FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Twenty-five Ways to Cure Sibling Rivalry, Part 2

with Dennis Rainey | March 20, 2009
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“Mom, he hit me!” Sound familiar? Dennis Rainey offers 25 ways to cure sibling rivalry.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • “Mom, he hit me!” Sound familiar? Dennis Rainey offers 25 ways to cure sibling rivalry.

  • 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.

“Mom, he hit me!” Sound familiar?

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Twenty-five Ways to Cure Sibling Rivalry, Part 2

With Dennis Rainey
March 20, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Sib1: Hey, George, check it out. 

Sib2: Wow.

Sib1: Isn't it cool?

Sib2: Cool.

Sib1: This is my new creation.

Sib2: Wow.

Sib1: You don't have anything this cool.

Sib2: Oh, yeah?

Sib1: Yeah, it's the Lego Star Cruiser, and it can interface with Dad's PC.

Sib2: Can not.

Sib1: Can, too.

Sib2: Yeah, right.

Sib1: Well, I invented it.

Sib2: Did not!

Sib1: I did, too!

Sib2: You built it from the directions.

Sib1: Huh-uh!

Sib2: You're lying again.

Sib1: I am not!  I did invent it!

Sib2: Did not!

Sib1: Did, too!

Sib2: You're lying!  I'm telling Dad!  Dad!  Dad!

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 20th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.   And if you get worn out just listening to that and would like some help, stay with us.  We're going to talk about sibling rivalry today.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  This is one of those times when I wish radio was two-way, because I know that kind of thing does not happen in every home, but I'm guessing that if we could turn around and look at our listening audience and just ask the question – has that happened in your home anytime recently?  I'm guessing that there would be more hands go up than stay down.

Dennis: Well, I'm just saying there are a lot of moms out there raising their hands in agreement. 

Bob: And this week we're trying to provide some help.  You have already worked your way halfway through a list of 25 suggestions you have related to sibling rivalry, and we can't recap the first 11 that we've already gone through.  They are on our website at, and if folks want to review what we've already talked about this week, you can go to the website.

But we need to move along and see if we can get some help for this issue of sibling rivalry and for what we can do.

Dennis: Well, let's start with number 12.

Bob: All right.

Dennis: Never lose sight of the goal – in other words, as you are going through the process of resolving conflict between two of your children, don't lose sight of what the goal is as a parent.  You are training them in relationships, you are building character, and you are also teaching them about who God is and why He came to redeem us.  He came to redeem us from our selfishness and establish a new way of relating.

Not too long ago we had a couple of our children who were going at each other, and both Barbara and I were at the dinner table, and we were listening to this conflict occur, and I was so proud of Barbara.  She got up, left the dinner table, went in the other room and got her Bible, brought it back in, and then opened it to 1 Peter, chapter 3.  And it talks about, in this passage, "Don't repay evil for evil or insult with an insult.  But instead give a blessing, because you were called to inherit a blessing."  And our children, I believe, have to be trained away from the natural bent of the tongue, of the lips, and of the heart to hurt someone when they've been hurt.  And the Scriptures call us away from that, and they call us to bless someone who has hurt us. 

Now, she read that passage and challenged those two children to give a blessing instead of insulting one another, and I looked at both their faces, and there was this blank look, like "I don't buy it."

Bob: Right.

Dennis: But you know what?  That shouldn't keep us from teaching it.  Go ahead and teach it.  You never know when the spirit of God is going to take it and cause it to stick.  After Barbara was through, I said, "You know, you two need a touch from Jesus Christ.  You need Him to invade your lives, and He needs to become the Master of your lives."

And, you know, as you think about training your children, what they are learning to do is submit their wills to the Master's will, just like you and I are as adults.  And we are training our children in relational skills, teaching them to deny themselves.  We're teaching them about real love, about flexibility, about resolving conflicts and disputes.

Bob: I think that's helpful to remember that the goal is not just peace in the valley, which is what you're longing for when there is conflict.

Dennis: Right.

Bob: But you can actually, as you are saying, use these occurrences as divine teaching opportunities, appointments from God where you can do what Deuteronomy 6 calls you to do, and that is begin to apply the wisdom of the Scriptures just as you and Barbara did, in the moment when it's most needed.

Dennis: Yup.  Well, number 13 – realize there is a difference in how the sexes handle sibling rivalry.  Boys will be physical.  Girls will be verbal.  Now, that doesn't mean that girls won't bite and throw things and hit things and hurt their sisters or brother.

Bob: Or that boys won't cut down one another.

