Updated: Mar 9
If you have more than one child, especially if they are close in age, you know all about the types of struggles and basic unrest that may exist from time to time in your family. The very word “Rivalry” means competition. The first step in learning how to handle this situation in our homes is to understand why we feel we are in competition in the first place!
You see, every one of us was created with a very basic need to feel loved, accepted, and valued JUST AS WE ARE. Whether you follow Jesus or not, this is true of you!
There are ways we try to get this need met - by being good enough, looking a certain way, excelling in school or sports or playing an instrument…but the bottom line is that when our children are looking for unconditional love from us, they soon begin competing with each other for it!
First, we need to understand that our children have this need - just like us - and
NEXT, we need to help them understand it!
While this is a difficult concept for very young children to grasp, it’s important to start talking about it when they are young, so as they grow physically and in maturity, they can understand more and begin to verbalize it themselves. Often we aren't even aware we are feeling badly, but everyone around us sure is!
So what does that look like? Well, it starts by you NOTICING when your child is feeling frustrated or angry with her sibling and MAKING A GUESS at the need or desire she has that isn’t being met.
If she says, “I hate my baby sister! Can’t she go back where she came from?” You recognize that she may be feeling left out and that’s the only way she can express it. Sometimes we’re tempted to say, “You don’t really feel that way.” Or “You don’t hate the baby, you LOVE her!”
Instead, reframe it by saying, “You really wish I could give you all my attention right now, and your baby sister has been taking up a lot of my time. That’s hard.”
When two children are fighting over a toy and one ends up crying, we may be tempted to throw the toy in the trash so NO ONE can have it, but instead you try: “You really wanted your brother to share the toy with you and he didn’t. That hurt your feelings.”
Which brings us to the third point: Family Expectations. In our home, we had family guidelines around rough-housing: No hitting in the face and rough-housing was OVER once someone said, "Stop!" That had the added benefit of them being able to practice "mean what you say and say what you mean" AND for others to respect your words. Stop means stop!
I know someone who has a "Family Guideline" in which you cannot ask for something that someone else is using until they are done with it. She says that, as adults, imagine you were just given a photo album to look at and someone immediately says, “Can I see?” We would consider that to be rude. Of course, saying, "Oh! Can I see when you're done?" would be acceptable.
Here are some other examples of “Family Rules to Keep Us Safe” to help children relate well with their siblings and others in their lives:
#1 Use only names or loving nicknames (no "butt-face" is not a loving nickname)
#2 Use only gentle touches
#3 Use self-controlled voices...unless the house is on fire 🤪
So, what family guidelines could you develop? How about take three deep breaths before responding? Or if you’re going to tell a sibling something they did wrong, you have to “sandwich it” by starting and ending by telling them something you love about them or something they did right.
This fourth point is to encourage you if you are going through a particularly tough season with your kids not getting along well:
The kids you have are no mistake!”
They may not have been planned by YOU, but it is no accident that you have the kids you have and that they have the brothers or sisters THEY have.
Our boys and I have talked about as they grow and their interests and friends are very different, that they may be tempted to think, “Well, he’s not even REALLY my brother” because they don’t share blood. However, we absolutely believe GOD put our family together and thoughts like that are absolutely from the enemy!
So remember, and remind your kids, that the family we have, we were given for a purpose. Maybe God allowed you to have a child with a special need or a brother to have a sister with a disability to allow you to suffer through challenges to gain compassion that you may not have been able to otherwise.
It also goes a long way to remind your kids that their siblings are going to be their siblings for LIFE. Friends can come and go, but you are bound to spend the rest of your life (in some way) celebrating milestones, holidays, and so on with your siblings - those relationship roots start now!
Fifth and finally, circling back to our first point about understanding our basic needs:
Spend one-on-one time with your children:We need to make sure we are carving out one-on-one time with each of our children on a regular basis. It's easy when they are younger - they seem to simply NEED you more. However, even my 13 and 14 year old teenage boys crave not only one-on-one time with Dad, but with me as well!
Maybe when you put your child to bed, have “Talk Time” for 5 - 10 minutes with just the two of you once or twice a week. This is a time when your child directs the conversation and you simply listen or answer their questions. Using this intentional time to build connections with your children will go a long way in helping them cooperate with you - and each other!
Remember, that CONNECTION CREATES COOPERATION! It goes so far in strengthening your individual relationships and collective family relationships.
I would LOVE IT if you left a comment on this article or on YouTube after watching the video to let me know how this has helped you!
#ConnectPointMoms helps you create stronger relational connections with the children in your life. This starts with being aware of your own stuff so you can BE PRESENT with your children in the moment you're in, and then knowing and using the best ways to communicate with them!
Some books that have helped along the way: