“Mom! He’s touching me again.”
“But mom, she took my cars again.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen siblings fight the way they do,” my mother-in-law commented as I got in the middle of my younger two children again. And oh, she was so right. These two were gifted at bickering. They could even turn touching the car first into a fight. They even fought about breathing on each other. These two would put Jacob and Esau to shame I thought to myself as I pushed the kids away from each other and whispered, “Don’t make me get the ‘We will get along shirt’ out.” Both kids threw up their hands in surrender and retreated to their respective corners.
When my youngest was born, I assumed she would be a rough and tumble girl. After all, she and her brother were 24 months apart. But as they grew, they both turn everything into a competition or fight. At one point when they were five and seven, I had had enough. I pulled one of my husband’s old t-shirts out of the laundry and grabbed a sharpie. I wrote the words, “The We Will Get Along T-shirt Or Die Trying.”
Then I put both kids inside of the shirt. They had to wear it until they could get along and say three encouraging things about each other. Somedays the shirt was a miracle as the discipline tool ended up in fits of giggles. Other days, the kids wore it up to two hours before one of them waved the white flag and the other followed suit.
What Is Sibling Conflict?
Ask parents of more than one child, and chances are, they’ll tell you about the bickering and brawls that run between siblings. It will help you realize your children aren’t the only ones who can start World War III. Sibling rivalry, bickering, squabbling, arguing… call it what you will, it’s frustrating, upsetting, and mentally exhausting when your kids constantly fight with each other. A certain amount of bickering between siblings is normal and even necessary for your kids’ social and emotional development.
“Sibling conflict occurs because we’re selfish by nature,” says Susan Alexander Yates, author of And Then I Had Kids and And Then I Had Teenagers. “It’s very natural for siblings to have a hard time getting along. I think parents are shocked at that, but they have to remember we’re all selfish and self-centered.”
Sibling wars are caused by self-centeredness, foolishness, and anger. Yes, it is normal for siblings to fight. It is our own fleshly response to want our way. So, what is a parent to do? How can parents keep their cool?
Does God ‘Get’ Why Siblings Fight?
The good news is this—God understands. He knit your children in the womb and he knows their personalities, what makes them tick, and who exactly would be their siblings. Psalm 139:13 reminds us, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
At some point, every Christian has to learn to control their own selfish desires and put the needs of others first—siblings included. This is the lesson we need to teach our kids—It doesn’t matter if the person is a sibling or not, we are going to come up against rivalry frequently in our lives. As parents, it’s our job to help our children learn to deal with these situations, not ignore them. And God gets this. He reminds us we are to train up children in the way they should go. What does this mean? It means we are partnering with God to instill Godly behavior, a love for his Word, and help our children grow into the person God meant for them to be. Because God created our children this way, he knows their weaknesses and strengths—even when it comes to sibling rivalry.
What Are Examples of Sibling Fights in the Bible?
There are so many examples of sibling rivalry in the Bible. Some of the stories make our kids bickering over the remote sound like a walk in the park. The Old Testament is filled with sibling rivalry drama and examples of how not to treat your brother. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers.
Cain vs Abel – Cain murdered his own brother because God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. It was a matter of Cain’s heart as to why God didn’t accept his offering. Regardless, Cain grew jealous and killed his brother.
Joseph vs. His Brothers –Jacob apparently didn’t learn any lessons from the favoritism his parents played. He favored Joseph over his other siblings. His brothers were so hurt and jealous they had planned to kill him. Instead, they took advantage of the opportunity and sold him in slavery. Because God favored Joseph because of his faithfulness, he not only saved an entire nation from famine, but he also forgave his brothers after becoming second in command in the nation.
Jacob vs. Esau—It isn’t uncommon for siblings to fight for their parents’ attention and love, but these two fought for not only their parent’s attention but for the blessings that come being the oldest. God had made it clear that Esau (the older sibling) would serve Jacob and that Jacob was the chosen one. Yet their father, Isaac, chose to bless Esau and Jacob’s mother arranged for Jacob to receive the blessing by deceit. This fight ended twenty years later.
The Prodigal Son vs His Brother – A father had two sons. The elder was well behaved. The younger was spoiled and demanded his inheritance. He left his father’s house and squandered every last penny on wild living until he was so broke, he was living with pigs. The younger son returned home, and his father was so grateful for his return and change of heart, he threw a big party. Yet the older son resents the attention, blasting his father for never honoring him after all his years of obedience.
The Bible is also filled with examples of siblings working together too. In the book of Exodus, we come across Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, a set of siblings who, for the most part, got along. When baby Moses was sent into the Nile, it was his sister Miriam who waited by the bulrushes to ensure his safety. Decades later, Moses and his brother Aaron worked side by side, leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery … together! These three still had their ups and downs too but they worked towards the common goal of pleasing the Lord.
10 Ways to Deal with Sibling Fights with Grace
So, what is a parent to do when their children are fighting? How do parents handle sibling fights with grace? Here are a few tips.
Do hold everyone responsible for their actions. Hold every child responsible for their part in the situation. If Elijah hit Tori because Tori smacked 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. No matter the situation, hold everyone responsible.
Do remove the problem. If something becomes a problem. Remove it. For example, they’re fighting on which show to watch, there is no TV that day.
Remember they are kids. Before you react, remember they are just kids. They need you to model, teach, and encourage them how to be better people—to their siblings and others.
Don't ever compare your kids to each other or to any other child. Remind each child you parent them the way they need to be parented, even if doesn’t seem fair.
Teach your children anger is a reaction to hurt or fear. Anger should never be used to resolve issues or get their way. Nor is it a reason for their reactions. Acknowledge that underlying feelings are always more effective to diffuse anger than simply labeling the anger, which just seems to reinforce it.
Do make sure your kids each get enough personal space. Kids should not have to share everything, or even most things. If they share a room, see if there is a way to change that. If not, paint a line down the middle of the floor, and set the furniture up to define two separate spaces.
Do teach them how to use the Fruit of The Spirit. When a situation arises, ask them which fruit is best to implement in the situation. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law,” Galatians 5:22-23.
Do give lots of individual attention. Kids who feel loved and accepted for who they are will be less likely to fight.
Enforce standards of respect in your home. Go over a set of rules and why all of you are putting those rules in place. These standards are non-negotiable. Set up an expectation that if anyone forgets or violates the rules, they need to “Repair” the damage they've done to that relationship.
Do encourage teamwork and interdependence. Remind your kids they are teammates for life and find ways to cultivate these relationships.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Heather Riggleman is a believer, wife, mom, author, social media consultant, and full-time writer. She lives in Minden, Nebraska with her kids, high school sweetheart, and three cats who are her entourage around the homestead. She is a former award-winning journalist with over 2,000 articles published. She is full of grace and grit, raw honesty, and truly believes tacos can solve just about any situation. You can find her on GodUpdates, iBelieve, Crosswalk, Hello Darling, Focus On The Family, and in Brio Magazine. Connect with her at www.HeatherRiggleman.com or on Facebook.