I love being outside. I love sitting in the warm sun and soaking up the quiet. As a mom of three young boys, those moments don’t come too often. Recently, the kids had finished their homework and were chilling out in front of the TV, so I decided to step into the quiet world of my back yard to brainstorm article ideas. It didn’t take long for an idea to come to me in the form of an ear-piercing, intense scream from inside the house. I knew instantly what was going on. War had broken out.
I rushed inside to find out why one of my twin kindergartners was howling his head off so loudly that folks in Malaysia could hear him. The boys stopped in their tracks and stared at me like deer in headlights when I slid the back door open. I took a deep breath.
“Ok, what happened?” I asked, trying to remain calm.
“He started it!” they all cried, followed quickly by, “No I didn’t!”
Ah, the sounds of sibling rivalry.
Like all families, my husband and I struggle to get our boys to treat each other respectfully, with kindness and compassion. And like all parents it’s not an easy lesson to teach and can seem downright impossible. Our sinful nature coupled with Satan’s power pulls us away from the choices we know we should all make, away from the will of God. As grownups, we have a greater ability to resist our temptations. Little boys (and girls) simply don’t. To them, war is just part of growing up. To them, being top dog is paramount.
Philippians 2:3 in the Bible states, “Think of others as better than you.” I wrote this on an art easel we keep set up near the kitchen in the hope that the boys would soak it up and store it away in their hearts. I also wrote “J-O-Y”, which not only means “joy”, but also means “Jesus-Others-You (are last).”
Many years ago, my pastor spoke about J-O-Y. Jesus should always be first in our lives, which was His first Great Commission. His second Great Commission is to love others– and where the golden rule originates. You, then, are last. What you want doesn’t come before Jesus or others. That’s hard to do, especially if you’re six years old. But driving the point home consistently pays off.
All parents of two or more kids endure sibling rivalry at some point. Maybe you even remember fighting with your siblings when you were or a kid. It drives everyone crazy, especially us parents. So what are we to do?
The answer is…there is no answer. Sorry for the letdown.
Sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Abel way back in the book of Genesis. Those brothers were already fighting as soon as chapter four. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when kids turn on each other. All kids are different, which means that each kid and each family must find their own unique solution.
Here are five ideas that I found work in my family. Maybe they will help yours too.
- Keep Kids Busy. This may be an obvious answer. However, it requires energy and initiative from Mom and Dad. Sometimes a lot of it. Don’t expect kids to automatically occupy themselves for long periods of time all the time. They may not be so resourceful or creative yet. If they are but are not given proper direction, they could take their frustration and boredom elsewhere and end up getting themselves into a whole heap of trouble, whether legal or illegal. My father used to say (and still likes to remind me) that “busy hands are happy hands.” So true. Since my kids are still all under age seven, we play card games and board games, take walks, throw Frisbees or have a game of catch, have a picnic in the yard (bring story books you can read out loud while they eat, they’ll love it!), and put Legos together to see who can make the wackiest contraption. If all else fails, there’s probably something that needs to be cleaned. Right?
- Keep Them Fed. After a long day at school, I make sure the boys get some kind of snack when they get home. Empty tummies equal grumpy attitudes and lack of patience.
- Make Sure There Are No Underlying Issues. Does someone have a headache or stomach ache? Are there bathroom kinds of issues going on? Did someone have a bad day at school? Maybe it’s simply jealousy of the other sibling. Younger siblings may not understand why their big brother or sister has the freedoms they have. Likewise, older siblings may be jealous that Mom or Dad is paying more attention to their little brother or sister simply because they’re just so small and often unable to handle some situations.
- Don’t Be A Helicopter or Referee. Take a step back and let your kids try to work out their issues on their own. It will help them learn conflict resolution before the problems of life get more serious. And make sure you find out exactly what happened if you step in so as to not falsely accuse anyone. It’s not always the older, smarter sibling’s fault. Younger kids may be trying to pick a fight to gain power and control, and to boost their pride. If someone decides to be the peacemaker and be the first to stop (a special topic for another time), be sure to heap on the praise. However it goes, I always keep an ear open in case things get out of hand. Plus a box of bandages.
- Don’t Blame Yourself! There is no perfect parent or perfect family. Only God is perfect. So just let that idea go. You’ll drive yourself crazy!
Instead of letting Satan beat you down with frustration and anger, ask God for His divine wisdom and understanding so you can be the parent God knows you can be. Find your encouragement in the fact that He is on the throne and has it all under control. Wars may be common among siblings, but God can give you the wisdom and guidance you need to handle it.
Put your faith in Him every day and put Him always in the center of your family. When you do, you’ll see how He will empower you and give you peace. Especially the next time someone screams, “He did that to me!”
For more information about how to handle sibling rivalry God’s way, check out the amazing resources at The National Center for Biblical Parenting.