Siblings bicker. That’s what happens when sinners live side-by-side. And as parents, you do everything you can to capitalize on teachable moments and encourage camaraderie and love. Yet heaven help us all when the holidays roll around—because sibling rivalry tends to hit a max.
Well, lots of reasons. Suzy got a bigger piece of pumpkin pie, Danny’s gift came in a bigger box, and older brother is getting all the attention at his basketball tournaments every weekend. This time of year offers no shortage of opportunities to compare and complain.
Here are a few suggestions for mitigating sibling rivalry this holiday season and beyond.
1. Establish expectations for gifts. Younger kids often evaluate Christmas gifts according to the quantity of packages, while older kids might calculate how much money was spent. If you maintain a certain gift plan for each child, discuss as a family what that will look like. Maybe big sister will get fewer boxes to open because her new computer costs as much as little brother’s ten gifts combined. Or maybe you’ll choose to give the same number of gifts regardless of cost. Make sure your children know they are loved equally, and that love should not be measured according to the presents stacked under the tree.
2. If kids receive a shared gift—such as a family gaming system, for example—create usage guidelines before bickering has a chance to sprout. Maybe each child gets half an hour of play time (and set a timer to keep track). Or maybe they’ll take turns choosing which game to play. Here’s a good idea: As soon as anyone bickers or whines, the gift goes away for the rest of the day. What spurs kids to rivalry may also be the best opportunities to teach patience and sharing.
3. Be mindful of quality time. If your busy schedule requires the family to rush or sit through concerts or sports matches focused on one sibling more than others, also set aside time to focus on your other children one-on-one. And when appropriate, bring along a younger child’s favorite books or games to enjoy while you support an older sibling’s activities.
4. Give everybody a job to do. Sometimes kids will fight over who gets to pour the sprinkles on the angel cookies or whose turn it is to put the star on the tree. As much as possible, assign fun tasks according to each child’s talents, abilities and interests so that everyone feels like a valuable part of the festivities and traditions.
5. When holiday breaks provide too much togetherness, on the other hand, be prepared to give the kids separate spaces to decompress privately. Realize it can be stressful for everyone to be in one another’s company 24/7, especially outside the usual school and work routine. Provide opportunities to part ways so the kids will be more likely to get along when they’re together.
6. Remember Jesus. Finally, take time each day to pray together as a family and to focus on Jesus, the cause of our gratitude and good cheer. He tells us, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Love is the opposite of bickering! So encourage your kids to show love to one another not just for your sake or theirs, but for Jesus—the greatest gift of all!