Rivalry and Unity
Getting Along With Siblings
Posted by Hal in Christian Living, Family Life

Hal and Melanie SugarLoaf Web (c)2009If you have siblings, you probably have rivalry. It’s a natural, human thing, and it’s plain from Scripture that it’s an expression of our fallen human nature. Think about Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers … and that’s just in Genesis. It’s a problem–and something God wants us to deal with it. Look at Proverbs 6:16-18:

These six things the LORD hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look, A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.

Besides the sin issue, rivalry between siblings makes our home into a battlefield and wrecks the peace of our daily life. What can we do about this?

Make sure our parenting isn’t part of the problem. Part of the reason of Joseph’s breach with his brothers was his father Jacob’s clear favoritism toward him (Genesis 37:3-4). Favoritism doesn’t have to look like Cinderella’s wicked stepmother – our kids may see it in our facial expressions, how much patience or grace we show (or don’t show) toward one, or if we seem to choose sides for no good reason. (We may need to carefully and privately explain why the little brother seems to get protected from bigger siblings – and be sure we deal with little brother’s misbehavior appropriately, too).

Draw a firm line on bullying and pestering. Bullying is when a person uses his advantage to oppress someone smaller, weaker, or unable to defend himself. It’s marked by cruelty, and that has no place in our family. However, watch out for little siblings who have figured out that Mom or Dad will run to the rescue when they squawk … who hide behind this “protection” to goad older siblings into some mischief. This sort of pestering is bullying in reverse, using your relative weakness against stronger siblings.

Be sure to get the whole story before you take action. It’s easy to respond swiftly when a youngster cries, “My big brother hit me!” but we’ve found that’s seldom the whole story. The dialog is more often along these lines:

Little: “My brother hit me!”
Parent, to Big: “Why did you hit your brother?”
Big: “He threw my book down the stairs.”
Parent, to Little: “Why did you throw his book down the stairs?”
Little: “I wanted him to play a game with me, and he just kept reading!”
Parent: “Aha.”

Usually we discover that someone caused a minor offense, and his victim decided to escalate the disagreement rather than overlooking a matter (Proverbs 19:11). By the time parents are called into the argument, both sides have broken rules and offended one another – and both sides could have stopped the argument at many points.

Teach them how to work out disagreements honorably. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus taught His disciples that two people in conflict should try to resolve it privately. If that doesn’t work, a witness can be called in – someone who knows or saw what was going on. And if that doesn’t work, then it’s time to call in authority – the law, the church, the teacher, the parent – not before.

This has a side benefit in family life—frequently, we find the kids will have an argument, then run to Mom or Dad for support instead of talking it through. “I’m gonna tell!” is a catch-phrase for childhood. But if we listen to the complaint, and then ask, “Did you talk with your sister first?” nearly always the offended child will shuffle her feet and say, “Well, no …” At that point, we remind her of the process in Matthew 18 and send her back to try again with the offender. And usually, they figure it out!

Want more ideas for dealing with sibling rivalry? We talked about it on episode 91 of our podcast, Making Biblical Family Life Practical — CLICK HERE TO LISTEN!

Next: Some positive ideas for building unity, not just dealing with bad behavior …



“The Brother Offended Checklist” by Pam Forster (Doorposts). This cartoon-style poster will help your kids visualize the steps of resolving a conflict. (It’s a good reminder for grown-ups, too) We kept our copy on the refrigerator door for years!

The Peacemaker and The Young Peacemaker by Ken Sande (Peacemaker Ministries). The original book has helped Christians sort through conflicts in church life, family, business, and community. The “young” version uses examples that children and youth can quickly connect. We read through The Young Peacemaker as part of family devotions during a time with a lot of conflict among the kids, and it was a big help.

Cover - MBMFMy Beloved and My Friend by Hal and Melanie Young. We devote a whole chapter on the idea that every argument is not worth having, and there are Biblical ways to resolve disagreements so both sides are satisfied. You can’t get everything you want, but it may be possible to reach a fair compromise.

“How To Fight So You Both Win” (workshop download) – We talk about the conflict-resolution principles we explain in My Beloved and My Friend. The same principles work for sibling rivalry and for adult conflicts, too.