FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Binding Sibling Hearts Together

with Brett Johnston | April 5, 2010
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Why are some siblings close, and others not? Father of three Brett Johnston wondered the same thing, so he went to work studying adult siblings and their relationships to each other. Today he reveals the number one reason people give for not being connected with their siblings, as well as the surest way to build close relationships among your kids.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Why are some siblings close, and others not? Father of three Brett Johnston wondered the same thing, so he went to work studying adult siblings and their relationships to each other. Today he reveals the number one reason people give for not being connected with their siblings, as well as the surest way to build close relationships among your kids.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Brett Johnston reveals the number one reason people give for not being connected with their siblings.

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Binding Sibling Hearts Together

With Brett Johnston
April 05, 2010
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Brett:  A lot of times people talk about, as a parent, we need to be there at the ballgames; we need to be there for the kids.  Well, the No. 1 individual trait of families that produce the closest kids was siblings spending the time to support each other in extra-curricular activities, school activities, things like that.  This says it is important for the siblings to be there, support those things, and cheer for whoever happens to be doing something at that time.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 5th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We are going to talk today about brothers and sisters cheering one another on and other strategies for building strong sibling relationships. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You know, you shared a verse with me—I don’t know if I just never read this verse or if I just read past it.  Some verses you come to and you just kind of read on past it, but I’ll never forget you sharing III John verse 4 with me.  It was one of those, again, which had never been on my radar screen. 

Dennis:  It could be what is written on my tombstone.  Basically, it is this, “I have no greater joy than this, than to know that my children are walking in the truth.”  I would add to that, although this is not in III John 4.

Bob:  This isn’t II Dennis 2?  (laughter) 

Dennis:  I would have no greater joy than if my children (yes) are obeying God and if they are living in harmony with one another.  That is just a part of the fiber of every parent’s soul.  They want their kids to be able to get along.  I want you to know, as a listener, I am excited about what we are about to bring to you here this week.  We have a guest with us here in the studio, Brett Johnston, who joins us.  I’ll just say, “Hi, Brett.  Welcome to FamilyLife Today.”

Brett:  Thanks Dennis.  I can’t say how excited I am to be here.

Dennis:  He has written a book called Close Kids:  Connect Your Children for Life.  Brett has an interesting story that you are going to benefit from because he talks about in this book how we as adults have relationships with our brothers and sisters.  He has come upon some relevant research that I think is going to encourage you, whether you are a parent, grandparent, or have a brother or a sister. 

Brett is married and has three children.  Unfortunately, he is a Sooner.  (laughter) 

For those of you who don’t know, that is the wrong color of red.  He is not for the Arkansas Razorbacks; he is for the University of Oklahoma.  (laughter) 

He has made a lot of good choices in his life; I don’t know how this mistake happened, Brett.  (laughter)  You know, we allow everyone one mistake here on FamilyLife Today. 

Brett:  I can blame my brother.  (laughter)

Dennis:  That’s it!  He did a good bit of medical research that ultimately led him to a discovery.  I want you to explain, first of all, that meal that you had and how it kind of sent you off in a direction where you didn’t really think you would ever go as a researcher.

Brett:  Okay.  My wife and I were having dinner, just a casual meal with some really good friends of ours—just two of them.  The friend kept talking about this great relationship she had with her sister.  On and on throughout the meal she would talk about it and bring it back again and say, “Well, my sister and I are doing this,” or “My sister and I are doing that.”  Come to find out, her sister actually lived in England; and she was in Oklahoma.  You would never have known it by the way that she talked. 

My wife and I have three kids, three girls.  When we were driving home that night, I remember the conversation we had.  We said, “I want that for our kids when they grow up.”  We kind of slept on it.  The next day, we got up and started doing a little bit of research on what was out there already.  I figured that in this day and age the internet has everything we need to know about it.  We started looking for “close kids” articles and books and just never found anything. 

Really, months went by; and I was sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas when it hit me.  “Let’s go out and find this information.  If it is not out there, let’s find a way to get it.”  My background is a medical person in that field, looking at all sorts of white papers and research that people try to do to prove one thing is better than another.  It got me thinking, “Okay, what would this look like to do for siblings?” 

It ended up being a huge survey sent out to over 10,000 people about their life when they were young.  We knew we couldn’t do a regular survey or a medical-grade research paper today because it would take 30 years to get the results.  We wouldn’t know until they were adults.  It looked like an easier thing to do was go back and ask a lot of questions about siblings who were close and siblings who weren’t and try to see what we could glean out of that.  It was a big survey; it was 50 questions.  It wasn’t something that someone could just check off a few boxes.  It was a lot of information that came back.

