Have you ever said to your kids, "You two fight like cats and dogs!" Is that true or do they just fight like normal brothers and sisters? Now ask, do your children know how to resolve, forgive and grow from their fights?

There are many examples of brothers and sisters who never learn how to resolve sibling conflict. The Bible tells us about Cain and Able, whose relationship is filled with jealousy and anger and ends in tragedy (Genesis 4). Sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, were born 15 months apart. Both sisters were famous; they are the only sisters who both won best actress Oscars. But sadly, the beautiful and successful sister's childhood rivalry was so intense that even into adulthood, they refused to attend the same event or even talk to each other. Joan Fontaine died at 96 years old, still not talking to her 97-year-old sister.

Siblings fight; your challenge as a parent is to help your children develop a positive, strong sibling relationship. We first learn how to play together, how to communicate, how to handle anger and aggression, and how to work together by interacting with our siblings. As with learning any skill, this process will include mistakes, requires practice, and, yes, may consist of some conflict.

You often hear that sibling rivalry comes from competing for parental attention. That may be a contributing factor; however, the most fundamental issue is that sibling interaction involves limitations being set and the loss of control. Our human nature dislikes limits and revolts against loss of control. Really, who likes it when we can't get what we want? Your parental role is to help your children build these relationship skills. Here are some practical examples of building these skills.

Building the foundation for a positive sibling relationship starts with talking with your children. Talk to your older child about how excited you were when you were expecting them. This reinforces in your child's mind his/her importance in the family while modeling how to receive the new child with joy. Help your child build healthy expectations about life with a sibling. Talk about how much work new babies are; the conversation should build an understanding of what life will be like with a new younger sister or brother. Start talking about age-appropriate ways your child can help with the new baby. Help the older child feel privileged to help you with small baby-care tasks.
As the baby grows, it is normal for the baby to be fascinated with their older siblings, observing their every move. Show the older child how the baby watches them. When the baby learns to smile, giggle, and clap, encourage the older child to play games with the new baby.

As the children get older, continue to create situations where enjoyment can come from cooperating together. As parents set a task and offer a reward. For example: "If you two put the toys put away together before the timer rings, I'll read you a story." Or, "This morning, our family's job is to clean the kitchen. Jane is going to load the dishwasher, Peter is going to wipe the counters off, I am going to put away the food, and Dad is going to take out the garbage. What a great team!"

You can also provide situations that model how to be considerate and kind towards each other. For instance, before a birthday, ask the siblings, "How would you make your brother's birthday special? What do you think he'd like?" Or, when one sibling is ill, ask, "How do you think we could help your sister feel better? I know she really loves it when you read her stories."

A blessing of a sibling relationship is shared memories. These memories can include the sense of achievement from learning things together. As parents, take and make opportunities to build positive bonds between your children. These relationship bonds with help your children deal with the inevitable conflicts in their relationship.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1


Author's Bio: 

Cheryl Gowin and Dennis Gowin are counselors at Discovery Counseling. Both have Masters in Professional Counseling.