By Penny Russ Noffsinger
Do you have days when your kids disagree about everything, want the same thing, and fight over nothing? Welcome to the club. As soon as child #2 comes into the family, the battle begins, the stage is set for competition, and the prize is Mom and Dad’s undivided attention.
My first experience with sibling rivalry began the day I brought my second son home. Family and friends dropped by with food and gifts, and by evening I was exhausted and wanted to spend some quiet time with my 3-year-old. We read a story, I snuggled him close, and without prelude or warning, my 3-year-old whispered in my ear, “I don’t like him.” And I thought, “Oh, no, what have I done?” The next morning I braced myself for the worst, but he was happy as could be, and never mentioned it again. But I knew that their Dad and I would play a major role in how they felt about each other as adults.
My husband and I now have three grown sons, and they actually turned out OK. They don’t argue, (much) they love to be together and they have a language all their own. Kids absorb their environment, and so much of what they learn from us is absorbed into their everyday lives of play-dough, LEGOs®, and fighting with his sister. Here are five things our children can “absorb” that will prepare them to get along with others. They won’t keep them from sibling rivalry, but they will help make it less painful for them and for you.
1. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Matthew 7:12
As early as possible, begin teaching them to “treat others the way they want to be treated.” When one child is rude or unkind to another, simply ask him, “How would you feel if she did that to you? Would you feel good or bad?” Making it personal and bringing it down to his level of feeling good or bad, helps him put himself into the situation and understand the feelings of others.
2. Teach kindness.
Have you heard the way kids talk to each other? Kids should learn kindness at home by listening to how we talk; to them, to the telemarketer, our friends, and also what they hear us talk about. Kindness is most often expressed in conversation. Bullying usually begins with words and escalates from there. As soon as children begin talking, we have the privilege of setting the example of speaking kindly. Speaking softly and kindly to children and answering them with respect cultivates kindness. When sisters fight (and they will) remind them to speak kindly to each other.
3. Teach them to share.
The Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:18 to, “Be willing to share.” In Acts 2:45, the church was so in love with Jesus, so compassionate toward their Christian friends who were suffering for their faith, they sold all their possessions and gave the money to those in need. They knew what it meant to share! Sharing does not come easily for most kids (adults either). We’re by nature possessive; we like our own stuff and we don’t want to let it go. Studies show that kids who learn the spiritual principle of sharing, grow up to be adults who love to share and it does much to deter sibling rivalry.
4. Show them by your example how to love unconditionally, as Christ loves us.
Just because you love your new baby, doesn’t mean your 2-year-old will love her. When you bring a new baby into your home, what is the first thing your toddler notices? He notices you holding, feeding, and cuddling that little bundle, and he feels left out. When he feels left out, his natural instinct is to act out; he wants your attention. Include your older child in whatever you’re doing with the younger one. Children love to help and helping to care for someone cultivates love. When kids feel included, bouts of rivalry happen less often because each child feels good about himself and his place in the family.
5. Teach them the simple truth of 2 Corinthians 2: 7-8: “Forgive those who hurt us. Your forgiveness confirms your love.”
Set the tone in your family by forgiving, not holding a grudge, not being the victim. Let your kids see you respond to hurts with a forgiving heart. They’ll be more likely to forgive those who hurt them.
I wish I could tell you that by doing these 5 things there will never be any sibling rivalry in your home, but I can’t. Brothers and sisters fight because brothers and sisters fight. However, I do believe when we teach them to treat others the way they want to be treated, expect kindness, encourage them to share and love each other, and model forgiveness, we are laying a foundation of respect that will go a long way in keeping our kids close to us and to each other.
And respect takes care of a whole lot of sibling problems.
The Word of God is the best parenting book on the market today. God promises in James 1:5-6 to give us wisdom in everything we do, including parenting. He is faithful to keep His promises, and He is faithful to you. Hang in there; it gets better!
Penny Russ Noffsinger lives with her husband, David, in Central City, Ky. They have three sons and eight grandchildren.
This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of ParentLife.