If you have a sibling or children of your own, you know all about sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Abel.
It starts young and continues to grow until it's dealt with—if it ever is. I wonder how many spats Cain had with Abel in their younger years, how many rolls in the dirt vying for control. Did Adam and Eve just laugh and say, "Boys will be boys"? How many weeks, months, or even years did Cain spend silently seething before he snapped and decided Abel's more perfect offering to God was the last straw?
With two sisters and one brother, I've experienced my share of sibling rivalry. Now that we're adults the rivalry is virtually nonexistent. Occasionally it will threaten to rear its ugly head, but we won't allow it. We've come to see the value of family. Thankfully, our parents never excused our behavior with "kids will be kids."
Now that I have four kids of my own, I know I can't take sibling rivalry lightly. Left unchecked, it can have detrimental effects on the whole family, even for future generations.
The following six biblical principles are time-tested ways we can train our children to conquer sibling rivalry:
"Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12). What does honoring your parents have to do with sibling rivalry? Everything. It is honoring to parents when children recognize the value of their siblings and strive to have good relationships with them.
Even young children can be taught this concept. As parents we can require respectfulness among all family members and refuse to play favorites among children or compare one to another. Even as adults we are honoring our aging parents when we treat our siblings well, setting the example for our children to follow.
"Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Yes, even our siblings are considered our "neighbors," and we are expected to treat them fairly and with dignity. Unfortunately, in many families outsiders and even strangers are treated better than members of the same family. Perhaps it is because we know each other so well that our sense of injustice and unfairness runs so deep and we ultimately lash out at the very ones we love so much. We must help our children see that their siblings are also made in the image of God and to appreciate their uniqueness.
Start by discussing with your children the Good Samaritan story and the greatest commandment, found above. As I have discovered with my own children, as they begin to see that their siblings are their neighbors too, they are more careful to treat them well.
"You will always harvest what you plant" (Galatians 6:7). Most kids probably have heard it in one form or another—Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you—and there's no better place to practice this mandate than within the confines of the home. All children should be taught the Golden Rule and have it reinforced whenever necessary.
As adults we can be examples to our children by continuing to practice the Golden Rule with our own siblings, to prevent us from treating them in a way we wouldn't want to be treated ourselves—or see our children treating their own siblings.
"Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too" (Philippians 2:3–4). Children tend to think the world revolves around them. The "it's all about me" mentality affects siblings greatly. It's incredibly rare to find kids who put their siblings above themselves; it's just doesn't come naturally, so as parents we must train them.
I like to use role-playing and "How would you feel if . . ." discussions with my children in cases where selfishness is causing sibling squabbles. Included in the conversations is Jesus' example of washing his disciples' feet and choosing to serve instead of be served.
"Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" (Matthew 5:44). I know experientially that when rivalry is present, it's awfully hard to do good to siblings let alone to pray for and bless them! But this is an extremely important skill for our children to learn. When we sacrifice ourselves and speak blessings over our siblings, even when we don't want to, God does something special for our relationships.
When our children make an effort to obey God's Word, God blesses that effort. Once our children begin praying for their siblings and treating them respectfully even when they have been treated poorly themselves, they will find themselves doing so willingly and joyfully, with a sincere desire to see them blessed.
"Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18). Even children are called to be peacemakers. This is different from just letting one sibling "keep the peace" by letting another get his or her way every time. A true peacemaker will actively pursue peace, and yes, that may mean compromise at times, but it doesn't mean being a doormat.
My children are apparently destined to be lawyers as they love to debate—to no end—any little infraction or perceived threat to their own way. Again, selfishness is at the root and unless we deal with the root of the problem, the rivalry will continue to grow. Treat the cause, not the symptom.
While this in no way exhausts the biblical principles we can follow concerning sibling rivalry, it's a good start. Training our children to be loving and caring toward one another as God loves and cares for us is the best defense against sibling rivalry and an important way to show the world "family" as it was meant to be.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer living in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.