#6 Minimize sibling rivalry. One of the values in our home when the kids were young was to go beyond just teaching our children to “get along”. We wanted to stretch them to the next level of actually enjoying and being an encouragement to each other. We did this through a variety of approaches; all designed to take the offensive in minimizing sibling rivalry.
First, we emphasized generosity over fairness in our home. We wore out the Quigley Village VCR tape of the parable of the landowner who hired laborers at different times of the day and then paid them each the same amount. The parable ends with the landowner saying, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:15). This emphasis on generosity over fairness took the wind out of so many situations where kids are apt to complain, “That’s not fair!”
Now, of course, we were not arbitrary or willy-nilly about dealing out privileges. At least once a Christmas season we spent a late night with all the children’s gifts laid out on the bed asking each other, “Do things look equal?” But at the same time, we had many situations that required flexibility. And because we were not locked into a fairness mindset these issues could be addressed with what was appropriate at the moment. For example, all of our kids did not receive their driver’s license on their sixteenth birthday as there were many individual aspects of that decision that came into play each time it was approached.
This emphasis on generosity over fairness removed some of the natural drivers that promote sibling rivalry. But don’t forget the generosity piece. It is the practice of generosity in our homes that makes our child’s natural concern about fairness diminish in importance.
Another thing we did to attack arguing or strife among our kids was a money exchange. Each child had a cup of coins ranging from quarters for the oldest to nickels for the youngest. When some argument between the kids escalated to complaining to Mom, she calmly listened. Then, because most cases don’t have a clear guilty party, she asked them to exchange coins from their cups. This put the larger incentive on the older child to resolve their differences which makes sense since they are expected to be the more mature sibling. It also fit the idea we have written about here of the older children being the pacesetter for the younger.
The goal here is the life long potential of siblings appreciating each other. And what evolved out of these efforts and God’s blessing was true friendship between our children. When it comes to sibling rivalry, the bottom line for us was to be forward thinking and find creative ways to stop it early. Being on top of the sibling rivalry challenges in your home does not mean being the rivalry cop who comes down on every situation. In fact, as you can see from the money exchange, we encouraged our kids to resolve their differences without us policing every issue. By God’s gift, the result for us has been a “rare and beautiful treasure” of family friendship.
#5 Nip the self-criticism. Words have power, even our own words to ourselves. And it is important to teach our children not to talk poorly about themselves. But wait a minute. Don’t we also want to instill a little humility into our kids? We don’t want them thinking too highly of themselves, do we? Welcome to the balancing act called parenting.
Yes, we want to teach humility to our children. And this is where – by knowing your child – you know which extreme they tend toward. But remember, humility is not a talented person thinking themselves unskilled, or a smart person thinking themselves foolish, or any other way we depreciate what God has given us. It is a false humility to deny God’s good gifts to us. True humility is not taking credit for these talents and gifts. True humility is not thinking ourselves inherently better than those around us. True humility is recognizing that all we have is a gift from God, not a product of any superiority on our part.
Our concern here is the Eeyore personality who wakes up in the morning focused on the negative including themselves. We must encourage cheerfulness, gratitude, and a healthy self-image. And one of the ways we build these qualities is to discourage negative self-talk. We also help that process along in our dinnertime chats by pointing out the positives we see in our children in front of the whole family.
Does this approach immediately change their personality? No, but seeing themselves as God’s “good design” sets the stage for receiving His affirming messages for the rest of their lives.
#4 Give everyone an opportunity to speak. It is natural for the conversation at your house to be dominated by the talkative types. Depending on the age range and personality of your children, it may take a purposeful effort on your part to get everyone in on the discussion. Children need to know that their thoughts are a contribution and be encouraged to join in.
One of the ways we drew our children into the dialogue at our house was to ask specific questions around the dinner table. One of our favorites was, “What was the high point of your day?” Or, “What was the low point of your day?” These conversation starters were a direct window into the hearts of our children. We often took time at dinner for all the kids to share their highs and lows, but we also had the flexibility to focus on one child if the seriousness of what they shared warranted a longer discussion. This approach also encouraged siblings to respond to these ups and downs in ways that lifted up their brother or sister.
Another opportunity to join the conversation was when we read the Bible together in the evenings before bed. One year, we read selected chapters in the Old and New Testaments to get an overview of Scripture’s message. When we finished reading the chapter, we would ask, “How would you summarize this chapter in ten words or less?” Sometimes we opened the question to the whole family and sometimes we asked it of one child that we knew needed to be heard. Our family worship time became a time of discovery around God’s Word, not just a lecture from Dad.
Giving everyone an opportunity to speak; it opens a door to understand, pray with, and teach your children.