Sibling Rivalry: How to Cure a Timeless Problem

13 Oct 2015

One of the major themes of Parshat Bereishit is sibling rivalry. We start with Kayin and Hevel, Yitzchok and Yishmael, Yakov and Eisav and then Yosef and his brothers.

It seems to be a timeless problem. We see it in our own homes as well. Sibling rivalry is one of the toughest things parents need to manage. We love each of our children so much, it hurts to watch them fight.

It helps to understand that it is a normal part of family life. Our kids are not being bad by fighting. Even the most peaceful adults will admit that there are times when their family members, even the nicest ones, can get on their nerves. If adults have a hard time with others, then it goes without saying that kids feel it too.

So what can we do? One important technique is to teach children to respect the feelings of their siblings, especially when they are in a bad mood.

We can do the following:

1. Teach them to notice other people’s feelings:

If we want our children to be kind to others, it’s best if we use our home as a classroom. Children learn about chesed and empathy from their parents.

If you notice that one of your children came home out of sorts, let all the kids in your family know that their sibling is in a bad mood and can use some kindness:

“Eli seems pretty upset. I saw that when he came in he was in a bad mood. Anybody available to do his job tonight for him? Anyone have any other ideas on how we can help him out?”

If you are in a bad mood, you can similarly say, “I had a tough day to day, I am feeling pretty cranky. I can use a little extra help tonight or maybe some quiet time.”

Most adults can’t read another person’s mind (a common problem cited in marriages), and it stands to reason that kids will need some help reading other person’s moods as well

2. Let them know that you expect kindness:

I know that when one child is crying or whining, their sibling might use that opportunity to tease them. They will say things like:

“You are such a crybaby!”

“Why do you make such a big deal about everything?”

Or they will imitate the whining, which I personally find to be the most irritating. Needless to say their sibling’s heartlessness only exacerbates the problem.

We can state our expectations:

“When one person in our family is in a bad mood, I expect that you act kindly towards them. Teasing hurts.”

“Sara is in a bad mood, something is really bothering her. She needs a little TLC. I expect that this family can find a way to help her out.

3. One-on-one time:

If you see that one child is perpetually in a bad mood, it is helpful if you or your spouse give that child some one-on-one time. Usually some personal time with a parent, going for ice cream, taking a walk, or a shopping trip to the dollar store can go a long way in helping that child regain their equilibrium.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.