Building Family Relationships: Helping Siblings Bond

We all desire (or should) to build family relationships, and help our children tie heart strings with each other.  “Sibling rivalry” is so common that it’s tempting to just accept it. But though it is common, and I would even say normal, we shouldn’t actually accept it, as Christian families. I know, this is HARD!!!

It is possible and appropriate that siblings should share some of the tenderest, sweetest and most protective relationships of all.  But unless we understand this and are willing to do the hard work to cultivate it, we can expect nothing less than what comes naturally.

“It ought to make a young man’s heart exult to have a beautiful and noble sister to lean upon his arm and look up to him for protection, for counsel, for strong, holy friendship.  And a sister ought to be proud and happy to have a brother growing into manly strength, to stand by her side, to bear her upon his arm and to shelter her from life’s storms.  Between brother and sister there should be a friendship deep, strong, close, confiding and faithful.”  JR Miller

If you have children, I don’t have to tell you that they don’t have to learn how to sin.  Forget the pop-psychology junk of “we’re all born basically good”, ’cause we’re not.  We’re born sinners and we must spend a lifetime, with God’s grace, being transformed into His image.  A big part of a parent’s job is working daily to help their children as they become new creatures, conquer the old man.

It’s a choice we make: we can accept the status quo because it’s easier, or we can roll up our sleeves and commit to the hard, daily work in this garden of home life, trusting the Lord for a fruitful harvest in His time.

As you work through some of the following ideas, remind your children that they are a gift to each other, put in the same home to enjoy each other, and to live in a way that brings a pleasantness to their home and to those around them.

One basic way we shine as lights to a lost world is the demonstration of love we have for one another.

Set the standard and start early.

Children first need to understand what the standard for relationships is. We can hold up nothing less than God’s Word here, working it out each day and showing them its practical application in their dealings with each other.

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”  Philippians 2:3

When my 18 month old squeals because she doesn’t like something, I can’t expect her to know that isn’t the right response.  (But the Bible says that one who can’t control his spirit is worse than a city with broken down walls.  So that’s our starting point as we begin even to teach our littlest ones.)

I must tell her–a lot.  “No, don’t scream.  Say, ‘please’.” Get what I’m saying though–she doesn’t know, but that does NOT mean I just let it go.  This is a BIG, common mistake. Don’t wait until they “understand” because it’s earlier than you think.  Address it. Begin early, showing them where they must restrain and how to replace their natural reactions with right ones.

As they get older, they still need nudging all along.  Even address the little things (a look, a gesture, etc.) But again, the standard must be set. God’s Word must the reason for our training, not “you’re driving me crazy”, though that may be true.

Friendship is a given.

We often tell our children that they are not allowed to indulge in friendships outside of our home until they are friends with each other–and we try to enforce it. We emphasize (and remind ourselves!) that it is hypocritical to backbite your siblings and then demonstrate kindness to everyone else.

I often remind my kids, “He who desires friends must himself be friendly.”

The habit of kindness.

When unkind words are spoken, address it.  “Was that kind?  Are you preferring others better than yourself? Are you treating your brother the way you want to be treated?” Always pointing back to the Standard.

We ask our children to repeat wrong tones or harsh words in a kinder way. This helps them develop the habit. Even in times of anger–especially in those times, we need to help them develop self-control and express their feelings in a way that is not damaging to the other person. Being angry is not wrong; the we respond might be.

*(And might I just add here, if you’re reading this, imagining our home is one of only the softest tones and even Mom is always speaking gently and never losing her cool, STOP IT. This is a post to me as much as for me. This is the ideal. It’s NOT the norm every day, in any home, including mine. It’s something for us to aim for, but don’t feel discouraged because you blow it with your children. I DO TOO!)

Equipping them with appropriate verses they can repeat can be a great reminder:  “Pleasant words are a honeycomb…” Showing them, in their own behavior, what is not acceptable, and then helping them learn means for rightly coping with their frustration is the stuff of parenting.

Urge them to pray and ask the Lord to empower them.  Pray with them. While there is human effort involved in developing self-control and conquering the flesh, we have not been given a task that is too hard, without the promise of Christ’s power.

Power of Praise.

And don’t forget to praise the right responses when you see them–I mean REALLY praise them!

“Yes!!!  That is how the Lord would have us speak. Thank you for being so kind.  He sees it!  You were preferring your sister just now!”

Sometimes if an older one voluntarily plays with a younger sibling, I will pull him aside, throw my arm around his shoulder and just tell him what a blessing it is to see him maturing and how much it meant to that younger sibling.  The encouragement is probably the secret. Once you can get them to start planting the seeds of kindness, and then you weed out wrong attitudes and nurture the right ones, those seeds will grow and bloom.

“A full and complete family is one in which there are both brothers and sisters, and where all dwell together in tender love.”  JR Miller

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21 Responses to “Building Family Relationships: Helping Siblings Bond”

  1. Cathy says:

    I so completely agree with you. This is my heart. I need to remember that it is a daily training and not to give up 🙂 The rewards are so worth it!!

    Thank you!

    Cathy

  2. Linda says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  3. heather says:

    GREAT post full of wonderful Biblical advice and encouragement. I especially grabbed on to the importance of being friends to each other at home before being friends to others…. so KEY!!!!!
    Blessings!!

  4. ladyscott says:

    I’ll have to re-read this better later. I don’t have a lot of time right now. My oldest two(out of 3 so far) are not very good together. They fight a lot and my daughter screams and screams. Basically, due to a difficult pregnancy and longer recovery after giving birth to my 3rd and hubby being sent away for his job, I allowed the pop psychology of “age appropriate behavior” to rule. Instead of training my children up, especially my daughter, I just let her go figuring she’d grow out of it. Ummmm…..what could have been excused before is now inexcusable behavior. It didn’t diminish. It escalated and now I have quite a task set before me.

