is being self-centered. They also have a two step process to follow when things don’t go their way. (This took a long time to click, but it finally did!!) First, they ask the person nicely to stop, give it back, or whatever. If they don’t, they can quietly get me, no screaming, “Mom!”:-) On the rare occasion where someone hits or pinches, I remind them that they are not the judge, God is in charge of justice, and Mom and Dad are in charge of discipline:-) I usually come down harder on the kid who is reacting badly than the one who committed the original offense, because I want them to learn to let God be God:-) My kids are now 10, 12, and 15, and the best of friends.

  • http://thejohnsonglasshouse.blogspot.com/ Gaby

    Sarah Mae, there seems to be a wave of refusing to accept what culture tells us. You are the second blog I’ve read in the last couple of days dealing with saying “no” to what seems to be the accepted view. I wrote one myself on saying “no” to the idea that teen years have to be horrible and that teens are all rebellious. We, bloggers, seem to be thinking counter-culturally as a whole. Yeay! I agree. My two fight and fuss and squabble but we will not simply accept it. I even bought a book called “Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends” by the Mally family. I have not yet read it but it is on my nightstand. Great post!

  • hippie4ever

    I have an only child (would love more, but so far…) so I can’t speak to what I do, but as the third child (only girl) I want to applaud you! My brothers TORTURED me growing up (not to minimize anyone who may have gone through actual abuse) and my parents response was always: “Well, that’s what brothers do”. They had a free hand and took full advantage of it. I LOVE what you said!!!! THANK YOU! I see another book in your future ;)

  • phoward336

    Love this post!  So often we end up saying to our kids “just because so and so isn’t nice to their sibling, doesn’t mean we aren’t – we don’t treat each other that way.”  It seems like  most other families “expect” that their kids won’t get along and treat them accordingly – how I hate that!

    I really want our kids to be best friends – and we work hard at it, but it is just that – hard work!  Thanks for the encouragement – and the knowledge that there are others out there who realize it’s possible and desirable!

  • Jessica @ Muthering Heights

    I won’t stand for it either.  Thankfully, we haven’t seen much of it yet!

    • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.com Sarah Mae

      Oh Jessica, I love when I see your beautiful face here. :)

  • www.marriageguyandgal.com

    THIS is beautifully written and SO true! I often tell my son that a lesson he has just learned in family interactions may have just helped save his marriage. He is only 13 but practice now will make things easier later :-).

  • Rosey

    Wonderful thoughts.  I raised an only.  His sibling rivalry was with his father….who pestered him like any brother would.  My husband felt that our son needed to experience not always agreeing with someone in play.  I have several friends with littles that I plan to share this link with.   Thanks for addressing the sticky subject with Godly wisdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019476409 Katie Ray

    This has been a great post to read post bedtime. Husband and I had very similar dinner time discussion with our kids (all 4 of em) serving one another. They’ve been choosing selfishness over giving of their time and its totally ruined their playtimes. We even pulled out Sally Clarkson’s “Our 24 Ways” and read I think #17 We show patience even when we don’t get what we want (paraphrasing). thank you for posting, encouraging to read other families are having same exact conversations :)

  • http://candelierious.blogspot.com Lis

    I love the reminder that we do not have to accept what society tells us is “normal.”  What great lessons your children will learn to apply to life in general.

  • karaliechty

    This is a worthy fight, I think, for our children to be true friends.  We also promote “best friendship” among siblings.  I am so grateful that we do our days and nights together, in homeschooling.  I do think this helps us keep a handle on this… just because we simply have more hours in the day to work on our relationships than do people whose lives are spent apart from each other.  It’s not a matter of homeschooling being more ‘holy’ or anything… just affords more time together, that’s all.  I always am in awe of my non-homeschooling friends working so hard to keep their families growing together… they have less time each day to accomplish the same things I am trying to accomplish (this is where, personally, I think homeschooling is easier than not).
    Also, we are a non-corporal punishment home.  It goes SO much deeper than that, but suffice it to say that the LORD really used teachers like the Sears’ and the Clarksons and others to teach us how to cultivate a loving, mutually respectful atmosphere in our home.  While there is NO question who the authority figures are in our home (some think that non-spanking parents are by default:  permissive), we all pretty much play by the same rules.   My kids have the right to call me out on bad behavior and trust me!, knowing that really helps mama to stay accountable!  And so b/c respect is modeled, respect is practiced.  We all fail… a LOT, but there is grace for that, too.  I do think the fact b/c one of our family values is to fully respect the personhood, thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc. of each other, and we put our money where our mouth is in that, it helps promote good relations all the way around. 

    *I hope the mention of ‘not spanking’ will not cause any devision here… I know it’s controversial– I do not wish to debate it here.  I merely mention it in context of *my* family and the effect I think it has had on sibling rivalry in our home.    end of PSA Disclaimer.  :)

  • Sarah C

    Ha, I can totally relate! I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my 4 yr old daughter wail that brother (2 1/2 yrs) was “growling at ” her!!  :-) So far we talk alot, play together alot, and learn as we go.  I was so happy one morning  to hear brother say  about baby Sissy, “Oh, she loves me so much!” something I tell him every day.

  • Corli Krohn

    I came across here via I Take Joy, and I really enjoy your blog (and Frumps to Pumps too!)
    Something I have to quit is too much internet input, so I am going on a 6 month blog diet. And once I have gained decent perspective I hope to be back! Blessings on your ministry!

  • http://www.astoldbylisa.com/ Lisa

    We have a zero tolerance for fighting amongst our six kids.  They have been taught to look out for each other and love and not criticize.  

    I was an only child growing up so I did not have anyone to argue or fight with however, I want my children to love each other.

  • robi7974

    My 3yr old Son sometimes likes to be a devil to his 4month old sister (She not have nothing is his favorite phrase some days as he takes away her toys) I make him trade her if he wants something she has…not completely fair, but its a work in progress.

    He also will try for my attention when he’s 100% not getting it (ie the baby is going down for her nap) so in those instances when he’s being really bad just to get attention (negative attention is still attention) I give him one more chance or at his naptime he will lose part of his routine (ie 1story and 2 songs before i leave at naptime can be whittled down to just a story/or just a song if necessary)

    But I try to find the good and tell him how much I appreciate the good things he’s doing. Like giving his sister new toys, or finding her paci for her. Even if i don’t do it in the moment, at naptime and bedtime or quite times on the couch I’ll remind him how awesome of a big brother he’s being.

    Just today the baby who is still developing her motor skills, whacked him pretty hard on the hand with a rattle and he came and told me she hit him and he thought she should appologize. I must be doing something right, so I went over to the baby and talked to her about what she did wrong (while trying not to laugh at how funny the situation was, because we all know she didn’t mean it at all) and asked her if she wanted to kiss her brother, this satisfied the 3yr old and he went back to playing near her!

  • Rachel Ramey

    *sigh*  I wish I could figure this one out.  My oldest gets physically violent with her little sister at the drop of a hat.  I cannot even fathom what is going through her head – my sisters and I argued, but physical strikes were very rare, VERY-well instigated, and pretty mild.  I don’t know what to do with her because I so don’t understand it.  And it’s scary!  She’s five years older than her next youngest sister, so she could potentially do some VERY serious damage. 

    When they were tiny they adored each other.  Now I truly believe that hate each others’ guts – and to be honest, it makes me really hate being in the house with them.