Siblings can be the greatest of friends.
Or the greatest of enemies.
Many biblical stories demonstrate the latter--and its disastrous consequences. Cain is jealous of God's favor on Abel and kills him. Jacob tricks his brother Esau out of his inheritance, sisters Leah and Rachel compete for the love of Jacob, and Joseph's brothers are so jealous they sell him into slavery.
Counterbalancing these stories, however, is the celebration of family friendships extolled in Psalm 133.1: "It is truly wonderful when the people of God live together in peace."
Is it possible for your children to live in peace and friendship with one another?
Child expert Margi McCombs, PhD, believes it is.
As a mother of five—four boys and one girl—Dr. McCombs understands the challenge of raising children with various personalities, gifts and differences. She offers the following five tips, along with some practical wisdom from Scripture, to help you raise your children to honor each other as brothers and sisters, and ultimately, as lifelong friends.
- Promote relational integrity. It's crucial to emphasize to your children from an early age that friendship is your family's greatest legacy to each other. This means telling your kids that their sisters and brothers are their best friends—for life. While squabbles are unavoidable among siblings, instilling the value of friendship will remind them to work at resolving their differences.
Equipping your children with good conflict resolution and peacemaking skills will protect the integrity of their relationship, both when they're kids and when they're adults. Remind them of the good advice found in Romans 12.17-18: "Don't mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others, and do your best to live at peace with everyone."
- Help foster friendship. If one sibling is having a bad day, encourage the other children to help by doing something special for that child. As parents, don't worry that if you do something special for one child, you need to do something special for all. "It's not about that," Dr. McCombs says. "It's about modeling ways of friendship among children that they can emulate for the rest of their lives."
Sometimes, you'll need to give one child extra attention. If that's the case, plan to do things to make him or her feel special. If you have a standing date, honor it, says Dr. McCombs. "Keep the commitment so your child can count on it."
- Value differences in your family. Recognize that each of your children has unique strengths and gifts. Emphasize this to your kids and heed the advice yourself, Dr. McCombs says. This is important, particularly when you have a child whose personality clashes with your own. "Don't assume those differences are beyond your capability to deal with," Dr. McCombs says. When you find common ground, capitalize on every inch of it, she urges.
- Champion each other's gifts. This is important, especially when siblings are close in age and may be competitive with each other. Do not talk up one child to the other siblings or to your friends, Dr. McCombs advises. Instead, identify what each child brings to the family, promote the value of each one, and share those gifts with each other. Colossians 3:15 reminds us that we are all part of the body of Christ and that we were chosen to live together in peace.
- Set house rules/boundaries. In her family, Dr. McCombs set the following rules: No teasing. No name calling. No physical fights. No practical jokes. "Teasing and practical jokes can be disrespectful, particularly if you have a tender-hearted child," says Dr. McCombs. "What's funny to one may be hurtful to another. It's important to respect each other's dignity. Make Ephesians 5.2 your ultimate house rule: "Let love be your guide" as you relate to the ones closest to you.
Above all, remind your children of Romans 12.10: "Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself."
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