Sibling Rivalry – The Struggle
Parents with multiple children often struggle with sibling rivalry in their families. This has been a problem for all of history. In fact, the very first family mentioned in the Bible had a problem with it too! That sibling rivalry ended in murder.
Rivalry among siblings often displays itself in fighting, bullying, and jealousy. As parents, what can be done to work through these issues so children grow up to have a healthy respect for each other? It is essential to understand the factors that contribute to sibling rivalry and learn helpful tips for defusing it.
Sibling Rivalry – Contributing Factors
A myriad of factors contribute to sibling rivalry.
Oftentimes, children are competing for parental attention. A child may start a fight, act aggressively, or tattle on a sibling in order to get the parent involved. As parents, it is important to be intentional about spending time with each child. Try to find a time and place where your attention is not divided. Each child needs reassurance that he is loved and that the parent values his opinion.
Comparing children also contributes to sibling rivalry. Children are always going to compare themselves with their siblings. She has an iPod, but I don’t. He is a faster runner than I am. Comparison is a natural tendency, but parents can be intentional about praising a child’s unique skill or accomplishments. It is also wise to avoid negative comparisons like, “If only you were smart like your sister.”
Avoid playing favorites. When a fight breaks out, don’t assume you know the perpetrator.
Sibling Rivalry – Helpful Advice From Other Parents
When asked how they have dealt with sibling rivalry, parents responded with these helpful tips.
- Model and teach respect. Children will notice how you treat your siblings and your spouse. Show children how to handle disagreements in a respectful manner. When children tattle on each other, show them how to communicate with their sibling and work out the situation. One mother said, “Tattling feeds hatred toward one another. I’ll tell my kids, ‘If you have a problem with your brother, talk to him about it. If he won’t listen, then you may come see me.’ If the sibling still won’t listen, then we (as parents) become involved.”
- Compliment good behavior.
- Minimize stress. When a family is stressed, children will have to try harder for their parent’s attention.
- Create healthy competition. Teach that competition includes treating others with respect.
- Celebrate individuality and avoid comparisons. Another mother says, “I try to get to the center of the insecurity and let my children know they have nothing to be ashamed about. Life is full of times when we could feel jealous of others. God made each of us exactly the way He intended.” Compliment God-given traits like compassion or patience. Each child has a unique personality, strengths, and gifts. Celebrate each child’s individuality.
- Pray that children will love and care for each other.
- Encourage siblings to develop friendships with each other. Help them focus on the long-term. Chances are small that they will go through life with their current friends, but family is to be long-standing. Encourage siblings to help and serve each other and pray for one another.
Sibling Rivalry – Biblical Example
A great example of sibling rivalry occurs in twins Jacob and Esau. They competed for their parents’ attention—one as the momma’s boy and one as his father’s favorite. Isaac, the father, clearly favored Esau because he was a great hunter. Rebecca, the mother, loved the sensitive Jacob more. This favoritism resulted in terrible jealousy and made the brothers into enemies. Next came deception and physical threats of murder. The relationship was broken and the brothers went separate ways.
Years later, the brothers had opportunity to reconcile and did so. The Bible is unclear on the extent of their reconciliation, but we know they lived somewhat amicably with one another. The way Isaac and Rebekah raised Jacob and Esau directly impacted their future and it resulted in a long break in their relationship.
Parents may not be able to completely end a sibling rivalry, but by modeling proper behavior and treating each child with dignity, love, and respect, parents can show the path to positive sibling relationships.
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