First-Aid for Sibling Rivalry

Psychologists tell us that sibling rivalries are a normal part of family life. But where do you draw the line? Some siblings are actually killing each other! How are you tackling the problem of your children fighting?

The family institution in our Western culture is in serious decline. Although many people still aspire to build a traditional family—working dad, stay-at-home mom and children—few actually experience this wonderful reality. There are specific reasons for this sad fact.

The Henley Center in the UK explains, “The decline of the family as an institution forms one of the primary symptoms of the paradox of prosperity. Significant factors contributing to family breakdown are the growing pressures of work and the pursuit of material gains. Women, in particular, consider that they have sacrificed the chance of having children or even forming relationships for the sake of their career. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to miss out on a home life due to short- or long-term work travel. Existing families are sacrificed in the same cause of putting work before family. A significant number of men and women believe they have missed their children growing up, or even blame work pressures for their divorce or other strains on relationships” (“The Paradox of Prosperity”).

Our Western world has reached incredible heights in prosperity. Yet our families are crumbling. Why? There is a cause for every effect. Yet few seem able to understand the reason for our family troubles.

Though only a few admit it, the truth is that our quest for prosperity has led to our family breakdown. As a society we have become extremely well educated on how to make a living. But we do not know how to live. We have forgotten the true values that lead to happiness. For example, ample statistics show that a two-career family generally leads to a single-parent family. Couples cannot maintain both careers and a family. Something must be sacrificed. All too often it is the marriage.

It is expected that 63 percent of all new marriages in the United States will end in divorce. Is it being truly educated to sacrifice a marriage for a career? Unfortunately, many think so.

Sibling Rivalry

Divorce is not the only indicator of our family breakdown. Many families are struggling with the problem of sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry is the strife between brothers and/or sisters that leads to bickering and fighting—and now even murder.

In June, a cbs 48 Hours program featured the story of a 12-year-old girl allegedly murdered by her 14-year-old brother and two of his friends. The prosecutor in the case stated that the boy’s motive in the murder was sibling rivalry. The boy was upset by his sister’s success. He considered her a real threat. Details of the case show that the young girl was gruesomely stabbed to death in her own bedroom.

We know that sibling rivalry is as old as time. The history of this kind of family conflict is written deep within our Judeo-Christian cultural heritage. Who has not heard the stories of Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers? The tension and fighting among these brothers was often violent. Cain murdered Abel.

So sibling rivalry and violence is not new. But do families have to live with it? Is it possible to have real lasting peace within our families?

Many parents with more than one child are expressing a sense of helplessness in stopping what appears to be all-out war raging inside their own homes. Unfortunately, sibling rivalry has become a huge problem for many families—especially families that are bringing together two sets of stepchildren.

Experts have a lot to say about this issue. Some have very good insight. But most of them stop short of offering solid solutions to solve the problem. You can have peace in your home. Yes, sibling rivalry can be dealt with effectively!

The Root Cause

Dealing with sibling rivalry is simply a matter of education. Parents must be taught how to stop sibling rivalry. It will require reading, study, thought and practice. Both single-parent and two parent families can use the principles discussed in this article.

To become well educated on the problem, parents must first learn the root causes of sibling rivalry. Envy and jealousy for another’s talents or material possessions is an obvious root cause. Who has not witnessed one child upset over another child’s success or acquisition of a new toy? This cause of sibling rivalry reflects a character issue and must be dealt with through strong teaching and discipline with the individual child.

But there is a more serious cause for strife among siblings. Brothers and sisters will fight with each other when they experience a deficit of time, attention, love and approval from their parents. This is so simple to understand, but so easy to overlook.

Think about it. In a one-child family, the youngster generally commands the full attention of the parents. When other siblings are added, it is not hard for the first child and the subsequent siblings to realize their time with mom and dad will be less. In fact, it is significantly less with each additional child. If each child’s need for time, attention, love and approval is not met, dislike for each other will generally develop among the siblings. What happens next? Sibling wars begin.

Parents must recognize that most sibling battles are a symptom of the parents not providing enough time, attention, love and approval for each child. It doesn’t take long to recognize that when each child receives ample parental attention, even petty envies and jealousies decrease.