Dennis:  You must have gotten a lot of information because although this book is small (it is not a real large book, it can be read probably easily in an hour), it is just chalked full of all kinds of observations and conclusions you came to out of this survey.  What did you find was the No. 1 reason for why siblings don’t connect and don’t have good relationships?

Brett:  The No. 1 thing that people said was, “Time.”  They said, “We don’t have enough time to deal with each other, and talk with each other, and build time for each other.”  That is the thing that adults said that kept them from being close as adults. 

Bob:  Okay; but you and I know we make time for what matters to us.

Brett:  Right.

Bob:  So time is one of those subterfuges.  As you dug a little deeper, did you find that there was more under the surface than just time?

Brett:  I did.  Actually, there is a lot under the surface.  If you had to say just one thing, it would be the word, “Acceptance.”  There is no word that was used more often when people were describing a poor relationship.  They just didn’t feel accepted by their brothers and sisters and their parents for being different.  One of the greatest things that I like about the book is, “Don’t be frustrated by the differences in your kids.  Be amazed by them.” 

Dennis:  In other words, celebrate that they are different because when they are different, they may end up liking one another.

Brett:  That is true.

Dennis:  You know, if you have somebody who is a lot like you, they tend to be your “irregular person.”  I mean, they kind of rub you the wrong way, right?

Brett:  Right.

Dennis:  So, the mere fact that your children are different could perhaps help them begin to connect with each other and like each other.

Brett:  Absolutely.  If the way we look at it is not out of frustration that they are different, we will teach them to be accepting of who they are and see great things that their siblings are doing and be able to point that out and say, “Look how neat that is that they like to go swimming when it is cold outside,” and just different things that kids do.  You guys were talking about just a few weeks ago that you can have these great plans for your kids, but they are going to end up going directions that you had no clue.

Dennis:  Yes.  It is interesting today—back to the time issue—there is more technology and more access to one another’s lives than perhaps at any point in the history of civilization.

Bob:  If you are Facebook friends, you can know what somebody had for breakfast this morning when you would never had known that before. 

Dennis:  I mean, you can Twitter; you can text; you can call.  Who would ever think of writing?

Brett:  Right.

Dennis:  I mean handwriting has to be extremely rare these days.  They actually mention that technology mitigated against the relationship.  How so?

Brett:  Well, there is a Visa commercial not very long ago that looks at a family going on a family vacation together.  The mom in the commercial keeps turning around and wanting to talk to her kids.  One of them has an iPhone; one of them is listening to a movie; no one is communicating with each other at all.  At the end of the commercial, you see them all jump into a swimming pool together; and that is when the party starts.

There are things, computers, and all sorts of things that divert attention away from kids being interactive with each other.  If you look—what is really interesting—the survey broke out the data by age.  The closest group by age is 60 and over, of siblings.  The second closest group is 25-34.  Somewhere in the middle we lose people; or they come back and say, “You know, that was important to me.  Let’s go back…”

Bob:  “…and fix some of this.”

Brett:  “and fix something.”

Dennis:  Do you think maybe after you have lived six decades, you have run the gambit of other relationships that necessarily haven’t worked out with friends and perhaps we come back to our family to say, “You know what, I kind of started out with you…”

Brett:  Right.

Dennis:  “Maybe I ought to figure out how to make this work.”

Brett:  I think absolutely.  I think there is also, “People shouldn’t give up if they are not close together,” because you see these people coming back together late in life.  It can be done.  I think, too, if you look at some of the things that people wrote when they were in their 60’s when they took this survey, they didn’t have much entertainment outside of each other. 

They usually had pretty large families—which in the survey, we can prove that the more kids in a family, the closer they are as adults—which is kind of interesting.   If you look back years and years ago, Mom used to just kick you outside and say, “See you at dinnertime.”  The entertainment they found was not in a TV or not in a video game, but it was in each other.

Dennis:  Yes.  All these various distractions demand that we get creative and find a way to make relationships work.

Brett:  You know, it is interesting that you should say that, too, Dennis, because if you look at what people said kept them apart—which was time and not being able to connect to each other— when you look at a statistical distance of how far apart people live, it had no relation to how close they were as adults.

Dennis:  I am reminded of what the former governor of Arkansas said, and it is not the one you are thinking about right now.  (laughter)  His name was Gov. Frank White.  He was a personal friend of mine.  I was having breakfast with him one morning in a Bible study I was leading.  He made a statement to me.  He said, “To say you don’t have enough time is not a statement of truth; it is a statement of value.” 

We have enough time to do what we truly value.  For adult siblings to say to one another, “We can’t seem to find enough time to get together,” really is a statement of not valuing that relationship; otherwise, they would indeed find a way to get together.