Dennis: Oh, for sure about that, Bob.  But, generally, boys will be more physical.  In their expression of sibling rivalry, girls will be more verbal.  Both need to learn the principle of honor.

1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 17 – "Show proper respect to everyone.  Love the brotherhood of believers.  Fear God, honor the King."  They must learn that they are to honor and respect one another.

Bob: Amen.

Dennis: Number 14 – recognize the three kinds of sibling rivalry.  I did some thinking about this, Bob.  There may be other types of sibling rivalry, but I believe it breaks into three categories – verbal, using words to hurt another such as tattling, cutdowns, teasing, namecalling, hurting with words.  Secondly, physical sibling rivalry – using physical pain such as hitting, biting, pushing, clubbing, you name it, our boys have done it.  Third, there is a relational area of sibling rivalry where they use relationships to hurt one another – they exclude their brother or their sister from an in group down at the – you know, the secret hideout?  Or their friends come over, and they exclude a younger child, and they get their feelings hurt because they've not been included. 

These three ways – verbally, physically, and relationally, I believe, represent the lion's share of how our children are going to argue with one another.  So as parents, you need to have a game plan, as a couple, on how you're going to handle each of those three.

Bob: Verbal, physical, and the selfish exclusion type of sibling rivalry.

Dennis: And the relational – sometimes they'll use these types of relationship conflicts to get the attention of the parents.  Some children learn a little equation – that if I hurt my brother, I can finally get some relational attention from Mom.

Bob: Mm-hm, "She ignores me until then."

Dennis: That's exactly right.  Number 15 – oh, this is a good one – use grade cards with babysitters when you leave town or when you leave for the evening to create accountability and give them rewards for good relationships. 

For instance, we would develop a little grade card that went on the refrigerator when we were gone for two or three days, and each child – we had six children – so we had each child listed, and then we had three or four key areas, and, I promise you, one of the four key areas that all six children were graded daily on was how they got along with their siblings, and they would get an A, B, C, D, or F.  And, I've got to tell you, we came home many times with all the children getting As.  There were other times when we had children who got Fs or Ds or a C-.  And at that point, as a parent, you need to know what you're going to do in that situation in advance so that you train your child that he can't mug the babysitter when you leave town or if you go out to eat for an evening – that they are accountable to the babysitter, and they are accountable to you for how they treat one another.

Bob: We've done this as well, and I think it's helpful to bring the babysitter into the process and let him know or let her know that the grade card is a tool for them while you're gone, to help correct behavior; to be able to take a child over to the refrigerator and say, "Now, I'm going to have to give you a B today for your behavior in this area, and it could get to be a C before the end of the day if things don't get better," so that it's not simply an evaluation device, but it's a teaching tool.

Dennis: It's a motivational device.  It can help them get out of a ditch at that point.

Bob: And then we've told the kids that anybody who has got a 3.5 or better grade point average when we get home will go to Baskin Robbins with those children.  So, all of a sudden, there is some positive incentive for that.

Dennis: Some of other areas would include how they did their chores, making up their bed in the morning and being downstairs on time for breakfast.  So you could pick the areas you want to hold them accountable for – sibling rivalry was always one that was included in all of our grade cards.

Number 16 in our 25 ways to handle sibling rivalry – be careful when your children, especially your daughters, enter the junior high years.  One of the things that we watched happen to our girls as they entered into the junior high years was the clicks that begin to occur among girls where they begin to separate from one another, and they begin to separate from their family.  This is when the feelings get hurt with a younger child who is watching an older child go into junior high and, all of a sudden, they have friendships, they're on the phone, they're on the computer, and they're beginning to exclude their siblings.  And the younger children are feeling left out.  This has especially been difficult with our daughters.

Number 17 – tie the consequence to their conflict.  In other words, if they borrowed something from a sister and didn't ask for permission to borrow it, then declare it off limits to borrow anything for the next 30 days.  Or if they both have been squabbling about doing chores together, one of the things we did with our boys when they were in elementary school was we tied one of their legs to the other's leg.

Bob: Seriously?

Dennis: Yes.  Two pieces of rope, and we had them clean out the garage together.  I don't know where this idea came from – as they cleaned the garage together, they realized they had to do it lockstep, literally.

Bob: Did you have them actually leg-to-leg?

Dennis: Oh, yeah, we had a rope around the ankle, not tight, you're not trying to hurt them, you're just trying to teach them that, you know, if you can't get along, we'll just let you two do something together for a while, and if you really want to make it miserable, have them sweep the garage, have one of the faced one way, and the other one facing the other way.  The problem with that is, the older one will take advantage …

Bob: Can yank that little one around.

