Question:

I was reading some thoughts shared recently by those who are finishing up their years of home schooling their children.  One thing that struck me in particular was one mother's mention of how she enjoyed her children's teenage years.  That is really something!  My five daughters currently range in age from 1 year to almost 10.  We definitely have more bickering than I would like.  I know that siblings fighting is considered normal and unavoidable, but then again, in our society so is teenage defiance.  Some conflict is inevitable and can be useful in learning how to get along, I know.  But I guess my question for those of you whose children are a bit older is twofold.  First of all, what advice do you have regarding handling sibling arguments?  And probably more importantly, what kinds of things do you do to foster sibling closeness? 

I am not as close to my sister as I would like, so I often wonder if I am missing something in the way I bring up my own children.  I want my girls to be very close.  I know that doesn't mean they will never argue.  But I want to do everything I can to forge and maintain bonds between every member of our family.  I want to be close to them myself, and be able to enjoy those teenage years, too.

Thank you in advance for sharing your wisdom and experience.


Answer:

In my family, my siblings are close. It is not that we didn't have our spats, but we generally are good friends. One thing that I was convinced that helped was that we were close in age. Thus when we were young we were each other's playmates. My wife and I chose to do the same with our children and they too grew up being good friends from the close start they had.

Another thing I noticed is that my mother nipped disputes early. Our early training was loving but firm. All anti-social behavior was not tolerated and was punished. No hitting. No name calling or other insults. Again, we did the same for our boys and the early effort paid off in the long run.

One of the things you learn from Jacob in Genesis is that treating one sibling better than the others causes disharmony. My parents treated each of us in an age appropriate manner. The older might have a few more privileges, but when the younger said, "Why can't I stay up as late as ..." The answer was "He's older. When you get to that age, you will have the same privilege." But no one was told, "He's smarter" or "She's prettier" or "He's a better athlete," though each of those things were true for each child. Generally there was no comparing between children just as Paul said there was to be no comparing between Christians (II Corinthians 10:12). I don't recall hearing "Why can't you be more like your brother?" as we grew up. We have striven to do the same with our boys. Each has his own unique talents to be enjoyed.

Often times I tell parents you get what you tolerate. If you allow disputes, you'll get disputes. When I heard an argument break out, I often stepped in and told them to quiet down. If they complained, I pointed out a way they could solve their problem peacefully. A few times I had to "encourage" one to be willing to deal with the other. But once again, most of this came early on in the upbringing. The result is many people came to our house and were amazed that a house full of boys could be so calm.

I put a lot of what I learned into a small book because I wanted to make sure it was passed down in case something happened to me. It is on this site at: Raising Godly Children in a Wicked World.

From a Sister in Christ

Your desire for your children to have a close relationship is close to my heart. I have two children. A boy who is 16 and a girl who is 14. When I was pregnant with the second I found a book at the library about avoiding sibling rivalry. There are only a couple of points that I still remember. One was to make them a team. Never pit them against each other.

Also, never compare them to each other, i.e. "Look at how good your sister is behaving, you should act like that, too." They should only be compared to your standard of acceptable behavior (which is based on God's). They should be commended for who they are and not told which sibling they should be like. Each person is their own person and that's okay. Every personality has strength's and weaknesses. Encourage and celebrate their strengths and coach and mold their weaknesses. (There is a GREAT book about personalities. Personality Plus by Florence Littauer I can't recommend this book enough! I believe it will help every relationship you have - especially with your spouse. There is also a Personality Plus For Parents - it's very helpful in identifying your children's personalities.)

I have always told my kids that they are each others best friend and that our home is a sanctuary. That these four walls are a safe place. That we don't attack each other and are always loyal to each other.

I'm sure the book explained it better, but those are the main points that I took from the book and put to use the day Rebecca was born. To this day, my kids are friends. They can bicker and sometimes fight, but not too often. They tease A LOT, but the rule is that everyone has to be having fun. It's not funny if someone is being hurt. They are fiercely loyal to each other and protective of one another.

As I mentioned, my kids are teens. So far so good. I don't mean to say that and make it sound like it won't last, but I am realistic enough to know that we have a ways to go before they are adults. We do have it good. They have their frustrating moods occasionally, but not the rebellious spirit that so many teens can exhibit. We were having a "phase" with one of the kids where one of them was so moody and irritable. I got to dreading having to say "no" to something or having to discipline because of the argumentative attitude that would inevitably surface. One day, I told the child about how I felt and reminded them what my job as a parent is and what their job as a child is. The child was silent for about 5 minutes, then quietly apologized and we've had a lot less of the moodiness since then. What a blessing to have the relationship that we do. I am sure we have it because of how much time we spend together, who they DO spend their time with outside of our four walls, AND who they do NOT spend time with.

