From the beginning, siblings had trouble. The first instance of sibling rivalry ended badly--with Cain killing Abel. We definitely don't want our kids following in their footsteps. We all have people in our lives who rub us the wrong way sometimes. As adults, we usually do a good job of dealing with our frustration (or at least hiding it). Our kids are still in the process of developing those coping skills. Our job, as parents, is to foster a spirit of cooperation and love in our homes between our sometimes very different children. On the days when your kids are pushing each others' buttons and generally driving you up a wall with their constant bickering, look for ways to help your kids recognize the good in each other and for ways to get them to help one another.
Ideally, we want our children to recognize the value of the sibling relationship. They can love one another and look out for one another when mom and dad aren't around. We want our families to be able to close ranks against the world around a wounded family member -- not be the reason for the wounds. Our goal is to help our children recognize the value in their siblings and the value in families. We want our children to view their siblings as friends and helpers, not as competition. Proverbs 17:17 says "A friend loves at all times," and John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." When we persuade our children that this is the goal, it cuts down on the animosity between them.
If you're in the throes of sibling rivalry at its finest, this may seem like an impossible task. It's not, but it won't happen overnight. It takes a pattern of consistently offering opportunities for cooperation and constant prodding to support the other sibling.
- Create a policy in your home that, if at all possible, family members support another member of the family in whatever they are doing. Both my girls play sports. If the my oldest has a soccer game, and the youngest doesn't have anything else going on, my youngest is expected to be at the game. The same holds true if my youngest has a hockey game and my oldest doesn't have anything else going on. We hear the usual grumblings, but our response is always "Families support each other." The grumbling has started to subside, and my girls have figured out that being part of a family comes with responsibilities to other members.
- Force your kids to work together. I often give my girls chores that they have to work together to complete. It puts them in a situation where they have to figure out how to cooperate to accomplish a task. It also gives them the chance to see the other sister's skills and talents. Try giving your kids a scavenger hunt or other fun task to complete where they have to work together to reach the reward at the end.
- Teach your kids to rely on each other. Talk with your children about how when they are at school or at someone else's house together, they need to look out for one another. Remind them that when you are not around, their sibling is their best option for help and support.
- Put a small bucket or basket on each child's door. Let your children know that the baskets are for them to leave notes for one another. The only rule is that the notes must be kind and uplifting. They can thank each other for things, point out good things the other one has done or just leave a note to say hello. This opens the lines of communication between siblings. Put one on your door as well, so your kids can leave you notes, too.