A Stable Marriage

One of the challenges that parents of families with multiple siblings must deal with is that there is a finite amount of time to devote to each child. But even though the time for each child may be limited, couples can still show their children plenty of love, approval and quality attention. To accomplish these tasks it will take forethought, planning, scheduling and, most of all, a team effort. A husband and wife must work together in unity to combat sibling rivalry. In other words, maintaining a stable and loving marriage relationship is the first key to building a family without rivalry.

This is why a two-career marriage is so damaging for children. Being effective on the job takes time. Building a successful marriage takes time. Raising well-balanced children takes time. Trying to balance all three places enormous demands on parents. When will we come to accept the fact that it is not possible to do all three? Two careers steal precious time away from both the marriage and the children. And current statistics show that it is the marriages and children that are suffering.

How can our families beat the statistics? Sometimes tough decisions have to be made. Isn’t it far better to have a one-career family with a stay-at-home mom than to have children at war with each other? Isn’t it far better for dad to make sure that work hours do not interfere with family time?

Sibling combat could be a sign of parents in combat. Parents must always present a united front to their children. A husband and wife must be totally united on house rules, approach to discipline, rewards and privileges. Any disagreements should be handled privately, away from the children. Parents caught in open disagreement will set the stage for sibling conflicts. For example, if one parent is a tougher disciplinarian, then it is only natural that children will be drawn to the more permissive parent to get an answer they want. In the long run this situation eventually cancels out all authority in the home—which means the children often get control and rule the parents. Siblings gain control of themselves. Unfortunately, when children take charge of themselves, competition and strife run rampant.

No one can overestimate the incredible value of parents being united. A stable, loving marriage builds stable, loving siblings. A united husband and wife can more easily meet the needs of their children.

No Favorites

The story of the patriarch Joseph is a perfect illustration of why parents must work hard not to play favorites. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him” (Gen. 37:3-4). Joseph was intensely hated by his brothers because it was evident that Jacob loved him the most. Jacob even demonstrated his love by showering Joseph with special gifts. Joseph’s brothers were so upset by all the attention that Joseph received that they planned his murder. Since our own society has become more violent, sibling murder is on the rise. Playing favorites can have some disastrous results.

To avoid playing favorites, parents must strive to meet each child’s needs. Your children will be more willing to share your attention with their siblings as long as their individual needs are being met. Parents must avoid the natural tendency to show partiality to a sibling more to their own liking. Parents must seize every opportunity to express love and approval for each child.

One simple way to show love and attention to all siblings is to use meal times, especially on weekends. During the course of a meal, make it a point to converse with each child. Discuss the day’s events, even minor events. Find ways to offer positive feedback and praise for each child.

There will be times when your children will need individual and private attention. There may even be times when all of your children will need individual attention at the same time. These situations require team effort. The husband and wife should work together to decide who is best suited for each child’s need. A single parent may need to seek support from a close relative. If you find that you cannot take care of each child’s need immediately, always explain to them when you can take care of it.

Let me give you some examples from my own life. My wife and I have four daughters. Three have graduated from high school. Two have graduated from university. When our youngest was born, our oldest was 9. Only my wife could see to some of our infant’s special needs. Nursing is a good example of what I mean. When my wife had to devote time to our infant, I would take our oldest under my wing. I set aside time in the evening after work to spend time with her. Other times, when my oldest daughter needed her mother, I would then look after the younger siblings.

As our girls progressed through elementary, middle, high school and university, we did our best to make sure that at least one of us was in attendance at every school open house, concert or sporting event that our girls were involved in. It was always our first goal to attend each event together. At times my work schedule would not allow me to attend every event. So we made sure that we switched around so one parent wasn’t always at the same event with the same child.

Seeing to the needs of your children will require creativity, energy and stamina. When our daughters got older and our budget allowed for it, I set lunch dates with my daughters to provide individual attention. I know each daughter enjoyed eating a meal alone with me. During such times, the conversation seemed to flow. I learned much! The emotional ties between us always grew stronger as a result of these talks.

