Sibling Rivalry? Sorry, don’t buy that, either.


“Don’t read any of those horrible ‘I hate the new baby’ books to your children,” the article said.  The author, an older mom with several children, seemed to believe that expectation creates reality and warned that new moms can unintentionally create sibling rivalry with the arrival of a new baby that wouldn’t have existed, otherwise.  My husband and I took her advice to heart and adjusted our expectations.  Sibling rivalry was not going to be considered “normal” in our house.

I’ve been planning to write about this subject for a while now, and while looking through some articles online regarding sibling rivalry, I found this little gem on wikipedia:

David Levy introduced the term “sibling rivalry” in 1941, claiming that for an older sibling “the aggressive response to the new baby is so typical that it is safe to say it is a common feature of family life.”

Interesting.  For a response supposedly so typical that it’s considered “a common feature of family life,” we’ve managed to avoid any of our children having an “aggressive response” to a new baby five times, and if the current anticipation and excitement in our house is any indicator, soon to be six.

Have we been lucky?  I don’t think so.  I think we’ve always expected our children to get along, and so they have.  I can’t say how often I’ve heard parents, in resignation, say regarding their children: “well, they’re going to fight, that’s just what siblings do” or “brothers and sisters aren’t supposed to get along until they’re older.”  WHAT?  NO!  That’s just what they do if we expect them to do it, and let them get away with it!  That’s how they’ll act if we allow them to act that way!  So-called “sibling rivalry” isn’t cute and it isn’t a “stage of development.”  It’s a sinful behavior rooted in selfishness and I believe it should be treated as such – not coddled and overlooked but dealt with as we would deal with any other negative behavior our children display which has the potential to harm them, if ignored.  The term “brotherly love” is often referred to in the bible as an example of how we should treat one another.  I can’t help but think God had something better than our current standard in mind when he referred to love between siblings.

My kids aren’t perfect, but I can say truthfully and wholeheartedly that they love each other, and they’re all best friends.  This morning, my youngest son, who was awake ahead of his sisters, asked me: “Momma, when it’s first thing in the morning, can I play with my bow and arrow set, and with Pookey (“Pookey” is our nickname for the youngest)?”  During chore time, my third daughter volunteered to help the oldest with her chores, and earlier today two of the girls at different times found stray pieces of candy and asked what I wanted them to do with it.  I told them they could either eat it, or give it to anyone they chose.  They both, independently of one another and without knowing the other had also found candy, chose to give them away.  I think these examples, all occurring before 9:30 in the morning, illustrate my point nicely.  :)  (In all fairness, we’ve also had two arguments that weren’t “rivalry” related.)

So all that isn’t to say that everything is rainbows and lolipops in our household, the kids do argue and they fight over toys occasionally, but never, ever, have my children accused me or my husband of favoring one of them over another.  None of my children have ever dreaded a new baby coming.  None of my children have ever tried to cut another child down to make themselves look better, or called each other names.  It is extremely common in our home for one of the kids to come running to tell me about something kind their sibling did (“Momma!  Guess what was loving and serving of Bundle!!!  She let me…”)  And although the children do argue over toys occasionally and “pester” each other once in a while, sharing is much more common than arguing and hugging is much more common than fighting.  Coincidence that my kids get along so well?  With two, I might be tempted to believe so.  With six, I’m inclined to disagree.

I don’t write this to brag, but to encourage parents who are pulling their hair out over their children’s “sibling rivalry” that there IS a better way, and we don’t have to stand by and accept what this society says is “normal” as our standard.  So what have we done, to maintain such a peaceful, harmonious household (I’m being a little tongue in cheek here)?  To be honest, I can’t pinpoint exactly what we’ve done, that’s led to our children getting along so well, but I think our expectations have played a huge role, and have been a starting point for everything else we’ve experienced with them.

Here are some of the things we’ve done, in light of that expectation, that I think have contributed to the lack of “sibling rivalry” in our home:

1. We have never allowed them to read a book or watch a movie that has portrayed sibling rivalry, or selfish or rude behavior among children (or adults, for that matter.)  My kids have never watched Little House on the Prairie (thank you, Nelly Oleson for ruining an otherwise lovely show for us), Sesame Street (Oscar the Grouch) or Mr. Rodgers (Lady Elaine.)  Modern movies like Toy Story or Shrek are obviously out of the question and it seems that every other modern book we find at the library is filled with kids rebelling against parents, fighting with other children, or displaying negative attitudes over just about everything.  We have no desire to set up these kinds of behaviors as examples for our children to follow, so we just don’t read/watch them (also listed as reason number 1,926 for homeschooling and limiting their interactions with other children.)  I think largely because of this, it has never even occurred to children to call each other names or ridicule one another.

2.  We’ve made our toys communal (something else we have another mom to thank for!), and the only things that “belong” to anyone specific are special items given to specific children for particular reasons.  Because of this, we rarely have problems with this one wanting to play with that one’s red fire truck or block set.  Once they’re old enough to have special items of their own, sharing is pretty natural to them (that’s not to say they never act selfishly, but to say that we don’t have the same kinds of problems with this I often hear other moms complain of.)  There are very few things that our children won’t allow each other to play with and those few off-limits things are very special or breakable (my oldest daughters journal, for instance, or my second daughter’s glass figurines.)