Bob:  Let me take this back though to what originally got this project fueled in the first place.  You were looking at adult siblings who were getting along; and you were saying, “We’d like our kids to be like that.” 

So, I guess my question is, “What did you learn from adult siblings who are getting along about what happened in the family early on?”; or “How did it cause you to modify the parenting of your daughters to say, ‘If we want that to be the goal, here is what we need to be doing as moms and dads today?’”

Brett:  There is actually two ways that we looked at it.  No. 1:  The biggest overall thing that you can do for your kids is give them the gift of a great childhood.  We really measured two things.  We measured, “How close are you with your adult siblings?” and “How good was your childhood?”  Those are two separate, complete things. 

There are very specific things you can do for your kids such as the No. 1 thing—the No. 1 individual trait—is siblings spending the time to support each other in extra-curricular activities, school activities, things like that.  That was the No. 1 individual trait that families did that produces the closest kids. 

How we have changed that—if I have one of my girls with a homework project or she needs to read, I’ll let the older one see if she can help her with it first.  That shows support that her sister is coming to her aid; “Wait a minute, my sister does know something.”  There are so many things that that does.  We have made that change. 

If it doesn’t work, then we’ll step in as parents would and help.  A lot of times people talk about, as parents, we need to be there at the ballgames; we need to be there for the kids.  This kind of says it is important for the siblings to be there and support those things and cheer for whoever happens to be doing something at the time.

Bob:  You know, my wife must have known this instinctively because through the years as our kids have been involved in all different activities--there would be ballgames or piano recitals—I think of piano recitals.  It is a Saturday morning, and one of the kids is going to be in a piano recital.  You go to the siblings; and you say, “Do you want to go to John’s piano recital?”  What is the universal response?  “No, who wants to go to John’s piano recital?”  Right?  (laughter) 

The way that I looked at it, “If the kids don’t want to go hear their brother play piano—frankly, I’m not all that jazzed about it—but I am the parent so I have to.”  Mary Ann would say, “No, I want all the kids to come and hear John.”  I would say, “Well, they don’t want to.”  She would say, “It doesn’t matter.  They need to come and hear John play the piano.” 

So, over the years, whoever was playing the piano, it just got to be the standard practice.  The kids knew if “So-and- So” was having a piano recital, we would go to the piano recital, whether we liked it or not.  I do think Mary Ann was on to something.  That show of support is just one of the ways that they have felt closer and connected to one another and felt appreciated by their siblings. 

Dennis:  You know, I think both of us out-married ourselves, Bob.  Barbara stumbled on one of the findings that he came up with out of his research.  She would read to the kids when they were little; and as they got older, too.  I asked her—in fact just this past weekend—I asked her, “What would you say is just one of your favorite, pristine moments as a mom?  If you could just capture a certain scene at a certain time, with you as a mom, what would it be?” 

She said, “Oh, that is easy.”  She said, “It would be the quiet time we had when I would give up my nap and I would read to the kids Little House on the Prairie.  I took them there.  We lived there in the midst of the winters on the plains there as Little House on the Prairie was written about.”  She said, “They would sit in my arms and we would read that book for two hours.” 

Now, you found that one of the things that cemented siblings together were these moments of reading together as a family?

Brett:  That is true.  It blew me away because there was a list of about 30 different individual traits.  For reading together as a family to pop so close to the top—as a matter of fact, one of the ways that you could calculate the data, it was No. 1.  What I tried to do was two or three different calculations.  The average of—it wasn’t No. 1—but it was right there at the top.  It was reading together as a family. 

We try to do it every night.  With little kids, it is not easy.  I’ll send a note out to whoever came up with blankies.  I would like to put my arms around your neck and end your existence because blankies—we look for blankies every single night.  (laughter)  They are always gone.  They, of course, have been around with us for nine years.  We can’t lose them—we have left them in restaurants; we have left them at hotels; we have found them all over the place; but they never seem to be in the bed at night when it is time to read a story.  We get through that.  We try to sit down—now we find as they are getting older, we find that the oldest one likes to read to the younger ones.  We are still there, but we kind of pass that torch off to the next ones. 

I have a pretty funny story about my four-year-old.  Marley & Me was a big movie a few months ago.  We had the book Marley & Me.  My four-year-old couldn’t read to save her life, but it was her turn to read to the family at night.  So she stood up there with Marley & Me and flipped the page.  Every single sentence had the word “dog” in it.  She thought that was the funniest thing in the world.  She was reading that book.  It was a moment for her to shine and to have the spotlight—and we gave it to her—and it was a lot of fun. 

Dennis:  Here is the question I have been looking forward to asking you, “Do you have any siblings?”

Brett:  I do.  I have one brother, an older brother.

Dennis:  How did this affect your relationship with your older brother?