I'm not sure that I can speak much about dealing with sibling arguments. My kids don't argue a lot. When they do now, I let them try to work it out. I believe they are building skills in dealing with difficult situations. I won't always be there for them so they need to learn to sort things out on their own. When they were little we did get in the middle of it. We tried to teach them to be respectful and listen to the other guys side of it. It was kind of like reffing at a hockey game, without the hockey part.

Hope this helps!

From a sister in Christ

I think this has been the biggest factor in our two oldest children becoming friends.  In younger years, they did their share of bickering.  I won't give details, because they MIGHT be embarrassed now.  :)  But when our son was around 13, and our daughter around 11, we told them repeatedly, in essence,  "The day may come when each other is the ONLY choice you have for a friend."  It proved to be true, and they eventually became very close, and confidantes to each other.  We were thrilled to see this happen.

Our youngest son is now living the life of an only child, but he always looks forward to his older brother coming home, and looks for excuses to call his sister and talk to her on the phone.  We miss having them both here for him, but that's what happens when you have a child "late in life"  (Ha!  I was 36!)  Anyway, though personality inevitably plays a role, make sure you view them as friends, and communicate that to them, even when it may not be true ... yet.

From a sister in Christ

Everyone has given such good advice so far!  Encouraging friendship, I also, think is key.  My Mom used to say to me, when your kids seem to be arguing, wanting attention, or in general not ‘behaving’ and letting you get done whatever you think is so important to get done -- stop. Take them all outside (even though I wound up only having two) and go for a walk together.  Talk to them, together.  Walk and talk and be happy.  Don’t lecture, don’t yell, don’t be angry.  Just be together and walk, if possible in nature.  Let your kids be in the grass, play catch, Frisbee, wade in a creek, hike down a short path -- even in the middle of town -- just get out of your house and give your kids some undivided attention.  And if she was here today, she would add, turn off your cell phone.  You aren’t that important.  But your kids are!  She was a great one for getting my kids dirty!  And as a kid, my sister and I didn’t fight much.  We were taught from the beginning that this is the only sister we will ever get and she will always be here for me.  It’s true.  Even though she lives seven hours from me, she’s still here for me, anytime.  My boys are good friends.  They are now 16 and 19.  And yes, we are enjoying every phase of life with them!  We don’t allow meanness in our house.  My husband and I are not mean to each other.  Maybe it starts with that.  Your kids will copy how you treat each other and they need time with each of you daily.  Make them each feel special and they will treat others special also.  I don’t mean spoiled.  There’s a difference!  Brats are never enjoyable.  Make your kids people you want to spend time with and they will want to spend time with each other.  

From a sister in Christ

I agree with all the comments that have been made concerning this issue.  I can attest to the success of those suggestions that have been made.  The only thing I want to add relates to the original question that people say that sibling fighting is normal and unavoidable.  Her comparison to teenage defiance shows her accurate assessment of this concept.  The fact that something is common does not make it normal or okay.  I feel that the acceptance that sibling rivalry is normal and unavoidable contributes to the problem. The Bible does not teach us that sibling rivalry is normal.  We are given the example of love for a brother as being one of the closest relationships you can experience.   Christians are encouraged to recognize that our relationship is to be that of brothers and sisters.  I hardly think that God is desiring that we all fuss with each other the way society portrays brothers and sisters doing as normal.  Much like the way our culture celebrates disrespect for parents, particularly fathers, it also celebrates sibling rivalry.  Children on TV are shown to say and do really nasty things to each other and it is all supposed to be funny.  The better you are at mistreating your brother the "cooler" you  are.  I think it is part of the movement to break down the family unit.  Is it any wonder that people have so much trouble getting along or having healthy relationships with anybody, when the most basic relationships are being so terribly maligned?

We never accepted this premise of sibling fighting being normal or unavoidable in our home.  Our children were taught to respect each other, as well as to love each other at the beginning of their lives.  The effort has paid off.  They treat each other and others with kindness and respect.  I'm not saying there is never any disagreement, but I can say that they understand the proper way to handle those times.

From a sister in Christ:

I agree!  Too many times we accept behavior just because it is "normal" by the world's standards -- if that is what you would call it.  Something that comes to mind is a few years ago a young lady from our congregation had a boyfriend visiting on a Sunday evening.  As he was leaving the church parking lot he spun his tires out and sped away from the building.  I turned to the young lady and said something about that not being the kind of guy she deserved.  I began to say that his behavior was childish, but her mother interrupted me and said it was NORMAL!  "He's just being a normal teenager!"  I sincerely believe she was trying to make the point that our kids weren't normal because they are not allowed to behave that way.