    Thank you for this article

  5. This is beautifully explained. And you are so very right, we must be intentional and we need to start early. There is a good teaching from Vision Forum on this principle that blessed us. I let my older ones listen and then we discussed it together. (http://www.visionforum.com/browse/product/?productid=58785)

  6. Deanna says:

    We must be diligently training our children from early on, this is the key.

    Children can learn to prefer one another and love each other!

    You spoke the truth in this post Kelly. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for this exhortation!

  8. Natasha says:

    I have two girls, they are one year apart. and they play together all day long, I pray that this continues easily because I want them to be the best of friends.

    My best friend has a little girl the same age and when all three little girls play together my youngest one always gets left out. What do i do? Not let them play together? They don’t see each-other often, maybe twice a month.

    Thankfully, my brother and I are the best of friends. I want this for my girls too.

    • Kelly L says:

      Natasha,
      Since your girls love to play together, I would start praising how your older daughter ‘looks out’ for her younger sister. Tell her how proud it makes you that she would not let someone be mean to her sister, or leave her out. Eph 4:32 is really good for this, as I am sure there are many others. Start planting the seeds of love and protectiveness preferring one another over other playmates.
      Praise what she already does (play well with her sister) and encourage it using examples of what she could do when you are with others.
      Disclaimer, I only have one child. But, she is so deferential to others that no one has ever believed she was an only child. Really. (To God be the glory!!)

      Beautiful post, Kelly! My daughter laments how her friends sometimes shut out their siblings. So much so, that she refuses to play with them anymore because she feels badly for the other kids.

  9. Kendal says:

    Thank you for this. Loved this post. One of the fantastic aspects of homeschooling is that my girls are “forced” to be together and learn together and play together.
    To see my girls loving one another, serving one another brings me such joy!
    Thank you for speaking such Truth!

  10. Tammy says:

    THANK YOU!!!! I so needed this! We have an adult child whenever they come home they treat their younger sibling with such meanness. When the younger sibling reacts in sin towards the older we discipline. The other day they younger said it wasn’t fair that the older sibling did not get disciplined. How do you deal with that? We are talking about an adult who does not know the Lord. We could really use some help with this. Thank you so much for this post!!!

    Love the idea of not pursuing outside friendships until your are friends at home first. So how do you incorrporate that in our situation when the younger is the only one at home? So appreciate the wisdom!

    • jjflamingoj says:

      Tammy, I am in the same sitution, where my oldest is not saved, and lives out of our home. I think you have to at least rebuke him (her) when they mistreat their younger sibling. It is your home, and your rules. Even though he is not saved, he must understand that your home is your sanctuary, and that goes especially for the younger sibling. He needs to feel safe and loved in his own home. Maybe he can see this as a sort of discipline for his older sibling. Also, you can explain to the younger one that you want to feel sorry for and pray for the older one since his heart has not been changed, and that although he is responsible for his actions, he does not realize that he is sinning. Even though you cannot “discipline” him, you can correct him, and he needs to be held accountable for his behavior.

  11. Kelly says:

    Wow, thanks so much for this post. Really made me think of on exhorting my children to get along better. My two oldest boys often bicker with each other. I’m going to work with them more and see if we can end the conflict. Thanks again!

  12. Male Health says:

    The heart of your writing whilst appearing agreeable originally, did not really sit well with me personally after some time. Somewhere throughout the sentences you were able to make me a believer but only for a short while. I however have a problem with your jumps in assumptions and you might do well to help fill in all those gaps. In the event that you can accomplish that, I will certainly be amazed.

  13. […] Help your children develop the habit of kindness. […]

  14. This was beautifully written!!! As an only child myself, I’m appalled that sibling rivalry is so acceptable in our culture. When I became a mom of my 2nd, a dear Christian mentor lovingly advised me to manipulate my kids into being best friends. “You can’t hit her … She’s your best friend!” it worked for years…until baby number three came along.

    Now that he’s two and old enough to play/interfere, there’s often an odd man out and it breaks my heart. The biggest piece of this post that I think I’ve overlooked is praising them for when it goes right. Too often, I just hold my breath and thank the Lord that my persistence is paying off. No more!!! I will public ally and privately praise and encourage the behavior. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this!!!

  15. […] Give a lesson on sibling relationships. […]

  16. Amber Courreges says:

    This is such an amazing post, I was an only child growing up and although my mother was not able to have more children after me my dad always said I would never bring another child into a world like this and it always made me sad that he never wanted me to have a play mate! I always said I would have a big family because I wanted the loud laughter, and craziness that comes from so many little ones in your home! Also I struggled in the past with the fact that I was jealous of the relatinoship my husband had with his sister because I never had that with anyone! Right now we have two kids and hoping for more in the future but with all that being said I have no idea how to raise siblings to love each other. Now my kids do love each other but I love how you teach them throught scripture and although my mom did the best she could having a non christian husband I can’t remember he actually using scripture to teach me the rights and wrong it was just don’t do it! I would love for you if you havn’t (I havn’t checked your store yet) to turn this into a book or a family bible study or what not so to be able to better use this with my kids mostly because I feel like this was an amazing post but I want to hear more about each item from you! THank you for reading this way to long comment!

    • Word Warrior says:

      Amber,

      Thanks so much for the suggestion! I actually have been praying about a new project–what the Lord would have me write (if anything) and this really prompts me to think!

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