Today’s Reader Question: “How do you handle siblings who can never get along no matter what you try? Should this be a concern or will they grow out of it?”
- “They’re not letting me have a turn!”
- “That’s not fair!”
- “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
- “You’re so annoying!”
While sibling rivalry is normal, it certainly isn’t pleasant. Especially for parents who are caught in the middle of trying to keep the peace in their own home. So what can parents do? Here are a few recommendations:
Set Practical Boundaries
One of the practical boundaries we have set in our home is the principle that “We treat each other better than our best friend.” (I learned this from my friend, Greg Gunn, with Family-Id.com.)
Why should we treat others outside of our family with more respect and more kindness than we do those within our own home? While it’s certainly easier for tempers to flare and for unkindness to be common within the home due to everyone’s close proximity, your home also provides the best training ground for how to learn proper life relational skills and practices.
Boundaries are a must. Whatever boundaries you decide are right for your family when it comes to sibling treatment, make sure that those boundaries are clearly explained and consistently enforced.
Here are a few boundaries you might consider for your family:
We disagree civilly—yelling, bashing, or name-calling is off limits.
The blame game is not allowed. It takes two to argue. (When telling our kids to explain “what happened”, we require them to start by saying “I…” and then explain first what they did.)
Losing your cool is never acceptable (hurting the other person, slamming doors, etc.)
Don’t Always Come to the Rescue
This is where a lot of parents mess up. They always step in and try to resolve the situation between siblings. But that is not real life. Your child has to learn how to solve problems for themselves. This requires that you become more of a coach than a referee.
For our family this often means that when there is an argument or scuffle between siblings, mom or dad will step in briefly to assess the situation and give some direction, then the siblings are left to figure things out on their own without allowing the situation to escalate any further. Unless there is danger of physical harm, as much as possible, don’t get involved, except as a coach.
Your children’s greatest need is not for you to solve their problems, but for you to teach them how to solve their problems.
Navigating the process of sibling rivalry can give your children foundational and relational skills for years to come. Because God designed for the skills learned through family life to carry over into children’s future relationships for the rest of their life. This is part of why some kids thrive in life relationships while others struggle for years to come, because of the foundation that was laid at home.
A couple of practical suggestions here:
Teach your children that resolution is not primarily about proving who is right and who is wrong. It’s about working together to find a solution.
Remember that sibling rivalry can help you teach your children how to see things from another person’s perspective, how to wisely compromise and negotiate, and how to practice self-control and be a peacemaker. These are life skills that will give them a future advantage in any relationship.
Enforce Realistic Consequences
Allow them to be in control of both their actions and their consequences. Put them in the driver’s seat by having clear and practical boundaries as mentioned above, and when those lines are crossed, clear and practical consequences to follow. Allow them to feel the pain of their choices.