Enough about sibling rivalry! What about strengthening sibling ties? When we focus on the negative in any relationship that's just what we get. The term "sibling rivalry" has become a mantra for many exasperated parents. We almost expect kids to compete for our attention, to bicker and tattle on each other. No family is without a certain amount of discord. But what if we focused on creating a sibling team rather than putting out the fires of sibling rivalry?

A seven-year-old girl, discussing her younger sister and herself, told me: "I think that God is having one big experiment. He put two people who are very different in one house to live and He wants to see what happens."

The following are some tips for facilitating family flow rather than friction in this "big experiment" of sibling relationships:

  • Encourage your kids to work as a team. Suggest they make pizza together every Sunday night, or put them in charge of recycling bottles and deciding how the return money is spent.
  • Step back and allow your children to create their own relationships apart from you. Catch yourself if you tend to micromanage their interaction.
  • When kids begin to squabble, don't become the referee. Come up with ways they can work out their own spats. One mother I know does more than just send fighting kids to their rooms. She asks them to stand in their bedroom doorways and talk out the problem. They aren't to return downstairs until they have worked it out. Standing in the doorway staring at each other leads to lots of interesting solutions -- all without parental input.
  • Disagreements and irritation are part of any relationship. Accept that negative feelings will surface and try to develop a built-in structure for dealing with them.
  • Don't expect automatic "brotherly love." It lessens the guilt associated with "Well, he's your brother: You should love him."
  • Spend one-on-one time with each child. This communicates, "Yes, we are a team, but you are special!" We all want to be loved for our unique selves.
  • Take the time to truly observe each of your children to discover their temperament and approach to the world. What makes their spirit sing?
  • Strive to meet a child's individual need when it arises. When one child is sick, he may need chicken soup and a back massage. That doesn't mean it's unfair that his brother doesn't get the special treatment. His turn will come.
  • It's our job to care for our children, not an older sister's or brother's. (Cain resented having to be his brother's keeper, and we know how that turned out.)
  • Remember that no family is perfect. The Bible illustrates some pretty messy family dramas, but woven throughout is the power of forgiveness.

    You can e-mail Mimi at MiDoe@aol.com.

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