By Barb Duncan
Did you hear the story about Cain and Abel? If you’re not familiar with the Old Testament Book of Genesis, these brothers were the sons of Adam and Eve. The older one, Cain, and his sibling, Abel, brought gifts to God one day and God liked Abel’s offering better.
Cain was furious. And jealous. He blamed his brother for the “dis” and lured him out to a field, then attacked him. Sound familiar?
If you have more than one kid, you may experience a variation of this scenario on a regular basis. In the bible story, the younger brother wound up dead, but in a lot of households it’s not uncommon for a “sib” to wind up with hurt feelings—or sore shins. Everything from who gets to sit where in the car or at the dinner table to who gets to switch the TV channel can be cause for debate and bickering. And while younger kids tend to squabble over toys and to compete for a parent’s attention, when brothers and sisters hit their teen years the conflict can really pick up steam.
After all, adolescents are undergoing major physical and neurological changes. As hormones do their thing, emotions dip and spin and kids seek out their individual identities and independence, there may be more household clashes. But there’s plenty you can do to support healthier sibling ties. For starters, model the behavior you hope they’ll adopt:
• Treat them with respect.
• Listen to what they have to say, giving each of them your full attention.
• Talk to them candidly, ask them questions and show interest in their points of view.
• Express appreciation when they each accomplish something.
• Value their differences and (appropriate) choices.
You can also help rebuild sibling connections by having regular family mealtimes. Even when dinner-table discussions turn into fracases, they have an opportunity to develop problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills. Plan family outings and getaways. Bike riding, hiking and swimming at the nearest indoor pool are fun options. When the kids are moving and enjoying themselves, they have less time for and interest in criticizing each other.
Get out a deck of cards and some board games. Your teens may not always be willing or able to take part in these family activities, but you’ll be surprised at how well they can work.
Set limits and consequences and establish clear expectations. For instance, physical aggression is off limits. Don’t give their squabbling your time and attention. It’s inappropriate behavior and you expect better, so let them know by walking away.
Finally, remind your kids of all the many fun, special times they have had together and how fortunate they can be, years from now, to have a brother or sister who is a friend.