A friend recently reached out to us asking if we had ideas of how to build sibling relationships. This is so challenging as parents! Though we for sure can’t give you a fix, we can share a few things we do to attempt to cultivate this.
Obviously, pray for God to bring this about. We’re totally out of control here, but He isn’t.
We make our kids share rooms. I was basically an only child (one brother almost a decade older), and I was a HORRIBLE roommate when I went to college. I had no idea how to deal with conflict because when it came, I just escaped to my room. Sharing means they’re either miserable all the time or they make up. We want our kids to see God designed us for community at an early age.
We practice Matthew 18 with them. If there’s conflict, our kids know there’s no point in coming to tell us about it right away. They know we’ll annoyingly ask them if they’ve talked to their sibling about it yet. As I’m sure you can imagine, they don’t usually initiate this one on their own! We tell them we’ll intervene only if the sibling doesn’t respond to being approached. Though especially with the younger ones, we still oversee the “private” approaching, too. They need coaching on how to do this. The only time we intervene right away is when someone is being harmed.
When we do step in to help with conflict, we cut our kids off if they try at all to talk about what their sibling did first. We tell them we only want to hear how they personally sinned against their sibling, even if they were mainly in the right. We’re trying to help them see they’re rarely fully a victim, and trying to help them see that they can’t possibly be sinned against as much as they’ve sinned against God the Father. The cross of Jesus shows the extent of their own sin. No brother or sister can sin more. Obviously we need the full story at some point, but we want them to practice taking the log out of their own eye before talking about their sibling’s speck.
Consequences and Disciplines
We remind our kids frequently that they’re each others’ best friends. We try to help them see that friendships will come and go through the years, but their relationship will always be there. Caring for Bill and me if we grow old, being aunts and uncles for each others’ kids, etc. We tell them nothing is worth breaking that relationship.
We have no problem taking away possessions or privileges if it fits the conflict. If the conflict is over a toy, for example, then we take away the toy. We instruct them that the conflict shows they love that toy more than the image bearer of God in front of them. And that’s a sign of idolatry. If it’s become an idol, it’s gone, at least for a while.
If conflict escalates and repentance isn’t coming, we usually put those kids together Parent Trap style. The little ones often wear one of Bill’s t-shirts with both their heads through the neck hole. This is great because even though they’re ticked about it in the beginning, they often start giggling at some point when they face a task that’s challenging to do in that situation. We’ve had them hold hands on walks no matter the age or sit together everywhere. All of this is to position the kids to seek our true end goal: reconciliation, instead of escaping or blame-shifting.
We really want our kids to find true reconciliation. This is more than just reconciliation with the sibling they’ve been squabbling with. It’s also about reconciliation toward God. Every sin committed toward another divine image bearer is primarily a sin against the Father himself. “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, [Lord].”
We make our kids ask forgiveness for the way they sinned against their sibling, but only after they’ve asked forgiveness from God first. We’re not OK with just a simple, “I’m sorry” to each other. We want them to confess their specific sins with their mouths and experience the magical, undeserved power of God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of their sibling. This is the essence of the gospel worked out in real life.
I hope some of that helps! We spend so much of our days dealing with conflict since our house holds twelve huge sinners. But we love all the gospel opportunities those conflicts bring about!