How do we discourage sibling rivalry and introduce a more loving and cooperative atmosphere into our home? I know this behavior is normal up to a point, but I can't help feeling that there are moments when it verges on becoming seriously destructive. What can my spouse and I do to teach brotherly love?
You're right in assuming that it's "normal" to a certain extent. After all, sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Abel and as legendary as Cinderella. But "normal" isn't necessarily "good." Sibling rivalry can also be deadly. Remember King Lear and his daughters?
What can be done about it? Is there anything parents can do to confront the problem in a practical way? The answer is yes. They should realize that battles are probably inevitable, but they should move beyond this realization by taking steps to head conflicts off at the pass and equipping kids to defuse potentially ugly situations.
Start by teaching respect. Don't allow your children to insult each other. Words are extremely powerful, and snide comments can hurt deeply. Experts say that it takes at least five positive remarks to counterbalance every negative comment we receive. So don't allow kids to beat up on each other verbally. Show them the meaning of mutual respect and appreciation.
Next, avoid playing favorites. Jacob favored Joseph in the famous Old Testament story. Any student of the Bible is familiar with the tragic result. Remember that all children are created equal, but not all children are the same. Recognize and praise each child's individual skills, strengths and accomplishments without implying that one child is somehow better than another.
You can also do a great deal of good by intentionally teaching conflict-management. Don't deny or minimize a child's feelings. Instead, help him learn to express emotions in an appropriate way. If you see him acting out of jealousy, encourage him to identify the emotion by saying, "I understand that you feel bad because …" or "I know you hurt because …" By helping your children figure out the causes of their actions, you'll go a long way towards equipping them to deal with problems and conflicts in the future.
Through it all, make sure that you don't ignore good behavior. Attention-starved kids will be happy to settle for negative attention if they can get it. Don't reinforce that impulse. Instead, if you notice your children playing nicely together, make a point of mentioning it. Reward them with praise. Be sure each child receives adequate parental interest and lots of quality time with both you and your spouse.
You should also be careful to express appreciation for who your child is, not what he does. If a kid is taught to attach his personal worth to a certain standard of performance, he'll constantly feel the need to prove himself. It's far preferable to praise a child for his God-given traits and qualities – for example, compassion, joyfulness, or a tender heart. If parents take time to foster self-esteem, children will learn to respect themselves. And when they respect themselves, they'll understand what it means to respect other people.
Finally, model loving and brotherly behavior in your interactions with others. Children imitate what they see, so examine the example you're setting. Do you compete with your siblings? Do you and your spouse know how to manage your conflicts in a healthy, positive way? If you take some time to monitor your own actions, you'll be better prepared to show your children how to get through the scourge of sibling rivalry and emerge the best of friends.
If you'd like to discuss these concepts at greater length, call us. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone for a free consultation.