As far as siblings go.  I think the age difference can make a huge difference.  We don't always have control over that of course, but if we do it can make all the difference.  (That is not to say that siblings with large age gaps can't be close.)  My sons are two and a half years apart and are very close!  I can safely say that they are best friends.  We too, do not allow the name calling or hitting.  (At 22 and 19 they don't do that as much...lol)  As they get older they may call each other names in jest or even little pet names that are said with affection.  My boys used to call each other ugly -- knowing full well that they look so much alike that people mix them up.  :-)  It is done in jest (with a smile) and they know it isn't a serious jab. 

They have their disagreements.  When they were younger we tried to let them work it out on their own as long as it didn't involve hitting. Then we intervened and sat down with them individually to sort it all out.  I have known of families who would let their kids actually fist fight to "work it out."  Some even went so far as to get them boxing gloves and pound on each other!  I found this to be awful!  What if we do that as adults?  In the church?  Sometimes I think people leave their common sense in the delivery room!

From a sister in Christ:

I have been thinking about the sibling issues which have been well-addressed and discussed, but have a "tip" or idea I'd like to share.

Basically when kids are squabbling they are "asking" to be separated - either to do their own thing or get individual parental attention or whatever.

My rule for me as mom:

Don't reward negative behavior by giving a child(ren) what he/they want. Just like you don't get a candy bar in the grocery store for pitching a fit, don't give them individual attention or a break from siblings because they are squabbling and having fits.

Make them sit together on the couch until they are nice to one another. Or hug until they are nice (I wanted smiles and/or giggles - evidence of liking each other).

From a sister in Christ:

The last idea reminds me of a memorable event we have. My children were about 9 and 7 at the time. They were irritated with each other and antagonizing each other. We were in a public place and SOMETHING needed to be done. I sat them down in chairs facing each other with the front of the chairs touching and their cross legged knees touching. I told them to stay there until they were told they could move. Within a few minutes they were having the time of their life together. To this day they think that was brilliant. At the time I had no idea what I was doing and was surprised to find that it had worked! I didn't tell them I didn't know what I was doing. (I hope you'll all keep my secret, too!)

I agree with the idea of going for a walk. Change the atmosphere. Get some exercise! Those endorphins do amazing things for us all!

One more thing that I'm sure we all know is PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. Pray daily for your children and for yourself as a parent. Ask God to guide each child to become the best they can be. Ask God to guide your every step, thought, and action. I also pray for the future spouse(s) of my children and for their parents. He has promised to help and guide us when we ask. We may not always know what to do, but He does.

From a sister in Christ:

I used this "Solving a Problem" method when I was teaching school. Only I called it KNEES TO NOSE. The two that were in the disagreeing mode had to sit a chair facing each other KNEE TO NOSE. Almost EVERY SINGLE time, they were laughing and smiling within a very few minutes.

I also did this with my two daughters. IN FACT, maybe I'll reuse it one of these days! Ha!

From a sister in Christ:

I have appreciated hearing everyone’s comments.  We have found that what has promoted sibling love in our family is the fact that we sit together every day and read the Bible, sing a song and pray aloud for each other.  We also use this time to address any issues that may be bothering someone.   An apology is expected immediately when one of them has said hurtful words.  They have to look at each other to speak the apology and when they were younger they had to embrace.  It is a constant challenge, but a growing experience for all of us.  

From a sister in Christ:

I'm completely absorbing all of your comments about siblings. My kids (6, 8, and 10) get along fairly well, but often there is an undercurrent of what Bill Cosby calls brain damage: "Stop touching me, stop touching me, stop touching me!" We try to enforce the fact that since the Garden of Eden, it has been God's rule that the command is given once and the children were expected to obey. If Mommy and Daddy say "do it" or "don't do it," you must obey immediately. We carry that through to sibling relationships. If your brother or sister asks you to stop doing something that is bothering him or her, then he or she should only have to ask you once. Beyond that, you are being a pest. We're not always perfect in getting them to adhere, but it's getting better.

From a sister in Christ:

I know these have been briefly addressed but I just wanted to share our family rules on the matter, too: If a sibling said the "magic" words, "Please stop", then our kids knew it was in their best interest to stop --immediately. (I remember, several times, when we were at other people's houses, our kids discovered those "magic words" didn't work and they were so confused!) :(

The other thing touched on was: if both parties were not having fun, then it wasn't FUN and it had better stop, too.