Dennis: That's exactly right, so you've got to be careful, or you can create another sibling rivalry situation right there.

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: Another idea we had was when two children can't get along, was we had them paint two sides of the same plank of a fence.  So one would be painting one side of the fence, going up and down with the white paint, the other would be on the other side of the fence painting it as well.

Bob: You've got to be careful there, too, because they could be splattering paint.

Dennis: Yeah, there you go.  I mean, you've really got to pick these things, but you can give an extra five feet of fence to paint.  So you know what?  If you guys want to continue on, hey, no sweat.  We get our fence painted.

Bob: You've got the whole fence to go.

Dennis: That's exactly right.  Number 18 – realize that not all sibling rivalry will go away even with adulthood.  Now, I hate to drop this one in, but one of the things that Barbara and I have seen in other families as well as our own is that our adult children need encouragement to make relationships work as they become adults.

Now, that doesn't mean they need a triangle.  They don't need a mom or a dad who is becoming a third-party go-between like a pair of second-graders.  They need to be called to step up, and they need to be called to make their adult friendships and relationships peaceful and harmonious.

And, Bob, what you want to do in that situation is call your children up to become a family.  I think one of the great crimes in America is when we watch families grow up into adulthood, and the parents just let the children go in all different directions as adults, and they never call them back together as a family and to get along as a family.

And that doesn't mean you treat them as children, you don't speak down to them.  You're really speaking to them more as peers to say, "I will not be the go-between between you and your sister, you and your brother.  You are an adult, you two need to work this out.  You need to establish a godly, mature relationship.  Why?  Because your children need an uncle, or his children need an aunt, and you need to be able to get along so that you can be a part of this family without coming back, at times, for celebration of family events and feeling like there is something between us.

Frankly, Bob, we have had some of our listeners call us and write us asking for an entire series about adult sibling rivalry, and we may address that at some point in the future.

Number 19 – pray that you will catch them.  You know, there have been some interesting times in our family.  Some of our children have repeatedly had money that disappeared or clothing or objects that never showed up.  And after it occurs a few times, you realize it's not just the absent-mindedness of this child who is losing her allowance or a portion of her allowance.  There may be a child in the family who is stealing things, and it could be a possession, it could be money, and so, frankly, part of what you have to do here is make it difficult for other children to steal.  That means each of your children ought to have a secret place where they put their money where none of the other children see it or know about it.  That's one of the solutions to this.

But another solution is if money is disappearing, begin to pray that you'll catch them.  We caught one of our children in the theft of a penny.  I've told that story here before, but one of our boys stole his brother's 1942D penny.  Now, this penny was probably worth, Bob, maybe a quarter, okay?  So it was rare, but it wasn't, you know, a gem, okay? 

But he lifted it and hid it.  And we knew that he did it, and so we began to pray as we put him to bed at night – "God, you know this child has done this.  I pray that you'll help us catch him."

Bob: You prayed that out loud?

Dennis: Out loud over the child as we put him to bed.  And we'd pray that over more than one child.

Bob: How old were the kids?

Dennis: You know, Bob, I don't recall, but probably around 6 or 7 maybe – maybe a little younger.  But it was interesting – there was a conviction of God's spirit on that child's little life, and they found the penny, and then there was another issue we had to deal with at that point.

Number 20 – be in agreement as a couple on your boundaries and penalties when there is sibling rivalry.

Bob: Good.

Dennis: Barbara and I used Proverbs, chapter 6 where it talks about six things, yes, seven things the Lord hates, and those seven things kind of became the framework from which we designed our penalty system for penalizing our children for sibling rivalry.  You just can't allow certain things to go unaddressed – hitting, biting, namecalling, calling a child a dirty name, those kinds of things were not and are not acceptable in our family.  And, by the way, Bob, as your children get older, and you know this, as they move into the teenage years, you have to have a game plan for the time they are teenagers, because the penalties change as they get older.

Bob: It's also good to have children memorize some of these passages of Scripture perhaps in response to acts of sibling rivalry.  So – "We've caught you doing this, why don't you memorize these five verses out of Romans, chapter 12, about preferring one another with honor and, if possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."  Get them to memorize those passages of Scripture and see how God's Word begins to work its own way into their souls.

Dennis: Yeah, it's got to happen.  Well, number 21 in our ways to handle sibling rivalry – Dads, I'm speaking to dads now, don't let your children wear your wife down and emotionally confuse her.  At certain points, I believe our children mug our wives and their mothers, and they need Dad to step in and provide a few boundaries.