Brett:  You know what, my older brother and I don’t have as good a relationship as I would like.  Had we had a great relationship, I don’t think we would be here talking today. 

Dennis:  Why do you say that?

Brett:  Well, I just think I would never have processed the idea.  I would just have assumed that all siblings were close. 

Dennis:  So, in other words, your lack of a relationship in terms of how you have studied it really prompted you to do this research in the first place.

Brett:  Yes.  We don’t live that far apart.  We just live separate lifestyles.  It is sad for me to think, “You know, I am going to have a relationship with him longer than anyone in my life.”  That is something I didn’t really realize until I started writing this book.  The sibling relationship is most likely the longest relationship any of us will have with anyone other than God.  It is an important relationship.  I haven’t given up hope on any of that.  I still want to reach out.  We talk about electronics—he and I have been talking more on Facebook lately.  There is good and bad with everything.  I don’t want to bash electronics because there are some great things that they can do, too.  They can keep us connected.  We have been doing that.  My hope is that we can continue to do that.

Dennis:  What you are talking about here in your book Close Kids is really what, as we began the program today, what every parent longs for.  You are raising your kids and you go through all the sibling rivalry; and as I was reading your book, I was reflecting maybe Barbara and I were a little too much on the defensive in terms of correcting sibling rivalry and teaching them to forgive each other. 

Perhaps, if we had had your book, we might have been a little more proactive about taking some of these things about creating great family times, more times to read together, cheering one another on when one of their brothers or sisters succeed and really proactively anticipating, “You know, one of these days you kids are going to grow up.  You guys are going to be great friends.  You really are going to be friends for the rest of your lives.”  I think that is what parents long for—they really do.  They do want their children to walk together in the truth of God’s Word.  A part of that truth is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Bob:  You are saying that as a parent, we can cast a vision with our kids for what we hope will be a reality in their lives.  I think part of what we talked about today is that as an addition to casting that kind of vision, there are strategies we can employ as parents that will help make that a reality.  Brett, in your book, you have listed those strategies, outlined them for moms and dads. 


We have copies of the book Close Kids in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  Go online at for more information about Brett’s book. 

Again, it is  The name of the book is Close Kids:  Connect Your Children for Life.  You can also call to request a copy at 1-800-FL-TODAY.  That is 1-800-358-6329.  Let me also mention—we have a resource that we designed for families.  Really, its purpose is to build and promote the kind of interaction that we have been talking about today.  It is a resource we call Just Add Family.  It gives moms and dads some simple ideas, some simple ways that they can initiate fun times that engage your children around passages from the Scripture, helping them to understand more who God is, His purposes, His plan for us, about who we are, about the nature of redemption.  All of that is in this resource we have developed called Just Add Family

There is information about that on our website as well—; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request that resource from us.  Again, the website is; the phone number 1-800-FL-TODAY. 

I think folks who have listened to FamilyLife Today for any length of time are aware that really what we are all about here at FamilyLife is trying to see every home a godly home.  We want to do what we can to equip husbands and wives and moms and dads to have strong relationships inside the home.  The way to do that is really to have those relationships centered in your relationship with God through Christ. 

It was a number of years ago that we came up with a study guide for couples to help them build a stronger marriage.  That first HomeBuilders® study guide later grew into an entire series of studies that has gone on to be the best-selling series on marriage and family that has ever been produced. 

We have just recently revised and updated our HomeBuilders study guides.  This month, for those of you who are able to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we would love to send you two of the brand-new, revised HomeBuilders studies, Building Your Marriage to Last.  We send you two of them because there is a guide for the husband and a guide for the wife.  You can do this together as a couple—take a date night or just set aside some time once a week and go through this HomeBuilders study guide together. 

Even more than that, we would love to have you invite three or four other couples to come over to the house for a potluck and start going through the HomeBuilders study guide material with these other couples and help strengthen their marriage relationship as well.  Again, we want to send you these two study guides as our way of saying, “Thank you,” this month when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. 

Go online at and make an online donation.  As you fill out the form, just write the word, “BUILD” into the key code box that you see on the donation form.  That way we will know to send you the study guides for Building Your Marriage to Last, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  You can make your donation by telephone and just ask for the two HomeBuilders studies.  Again, the title is Building Your Marriage to Last.  We hope you will put them to good use.  We want to say, “Thanks again for your support of this ministry and for helping keep FamilyLife Today on the air on this station and on our network of stations all around the country.” 

We want to invite you to join us back tomorrow when Brett Johnston is going to be with us again.  We are going to talk about more ways that parents can connect their children brother-to-brother, sister-to-sister, or brother-to-sister—how you can connect those children for a lifetime.  We will talk about that tomorrow.  Hope you can be with us. 

Thanks today to our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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