3.  We don’t allow them to “compete” with each other in negative ways.  “I have a bigger bowl than you.  I can run faster than you.  I have more cars than you,” etc.  That isn’t to say they shouldn’t acknowledge who is faster (they get a big kick out of “racing” each other,) but the acknowledgement should be just that – recognizing who is fastest, or tallest, or whatever.  It’s not to be thrown around in a sing-songy, antagonistic voice or with an attitude meant to portray that being the fastest or having the most makes them somehow better.

4. We don’t strive to be “fair.”  I wrote an entire article about this, which you can read by clicking Here.  I think it’s largely because of this that our children don’t normally fuss if I give someone else a few more candies (I’ve never counted out M&M’s or jellybeans when passing them out to the children), or if I buy a new outfit for one child and not another.  We’ve also been working on helping the kids be happy for their siblings if they get a special privilege, such as going to a photo session with mommy.  Usually, when it’s time for Daddy to go to the store and he can take one or two of the kids with him, we let the kids work out amongst themselves who will go.  Technically, they have turns (I guess there are SOME things we try to be “fair” about!), but almost always someone will give up their turn to let another sibling go, instead.

5. We put HUGE emphasis on kindness and have actively taught our children to be “loving and serving” toward one another.  We whisper ideas of how they can serve their siblings in their ears and watch as they delightedly run to implement our suggestion.  We teach them to give the biggest portion of the treat to a sibling and give major praise to selfless behavior, such as giving up a turn to go to the store.  The best way to earn praise around our house is to do something nice for someone else, and the kids respond to that!

6.  We’ve simply not allowed selfishness or any other “sibling rivalry” type behaviors in our home.  If I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing as a parent (and I admit that I’ve been woefully neglectful at times), then I’m there to correct and reprimand selfish behavior and attitudes every single time they rear their ugly heads in my home.  Selfishness, bad attitudes, arguments, and physical fighting are simply not considered “normal” or “acceptable” in our home.

As I was reading through articles on sibling rivalry, I found several articles listing suggestions for what to do about it.  Here’s one suggestion I thought was somewhat comical:

“Make ground rules. Hitting/kicking/hurting each other’s bodies is not allowed in our house.”

That’s great, but why are selfishness, rudeness, and name calling allowed?  Why are the children allowed to “compete about almost everything” and bicker about whose bed mommy sits on?  Why aren’t negative attitudes considered just as harmful as physical violence?

Again, I think it’s an issue of expectation.  Parents expect that their children won’t get along (because our society hasn’t taught them any differently), and that’s exactly what happens.  We’ve come to believe that sibling rivalry is a “normal” stage of development and we simply resign ourselves to it.  Forgive me while I quote myself, but I’ll say it again:

I refuse to buy into what this culture has to say about my child’s development.  God hasn’t given me any reason to believe that rebellion, anger, disrespect, name calling, selfishness, and defiance are necessary or unavoidable for the growth and well being of my children.

Here’s another bit of advice, from an older mom of many, that I took to heart years ago:

I’m not raising children, I’m raising adults.  If it’s unacceptable behavior in the “adult” world, it’s unacceptable behavior in my home.  As I mentioned earlier, the term “brotherly love” is referred to in the bible as an example of how we should treat one another.  I believe God had something better than our current standard in mind when he referred to love between siblings.

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  (John 13:34)



Category: Raising Godly Children

Related Articles:

“‘Just Wait Until They’re Teens!’  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.”

“‘Fair’ Is Where They Sell Pigs”

“The Greenhouse Effect”

“Why We Don’t Let Our Kids Read Books”

“Helping Hands and Willing Hearts”

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5 Responses to Sibling Rivalry? Sorry, don’t buy that, either.

  1. Patti Milam says:

    Rina, My children all adore each other now, but when they were kids, not so much. Aaron was 18 mos. when Brandi was born and he actually tried to kill her. He tried choking her to death and then he tried to pull her umbilical cord off. I don’t know if that is called sibling rivalry at that age or not. They are such good friends now. Jason adored all his siblings, although he was so ashamed that when he was 16, his mother was pregnant.LOL I think we are born into sin and that’s what makes so called sibling rivalry. Yes it is selfishness, but most 2-3 year olds go through the “me or “no stage. As each of my children became seniors in high school, the others said I treated them differently. There was a lot more to do for that child at that time, but each had his own time.

    • Rina says:

      Patti, I don’t deny that sibling rivalry EXISTS, only that we don’t have to accept it as “normal,” and that there are things we can do to prevent it from becoming a common behavioral trait in our children. As for being “born in sin” I certainly agree, but I don’t intend to foster or encourage those sinful behaviors. I consider it my job to “train them in the way they should go” and that means, with the help of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to overcome the selfish and sinful tendencies they’re born with. I think, in retrospect, there will always be things we wish we could have done differently (there are already SO many things I wish I could have done differently) but prayerfully I’m learning from my mistakes AND my successes and hoping to pass what I’ve learned along to others, so maybe they can glean something helpful from my experiences (and the fruit of those experiences – good or bad.)

  2. TisaLira says:

    What a refreshing post! We only have two, but have long felt that “sibling rivalry” need not be the norm in our house. So many parents want what you experience in your household, but do not wish to put in the effort to make it happen. It’s nice to hear someone else voice what my husband and I have long held true in raising our children.

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