Cain and Able may have been the first, but they certainly weren’t the last siblings to have issues. For a lot of reasons, merely being raised in the same home does not automatically make siblings best friends. In fact, some parents unknowingly set the stage for sibling conflicts that can last decades beyond childhood.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. There are plenty of siblings who see each other as friends – some even best friends. Are there things those families do that are different from others? Or are their children just more alike than yours?
Actually birth order, birth gap and personality only play a small role in the relationships your kids will develop with each other. The major impact is in how you expect them to treat each other and how you handle things when the inevitable sibling conflicts arise.
Here are some of our top tips for raising loving siblings.
- Teach your kids God wants them to love, serve and be kind to each other. The more your overall family attitude is that you all treat everyone with love, serve others and are kind to everyone, the easier it will be for your kids to treat each other the same way. Remember though, you and your spouse will also have to model these attitudes in how you treat each other.
- Remind your kids your family is a TEAM for God. If members of your family are allowed to constantly act selfishly – putting themselves before others – the less likely they will see your family as a unit that works together for the good of everyone. Strong teams realize that at times members must make sacrifices so the team as a whole is stronger. Kids who have an “every man for himself or herself” attitude will be more likely to fight to continually get their way.
- Teach your kids each one of them has special gifts from God they can use to serve each other, your family and God. God has most likely given each of your kids some gifts that are slightly or radically different from each other. It’s important they realize no gift is more important than the other – even if one child’s gift gets him or her more attention in the world. All gifts are to be used to serve God. Gratitude to God for those gifts should always be expressed – humility will also strengthen sibling bonds. Remind them that often one or more of their gifts can also be used to serve each other in some way, and encourage them to do that whenever possible.
- Do not let your kids use ugly words when speaking to each other. It doesn’t matter how frustrated or angry they are at each other, don’t let them speak harshly to each other in anger. Teach them godly conflict resolution skills and insist they use them. Bad conflict habits often begin by ignoring those same bad habits used between siblings in childhood.
- Do not let your kids tease or say ugly things about each other. Many sibling relationships are damaged for life because siblings were regularly allowed to say ugly things to each other under the guise of “teasing”. As an adult, you may think your super skinny daughter knows she doesn’t have “thunder thighs”, but in most cases young people will believe the taunts tossed at them by siblings – even if the teasing seems ridiculous to everyone else. There is no positive outcome from allowing siblings to tease each other – just a slow cracking of the relationship over time.
- Encourage your kids to express their love for each other regularly. Not the kick the dirt, “Mom’s forcing me to say it” affection, but genuine honest affection. Encouraging them to say I love you when they are too young to have many conflicts is a great way to start the habit. Homes where parents say “I love you” a lot, seem to also raise kids who are comfortable saying those same words to others.
- Help your kids think of ways to encourage and serve each other. Encourage your kids to be proactive in encouraging and serving each other in good times and bad. After a few years of asking them their ideas for celebrating or encouraging each other, they should be able to do some of those things without your prompting.
- Do not treat one child with more or less love and kindness than your other children. Playing favorites always turns out badly – just ask Jacob and Esau! There are a million reasons why you may prefer one child over another, but no healthy ones for your kids. Each child has different needs – fair is not always equal. In general though, life should feel fair in your home. There should not be a “golden child” – especially one that every child in your family can easily identify as the same child.
- Work together as a family on service projects, sharing your faith and family projects. Working together on things as a family will create a teamwork atmosphere over time. Siblings that are taught to work well together to achieve common goals as kids will be more likely to continue to do it as adults.
It may not be easy, but you can raise your kids to treat each other with love, respect and kindness. It will make your family stronger and healthier. It will also make your family a light in a world of families that can’t get along. It’s worth your time and effort to help your kids build those bonds with each other.