Bob: Sometimes Dad is the soft touch in the family, and Mom needs to come along and help rescue him.

Dennis: Yeah, that's exactly right.  Number 22 – occasionally, ask them to resolve sibling rivalry by writing a letter to their sibling.  One of the problems that occurred repeatedly in our family was that they couldn't work things out verbally, and so in order to help them capture what they're feeling, give them some time to write down what they're feeling and write a letter to their brother or sister.  This works much better than a face-to-face volcanic eruption.

Number 23 – use sibling rivalry to teach them that God is still in control.  The lesson of Joseph and his brothers from the Old Testament is even in the midst of what man intended for evil, God can use for good.  That is a powerful principle that you can teach your children.

Number 24 – and this kind of ties with a couple of others that we've talked about – create situations where both parties can express how they've been hurt.  And it may be in this situation as you're dealing with teenagers, because this is really what I'm thinking about here – the mom or the dad almost needs to have a whistle and a referee to settle them down if they start yelling at each other.

Bob: You become Judge Judy in that situation.

Dennis: That's exactly right, so you know what?  "No, no, no, you're not going to speak that way.  No, no, no, do you realize what you're saying?"  "Now, did you hear what your sister just said?"  "Now, did you hear what your brother just expressed back to you?"  And make them articulate it so they can begin to understand it.  And then in the midst of that, Bob, very, very important, I believe it's a parent's responsibility to begin to call them to mature relationships as they go through this. 

In other words, say to them, "Do you realize where your anger is going to take you?  You're going to end up resenting your sister, resenting your brother, and that's going to take you into a relationship where you two become enemies, and that's not where you want to be as a pair of young people in our home.  You don't want to grow up with your sibling as your enemy.  You want them to be your friend, and you want to look out for one another."

Bob: You know, we have recommended to a lot of parents over the years a resource that has been put together by our friends at Peacemaker Ministries.  They have a series of resources called "Young Peacemakers," and the thing that I love is the 12 comic books that they have created that you can use in these kinds of exact situations – you get the kids together and in addition to helping them figure out their own way of communicating and resolving conflict, you can go through one of the stories in the Young Peacemaker comic book series – maybe you wouldn't do this with a 15-year-old, but you can do it with an 8 or a 9 or a 10-year-old, and have them read through the comic book, see how the characters in the comics face the conflict that they are experiencing, how they resolve it, and then you can coach your kids, train them along the way.

If you want to see what we're talking about, go to our website,, and the information about the Young Peacemaker student activity books, the comic books, are available there – a dozen different student activity books or comic books that you can use with your sons and daughters.

Again, the website,, and I think our listeners are going to find that this is very helpful.

Dennis: You know, this is an excellent resource for the mom or dad who is just kind of at their wit's end and just kind of feels like they don't have a fresh way to approach this subject of sibling rivalry.  These are excellent, practical tools that will help you win with your children.

Bob: Well, and, again, you'll find them online at  We also have the complete list of the 25 tips that Dennis has been sharing this week on how to deal with sibling rivalry – that's online at

Dennis: You forgot number 25, Bob.

Bob: We'll get to it here in just a second, don't pick a fight with me.  You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329 for more information about these resources that are available.  Someone on our team can let you know how you can have the ones that you need sent to you.

All right, here we are, ready for number 25, the last on the list of how to deal with sibling rivalry.

Dennis: And this is really profound, all right?  Ignore most of it.  Barbara and I were – we were at full tank, we had had all the sibling rivalry we could handle, so I got on the phone, and I called my friend and mentor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks.  I said, "Prof, do you have any sibling rivalry in your house?"  He laughed.  I said, "How did you handle it?"  He said, "Well, we thought our boys would grow up to be enemies, hating one another.  When they were little, in the teenage years, they wrestled, they did all kinds of stuff."  He said, "But today they are the best of friends."

Now, I want to tell you something – when we were in the middle of this, I just had to take that statement by faith, and some who are listening to the broadcast today may be looking at a pair of young people, and you go, "I cannot imagine these two ever being buddies again."  But you know what?  Our two boys used to wrestle.  In fact, the light in the kitchen, which is right below their room, used to bounce, Bob.  I'm not kidding you, the light would bounce because they would be wrestling up above.

And Barbara and I were so afraid that those two guys would grow up and be enemies.  But you know what?  Today, at their own choice, they've been helping each other, helping one another in terms of new roles they're in in their lives.  They spend time with each other, and they're still different, they're never going to be alike, but they are incredible friends.

So my encouragement to you is ignore most of it.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  

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