Some parents have children who get along great together. Others have children who are constantly fighting among themselves. If you are a parent of the second sibling set, you may be asking yourself, “how can I teach my children to get along?” When thinking about that question, I came up with a list of do’s and don’ts for encouraging healthy relationships between your children.
**Now, I want to make a note here that these tips will not work for every family and every child. There is a lot more to relationship dynamics than I’m going to get into here. Sometimes children will have personality clashes. There can be mental health or past trauma factors that change the way siblings interact. I believe that with the information I am giving you, you can help get things going in the right direction. However, I am not a professional and I cannot give you a cure for everything that may be happening in your family.**
In writing and thinking about this topic I have been reflecting on my own experiences. When my brother and I were young we would fight a lot. It was a unique relationship where we always stood up for each other to others, and did enjoy things together sometimes. But we did often fight, and those fights would sometimes get vicious and out of control. On the other hand, my own children get along better than most. They still fight at times, as all children will, but it seems to be a lot less than many children their age. To me, it seems my brother and I did not have a healthy sibling relationship for a long time. Yet my children do seem to have healthy relationships with each other.
What made the difference? How are my husband and I doing things differently than my own parents did? What strategies have I heard from other parents whose children have healthy relationships? This is where I get into the do’s and don’ts!
DON’T… Play favorites. I was daddy’s girl, my brother was mama’s boy. When we would see the favoritism happening, we would fight between us. We were jealous of the relationships the other had with that parent. We felt bitterness toward them and that parent, especially when it came to how discipline was handled and quality time was managed. Showing favoritism with any one child will cause tension in the relationships between them and their siblings.
DO… Love them all equally and treat them fairly. Chances are you have a child you get along with better than the others. There may be one that you have personality clashes with and have a hard time liking. Even then, you still have to be careful to show them love equally and treat them all fairly. That means things like not automatically assuming one of them is the one who starts the fights every time. Making an effort to spend the same amount of quality time with each of them. When it comes to discipline, make sure the punishment fits the crime, being careful not to be too lenient on the one you get along with best or too harsh on the one you don’t.
Don’t… Make them play together or be together all the time. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get tired of being with the same person all day every day! If they spend too much time together they are going to get sick of each other and fight more.
DO… Allow them to have time away from each other. Have them play in separate rooms. Put them on different sports teams or in different clubs. It may be convenient to have them doing the same things, but it’s not good for them.
DON’T… Micromanage all their interactions. It’s one thing to work with them to teach them to interact and solve problems. However, it’s unhealthy for parents to jump in and solve all their issues for them. This makes them too dependent on you and unable to interact without your counsel. Another part of this point is, don’t decide for them what they are going to play or do together, and for how long. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I’ve seen it happen. They will grow to resent you and their sibling(s) if they are given no say in what they are playing together.
DO… Allow them to work things out themselves. Only step in if it get’s violent or goes on for too long without resolution. Children need that room to learn, and practice, problem solving strategies and interpersonal communication. Also, give they time to free play together without an agenda or tight time constraints. Let them be creative and work together! Healthy relationships are built on these types of interactions!
DON’T… Discuss one child’s personal things with the other child(ren). Is your child struggling in school? Did they have a fight with a friend? Break up with a significant other? Don’t broadcast it to the whole family! Things like that come with the assumption of being kept in confidence between the two of you. Do not tell the other sibling(s) about it, even if they come to you and ask!
DO… Encourage the other sibling(s) to go to their brother and sister to ask for themselves. If they want to share, they can tell their story for themself. If not, they need to know it’s OK to keep things private and just say “I don’t want to talk about it right now.” Also, instead of filling everyone in on what’s happening, just be generic, letting them know so-and-so is upset right now. Encourage them to pray for their sibling and offer them a shoulder to cry on if needed.
DON’T… “Bible Bash.” Don’t use the word to shame and guilt your children into getting along.
DO… Teach them the word. Choose memory verses that highlight healthy relationships and how to achieve them. Read Bible stories together about dysfunctional sibling relationships and use them to bring up good vs. harmful choices. This focuses on building good character rather than chastising or punishing behavior.
DON’T… Compare your children to each other. Theodore Roosevelt gave us wisdom when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It not only applies to comparing ourselves to others, but in comparing anyone to anyone else! I have heard parents say things like, “Billy never talks back to me like that! You need to be more like him!” or “Your younger sister can write neater than you! Why can’t you do it?” Comments like these cause a lot of problems in the relationship between you and you child, and between the siblings. Comparing like that teaches them to compare themselves to others! It tells them that you prefer the other child and it looks like favoritism in their eyes. They will grow jealous and resentful of their sibling. It tells the child that their individuality is unappreciated and wrong. Comparing hurts your child and steals their joy.
DO… Teach them that their differences are good! God made everyone different from each other, and that uniqueness helps us all work together and compliment each other. Teach them about how we are one body with many parts (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Teach them that there will always be people that are better than them at certain things, and they will always be better than others at certain things, and it is not something to be concerned about either way. Encourage your children to do the best they can and not worry about how good others are doing with it.
Do you have a tough family dynamic between the children in your home? Do you have any other tips for encouraging healthy relationships between siblings? What wisdom have you gained from being a sibling, a parent, or a grandparent? Please share in the comments below!