“He hit me,” she whined from down the hallway. “You hit me first,” he jeered back at her.
I have to admit that I employed my wisest of motherly techniques and tried to hide from the impending tornado, but it didn’t work. The two came barreling down that hallway toward me, shouting every kind of nasty word on the way. Each was certain that I would come to their rescue, yet not surprised that I answered the same way I always do.
Do you have a go-to answer for resolving sibling conflict? Or do you find yourself helplessly drowning in the sea of sibling squabbles?
I can remember as a young parent having someone tell me that sibling rivalry was “normal” and that there was little you could do about it as a parent. Of course, back then I was too naive to really have a good response for that person, but I still knew in my heart that this kind of behavior couldn’t be acceptable.
Yes, it is normal for siblings to fight. It is our own fleshly response to want our way. This selfishness is something we all battle. So yes, sibling fighting is normal. But should it be ignored and chalked up as something that we as parents can do nothing about?
Of course not! Every Christian has to learn to control their own selfish desires and put the needs of others first. It doesn’t matter if the person is a sibling or not, we are going to come up against rivalry or discord frequently in our lives. As parents, it’s our job to help our children learn to deal with these situations, not ignore them.
So, what was my answer to that squabbling pair who came barreling at me?
I won’t even pretend to have all of the parenting answers, especially when it comes to sibling relationships. But I can share 5 simple ways to help stop the squabbling. These are ways that I use every single day in my home and once you read them, you’ll know exactly how I answered my kids that day.
5 Ways to Stop Sibling Rivalry
1. Don’t negotiate the blame
The very first thing the children want to do in a conflict is blame each other AND have mom/dad put blame on the other sibling. Do NOT allow them to do this. It’s an age-old trick from back in the day of the garden. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. The enemy has been using the blame game to lure us into sin and to destroy families for centuries. Don’t allow it.
When conflict arises, the first thing I teach my kids to do is to figure out what THEY did wrong. Did they say or do something to cause the other person to feel hurt or upset? Did they forget to put something away that caused someone to trip? Is there anything they can do right now to solve the problem so it’s no longer an issue?
All of these questions are good, but the last one is typically a game-changer. In a situation of conflict, even if we are not to blame at all, there is typically something we can do to diffuse the tension.
2. Everyone is responsible
Tightly linked to #1, hold every child responsible for their part in the situation. If Johnny hit Katie because Katie hit him first, who is in trouble? BOTH of them. Since hitting is never allowed, there is no grace extended for the person who hit out of retaliation.
Before you throw up your hands crying injustice, don’t forget that the adult life is like this. There may be some grace extended if you were provoked, but if you beat up the soccer coach because he called your kid a nasty name, trust me, you are the one going to jail.
I also take this a step further and hold everyone present responsible for not intervening in the situation. I do this primarily for my older kids. Should they sit by and watch their younger siblings punch each other? Absolutely not! They need to get involved and help troubleshoot before it gets that far.
3. Remove the problem
So this might seem obvious, but if something is a problem for your children, remove it. If they can’t get along while choosing a movie, there’s no movie that day. If the little guys are fighting over a dump truck, the truck will need to go in mom’s safe keeping garage. The Bible says that if your hand is causing you to sin, you should cut it off.
Now please, don’t take that to mean I want you to cut off your kids’ hands. haha. But you get the idea. Get rid of the item that is causing the issue. If your kids are younger, 20-30 minutes might be a good time frame for the toy’s time out. If your kids are older (say 8-12), it might be a whole day or even a week. Make the penalty fit the crime. If it’s often argued over, more time might be needed.
4. Have a firm sharing policy
This is possibly some of the best parenting advice I was ever given in those early years. From the beginning, I never talked about toys or things in our house as belonging to one particular person. We share them. We share the computer, the couch, the toys, and even the dishes. There is very little that isn’t shared. (By the way–so glad we share the dishes.)
Our toys are placed in a central location so everyone can enjoy them. This gives everyone the idea that we are indeed sharing them. As my children got older and began to have specific interests, I began to allow them to have special things, but still always with the preface that we need to share the gifts that are given to us. For example, my oldest loves model horses. They tend to break easily and her younger brother could harm them. So, he is allowed to play with them ONLY if they are playing together and she is watching him and guiding him to care for the toys.
5. Help children establish their own space
This one sounds kind of funny after the “sharing policy” mentioned above, but bear with me. We all need designated space. We need a place where we can go if we need a few minutes without our 3-year-old brother poking us in the back. The older your children get, the more you will notice this need.
Take some time and help them establish their own space. It might be their own room or it might just be their own bed. Wherever it is, they can go there and expect peace. Help them establish boundaries for their siblings that need to be respected.
For example, my girls now have their own rooms. Their younger brothers are still allowed to enter the rooms (I will not allow them to say no to this). However, they ask that their brothers not enter unless they knock and wait to be invited in. This keeps them out of the special toys and things that are precious to the girls, but also reminds everyone that we are a family who loves each other.
We don’t want to exclude anyone from our space on a regular basis, but I definitely want each child to have a safe place to go when they need a minute to regroup.
So that’s it. Not a fool-proof miracle pill for helping your children to decrease the number of sibling squabbles, but all 5 of these are workable and real solutions to an on-going problem. Just remember that point. The conflict between siblings is an ongoing problem because our selfish desires will always be an ongoing problem this side of Heaven.
Remember to extend grace to your children and always be discipling them as they learn to love their siblings the way God intended. If you would like a resource that will help you walk your children through what the Bible says about siblings, I’d love to share my newest study with you.
My Brother’s Keeper is a Biblical study of the sibling relationship. It introduces the concept of siblings and families from God’s perspective, teaches our responsibility as a sibling, and gives practical help for resolving conflict. I can’t wait to share it with you!