I do not believe my wife and I have handled every situation perfectly. But we did put forth the effort. Your children will love you, respect you and turn to you more when they see you serving them. Our children even helped us in our planning.

Parents often worry that they are not meeting their children’s needs. Your children will let you know when you are not meeting their needs. In fact, increased sibling squabbles are good indicators that needs are not being met!

Don’t Compare

Parents need to be careful of making any kind of comparisons among siblings. Comparisons can be both favorable and unfavorable. A favorable comparison might sound like this: “John is good in math but Bill is good in science.” An unfavorable comparison sounds like, “I wish you were more like your sister.” It should be obvious that an unfavorable comparison will set sibling rivalry spinning. Yet it is not as obvious that favorable comparisons do the same. Although the parent’s intention may be to praise each child, generally the battle line of competition is drawn. How? Each child will use the favorable comparison to increase their own worth at the expense of the other. In the case of John and Bill, it will not be long before either math or science becomes the only subject with real value.

Even Paul warned that using comparisons is not wise. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (ii Cor. 10:12). Children can be ferociously competitive on their own. They really do not need any help from parents.

The way to avoid comparison is to recognize each child individually. Not all children have the same talents or abilities. We would live in a very boring world if every person were the same. Children have strengths and weaknesses. Parents should praise their children’s strengths and encourage them to overcome their weaknesses. Making comparisons does neither. Parents should learn to praise each child as an only child.

Be the Peacemaker

It is inevitable that siblings will quarrel. Parents must learn how to stop the fighting in the home. In other words, parents must be the peacemakers in the family. Unfortunately, some parents have retreated from solving conflicts.

Sibling fights can be frustrating. But parents should not just let children work out fights on their own. Yes, children should be taught to resolve their conflicts. But parents must always be available to help solve the occasional problems that become too large for children to handle.

Children must be taught not to fight. Quoting Isaiah, Paul stated, “And the way of peace have they not known” (Rom. 3:17). Playing peacefully and doing things in cooperation are learned habits. They do not come naturally.

Parents must establish a clear set of rules in the home about fighting. There should be no-hitting, no-name-calling and no-hurting rules. If and when those rules are violated, discipline should be administered promptly. Rules and discipline for infractions show children that they must learn to work out problems peacefully. In our home we outlawed all fighting. When fights occurred, we recognized that it was time to do strong teaching. Remember, peace must be taught.

Parents need to be careful not to take sides when dealing with a sibling conflict. For example, it is easy to assume that an older sibling is being a bully against a younger one. Sibling conflicts are not always that simple. In fact, there are times when younger siblings are the biggest bullies. I will never forget the time that I saw one of my toddlers provoke a fight with her older sister. Although I was out of their view, I witnessed the event take place. What was really interesting is that when my presence was discovered, the younger tried to appear as the victim.

It is vital to listen to each side of the conflict. Children need to be heard. Just as in a court of law, it is important to get all of the facts before drawing any conclusion. Wrong conclusions about conflicts can make sibling rivalry even worse.

Parents should also discipline each child when a conflict arises. Although some sibling fights could be clearly the fault of one child, with most conflicts each child involved holds some responsibility. When each child is disciplined, the lesson that fighting does not solve problems is learned quickly. When rules are enforced and consistent discipline is administered, children will work harder to solve problems before conflicts arise. Don’t be afraid to discipline.

Remember, the proper use of authority will ensure peace at home. Speaking of the millennial rule of Christ, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” (Isa. 9:7). At His return, Jesus Christ will use His great authority to usher in 1000 years of peace. Use your authority, and you will have peace.

God Is a Family

Our society makes it very hard on families. It is a real challenge to raise a healthy, stable family. But it can be done. There is real help for families struggling with sibling conflict. That help is found within the pages of your Bible. The Bible is the only solid source of workable solutions for our families’ troubles.

In your Bible it is revealed that God is a family. His purpose for man is to be born into that family. Our free booklet God Is a Family will give you a sound biblical explanation of this marvelous truth. You may also write for a free copy of Mystery of the Ages, by Herbert W. Armstrong. This book will make plain God’s incredible purpose for mankind. It will give you the knowledge necessary to help you begin solving your family troubles.