Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Encouraging Love and Friendship Among Siblings

     Before my second child made his appearance into the world, I began thinking about how I could best teach my two boys how to become friends.  I have pondered, read, and prayed about this subject, and my conclusion is that creating siblings who care about each other takes a lot of time, energy, and work on behalf of the parents.  Here are some of my thoughts on helping siblings learn to care for each other.

  • Do not allow siblings to be unkind to each other physically, emotionally, or verbally.  "Shut up," "stupid," "dummy," and "hate" should be bad words worthy of discipline.  Consequences for such behavior needs to be swift and consistent.  
  • Encourage siblings to praise each other.  Help them learn to intentionally build each other up.  Set the example.  While eating dinner, say, "Joe did a great job building that Lego spaceship, didn't he Frank?"  or "Wow!  Frank, don't you agree that Joe got a great grade on his math test.  Why don't you congratulate Joe?"  
  • Remind siblings of how lucky they are.  When warranted, say, "You're lucky to have a big brother who ...." or "Your little brother really loves you and looks up to you."  Remind them to thank each other, too.
  • Teach siblings to treat each other with honor and respect.  When an unkind word slips out or someone takes something from someone, ask, "Are you treating each other with honor and respect? No.  OK, let's try again."  On the flip side, praise them for playing together nicely, showing love to each other, and helping and serving each other.
  • Teach siblings to ask for and extend forgiveness.  Then hug and make-up -- regardless of their age!
  • Encourage siblings to pray for each other.  Pray for the older brother on the mission trip.  Pray for little brother if he's nervous about swim lessons.  Pray for sister if she's having bad dreams.
  • Discipline, and discipline fairly.  If you do not discipline fairly, you will create a wedge between siblings.  Lack of discipline fosters resentment.
  • Discourage competition.  If at all possible, do not put children on opposing teams.  Teach them to cheer for each other.  Praise both equally.  Along that line, do not compare them to each other.
  • Give them space from each other.  Even the best of friends need time apart.  Work time away from each other into the day, especially once one or more siblings is an adolescent with younger siblings.
  • Do not show favorites.    Again, this drives a wedge between children.  
  • Teach them everything does not have to be equal.  Do not fall into this trap.  You cannot and should not treat all of your children exactly equally.  Children have different personalities, maturity levels, and needs.  My oldest had his first sleep-over at age 5, but my youngest was much older.  If you try to make everything equal, then you will hear, "But he got to.... when he was my age?" or "How come you bought her a shirt and not me?"  You will wear yourself out trying to be equal, and this will create competition between siblings.  
  • Teach empathy.  Ask:  How do you think that made him feel?  If he did that to you, would you be ok with that?  How can you make this right?
  • Model proper behavior for your children.  If you are sarcastic with your spouse, they will be sarcastic with each other.  If you yell at your spouse, they will yell at each other -- and you.
  • Emphasize family.  Tell them that we are a family, and we act like one.  We work together.  We play together.  We live in harmony with each other.  We don't say unkind words to each other because we're a family.  We treat our siblings better than or at least as good as our friends because we are a family and always will be.  Tell them about a good friend from elementary school that you rarely speak to, and remind them that your family will always be there.
  • Don't get angry when a child expresses something you think is ridiculous.  If a child expresses that he or she feels that a sibling is a favorite, sit them down and discuss what is probably a very real fear, albeit unfounded.
  • Use teachable moments.  If you are in a store or in someone's home, and siblings are acting poorly, ask them, later, if you think they were treating each other kindly.  Ask, "How do you think they should treat each other instead?" 
  • Be careful about the books and movies that come into your house.  Do not invite tv shows into your home that promote sibling rivalry as normal or funny.  If you see such behavior in a movie, pause the movie and ask your children if they are treating their siblings appropriately.  (We also do this when children are treating their parents disrespectfully.)
  • Teach them to protect and look out for each other.

    Above all, pray for your children and their relationship with each other.  Ask God for wisdom to help you where you need help.  Then roll up your sleeves, and do your part to help your children become friends.  Do not be discouraged if it takes a while.  Parenting is hard work and takes time and endless energy.  

And let us not grow weary of doing good, 
for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9 ESV

Note:  See Building Resentment Among Siblings here.


  1. Excellent post! I think we already do a lot of these things, but I need to be more intentional about it. Thanks so much!