Sibling rivalry – the bane of a mom’s existence. I’m sure it’s bad no matter what the combination, but when you have a bunch of boys, there’s potential for quite a ruckus.
So how do we teach our boys to love each other?
Research suggests that family provides the best safety net, even later in life. How do we raise our boys so they can be that net for each other?
There an entire chapter on Sibling Rivalry in my book, I’m Outnumbered! One Mom’s Lessons in the Lively Art of Raising Boys, but let me just throw three quick hints out there that may help you start emphasizing brother love.
The first I call Divide and Conquer.
Nothing squelches sibling rivalry like separation. But make it FUN separation! The tub was always a wonderful distraction for my younger boys. I’d put one in the tub with toys while the other played cars in the hallway. I could sit halfway between the two and supervise all the activity. Instead of assigning them to corners, chairs, or rooms, come up with fun separate activities to provide a little distance.
Sometimes this leads to my second suggestion, a Team Effort. (Often when you separate them, they WANT to be together!)
Come up with a quick competition that pits you against the two (or more) of them! “I’ll bet you guys can’t pick up those blocks before Mom finishes loading the dishwasher.” Teamwork, theirs against Mom, may give them a different perspective. If competition of any kind leads to struggles, as it often can, propose a creative project for all of you. “Let’s make Dad a big ‘Welcome Home from Work’ banner for the front door.” Everybody takes a section and gets to work.
One more suggestion – a little more love.
Much of sibling rivalry is a cry for attention. Usually, the boys want more of you – more positive strokes, more attention, more love. Does one of yours seem to be the instigator of the rivalry lately? Choose that one, and find a way to lavish a little more attention on him. Be discreet, but whisper how great he is in his ear, draw a smiley face on the page he’s coloring, leave an “anonymous” note on his pillow. Don’t draw the ire of the other boys, but just find a way to direct a little more love his way.
And last? Dig in and wait for the payoff.
Hold your ground, Mom. Don’t give up. Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton wrote, “Don’t expect their conflict to go away. Ever.” I can attest to that! When my boys read my book, the chapter on Sibling Rivalry set off a little tempest in a teapot.
Realize that the battleground can be a training ground. These are teachable moments. What better place to learn healthy ways to deal with conflict than in the safe haven we call home? They’ll face conflict out in the world, and we can help them prepare for that today.
Home can be not only a place of preparation, but a place of support and safety. Proverbs 17:17 tells us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” In their toddler years, I was convinced that verse meant a brother was born for adversity – to annoy one another! But I’ve come to realize that once things come full circle, brothers can be there – in love – for one another as they face adversity.