Quenching the spark – aiming for sibling loyalty

There are memories that I can only share with my brother as he is the only one who experienced them with me.  We moved often whilst we were growing up. I can remember when I was 8 and my brother would have been 6. At this stage we had moved house 4 or 5 times. We were playing removalists and had taken as much stuff as we could out of the house and stacked it on the table on the back deck. This was our removalist truck and we were moving our belongings to a new house.

Did you know that studies show that our siblings may be the ones who help shape us the most?

Living in a family is practice for living in the outside world. If you learn how to get along with others in your family, you are learning great skills for all the other relationships you’ll encounter in life.

So how do we encourage sibling loyalty, rather than sibling rivalry?

Don’t play favourites: Much sibling rivalry is caused by competition for parents’ attention. When we play favourites or compare siblings to each other, we cause them to feel competitive and resentful toward each other. Feeling jealous of parents’ love for other children in the family can be a major cause of stress for a child. Be generous with hugs and affection to all your children. Love can never be shown in exactly the same way for every child but each child needs to feel sure of being loved.  

Protect the needs of each child: Prevent older children’s activities from being messed up by younger children and vice versa. Allow each child to own some special things that they don’t have to share. Children need their own bit of space which will not be interfered with by others, even if it is only a special drawer. For younger children, see that there is more than one of the same toy, such as Matchbox cars, so that they can play together without having to share. 

Together make ‘ground rules’ about what behaviours are not allowed in your home, eg no name calling or hitting. Then if you have to step in, you do so because someone has broken a rule that everyone knows about, and not to just ‘take sides’.

Recognise the power of your words: You will have experienced the fact that children copy what we do and say, using the same tone and mannerisms. This is why it is so important to use positive words and praise your children when they are doing the right thing, eg “I like the way you shared your cars with your brother.” Don’t let your children use words that hurt each other. When you can see that children are feeling upset, help them to find ways to express their feelings. For younger children, encourage play that helps with feelings, such as painting, water play and playdough. Talk with them about what helps them feel better.  

Let them work out their differences: Kids can have endless arguments about who started “it” or whose fault “it” is. When it is safe to do so, stay out of these arguments and let them work it out. Whenever we had to cut something in half or pieces for sharing, my Grandmother always got one person to cut the pieces equally and the others got to choose first. This way the cutter was more likely to cut equal pieces and there were less likely to be disputes.  

Spend time together: Family time builds family loyalty. You might include several “no-choice family activities” such as going to each other’s events (soccer, piano recitals etc) at least once a season. Even just time at home as a family without other children or adults around is great. My children used to play really well together if they were at home and we were having screen free time. They came up with all sorts of inventive games. This helps build the memories that only siblings can share.

Teach them to say “I’m sorry”: Although our children can often say this without much meaning it is still a valuable skill to learn. Sibling relationships are a great place to start learning this habit. It is also a time to teach the other party the importance of forgiveness.

Give them models of loyalty: I have often heard my friend say to her children when leaving an event “let’s go Team O” which is saying that “our family is a team and we stick together”. Hopefully our children see how we interact with others and can model that good behaviour as well.

Jillian Ross
Stafford MOPS Kids Coordinator

Jillian is married with 2 young adult children and has been blogging at www.feedmyfamilyblog.com for over 6 years.  On the blog, she writes about feeding the family in body, mind, heart & soul.  Jillian enjoys speaking at women’s groups & conferences about parenting and passing on faith to our children.  She is currently studying for a Graduate Certificate in Children and Families Ministry.


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