How to Prevent Sibling Rivalry

Why do kids fight with each other?

Oh, there are many reasons, but none of them are complicated. Pride, selfishness, jealousy, insecurity. Just plain ol’ human nature. But there’s a solution: prevention. Sibling rivalry is easier to prevent than it is to cure. Prevention boils down to a few basic parenting skills.

Keep family time positive and encouraging. Try to correct and discipline your children individually and privately, with plenty of encouragement to make better choices. If you treat your children with dignity and respect, they will treat each other (and you) the same way. Maintaining a positive atmosphere, even midst correction and punishment, teaches children to value grace and forgiveness and inspires them to do better the next time. IMG_2375

Treat children equally, yet as unique individuals. It’s astounding how many parents have “favorite”  children, although most would vehemently deny such an accusation. While it’s easier to feel positive toward the compliant, obedient child, parents must affirm their love to the difficult, headstrong child as well, or the difficult child will view parental love as conditional. You can avoid favoritism (or the appearance thereof) by celebrating each child’s special talents and personality traits apart from their behavior. As much as possible, have children attend sibling’s events and games so they learn to affirm and cheer on each other, even it they’re not particularly interested in their sibling’s activities. Routinely taking one-on-one parent/child time also helps children feel valued and loved as individuals. (And it will improve their behavior later!)

Don’t compare your children to one another. Even in your child’s absence, avoid using comments like “He’s the naughty one” or “She’s the smart one.” When reprimanding your kids, don’t say “Why can’t you be quiet like your sister?” or “You need to be more responsible like your brother.” Labeling and comparing children pits siblings against one other, causes insecurity in their relationship with you, and fosters a competitive home environment. Children can experience the fun of harmless competitiveness through games and activities without the negativity connected with labels and comparisons. Your children were created uniquely, and while you may not like all their personality traits, belittling them won’t change anything, except their relationship with you.

Don’t allow children to criticize or ridicule one another. Words last forever, and they reinforce negative feelings and validate derogative words. Whatever you allow children to say about one another, they will believe about one another. Speak words of affirmation. Your home should be a safe place for everyone.

Don’t permit cruelty in any form (pranks, physical aggression, angry outbursts). No one will ever feel safe around a cruel person, even one who’s nice some of the time. The unpredictability of a violent or cruel personality causes trauma and fear in those having to live with that person. Children will not trust any family member who is emotionally unpredictable; a distrust of others will follow a child into every future important relationship in life.

When our boys were angry, frustrated, or tired of one another, I gave them space and time apart. But I explained (with expectation to accomplish the task)–“Figure out how to enjoy one another. You will be brothers for your whole life. No one can ever replace your brothers as your best friends.” Idealistic? Perhaps, but not unlike what God expects of all of us. (God commands us to love, pray, edify, encourage, share, and live in unity with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ). Siblings who have not injured one another emotionally will carry a bond throughout life that lacks bitterness, hurt, resentment, or distrust. Friendship will blossom through genuine love, rather than through shared interest or mutual reward. That’s true friendship.

Personally, I experience no greater joy than when our boys are all reunited after time spent apart from one another. They don’t have to hug each other (although they do) or say, “I missed you” to each other (which they never do). I can tell by their excitement and laughter that they are at home again with their best friends in the world–each other.IMG_2001