Improving Sibling Relationships

December 05, 2023

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Today's question says, "How do I encourage strong sibling relationships? My daughter communicated that she has bitterness toward her brother, and he as a result has now started to respond in kind to her negative response to him. How can I help her to forgive him and see the good in him? What builds strong relationships?"


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast, where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "How do I encourage strong sibling relationships? My daughter communicated that she has bitterness toward her brother, and he as a result has now started to respond in kind to her negative response to him. How can I help her to forgive him and see the good in him? What builds strong relationships?". So such good questions about how can we actually foster healthy relationships among siblings and make sure that when our children sin against one another, that that sin is not just left there unconfessed and unrepented of and damages that relationship. I'm pretty sure that most who are watching and listening who do have sibling relationships know that this was probably an issue when you were growing up and you might even have some tension in sibling relationships even now as an adult. And so we really want to be intentional at the type of relationships that we are fostering among the children within our home.

So we're going to dive down deep into this question today, but before we do that, I would ask that if you found the content of this podcast beneficial, please make sure to like and subscribe so that you don't miss any future episodes. And I would also ask that you invest the time writing a review that really helps more people find this content. Also, if you're watching on YouTube, if you can leave a comment that also just helps more people discover this content, and we ultimately want to equip as many Christian adults as possible to get their kids thinking critically and biblically. Also, if you have a question that you would like for me to answer on a future Foundation Worldview podcast, you can submit that by going to

Now, I really just want to commend whoever wrote in this question because it is so wonderful that you are trying to be proactive, that you see this problem between two of your children and you want to seek out, okay, biblically, how can you resolve this conflict between your daughter and your son? And especially as we're thinking about bitterness in any relationship, it's so important that we address that head on.

Scripture refers to bitterness as a root and a root that can really take hold in our hearts and in our lives. In the 12th chapter of Hebrew verses 14 and 15, the author of Hebrews writes, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled". And so it's so important for us to recognize when there is a root of bitterness in our own hearts and in our children's hearts because the tricky thing about a root is the root is below the surface and you can't really see it while it's first germinating and growing. But once the plant pushes up above the soil, that root is there and the longer that you let it stay there, the deeper that it grows.

I saw this just in real life in gardening. One year, one summer, one of my roommates and I, we had a garden in our backyard. Our landlord was so gracious and built us this raised bed, and it wasn't that large. It was probably only about, it was maybe like eight feet by three feet, but we had a garden that summer and it was so fun just getting to care and tend for the plants and then going straight from garden, to grill, to plate, to get to eat lots of fresh vegetables. Well, the next summer that roommate got married and moved out, and I didn't have time on my own to care and tend for a garden, so I decided not to grow anything that summer. And as I left the garden untended, just various different types of weeds began to take root and grow.

And as I remember when I was home that summer, looking out the window and thinking, I really need to go out there and I need to weed the garden and I need to just clear it so that next year I'll be able to actually plant something. But I never did that that whole summer, nor the fall nor the winter. It's the next spring when planting time came around and I had time that summer to have a garden. I went out to try to weed the garden and to prepare the soil for a new crop of vegetables. And what I found is because I had left those weeds there so long, they had taken root so deep in the soil that it was almost impossible just for me with my little shovel and hoe to get to the root of the weeds. And actually after two hours of being out in the garden working, I only got one square foot of garden completely weeded because it was so hard to get out those weeds with such deep roots. And that summer, I actually didn't have a garden again because I just didn't have the time to get the whole garden weeded because of these deeply rooted weeds.

And so bitterness is a similar thing. When bitterness grows in our hearts or in our children's hearts, the more we let it grow, the deeper that it takes root and then the more difficult that it is to actually deal with. And so I think the first thing that's really important to do is to identify where is this coming from actually? What is this root of bitterness? Are your daughter and your son very different in personality and they just have some differences where they just naturally have friction in their relationship a lot of times?

I think about myself growing up. I just naturally am a very orderly, organized person, which can be a really great thing. I'm very much type-A. However, the not so great thing about it is, I have a certain plan and I can have a tendency to be very inflexible with that plan. And one of my siblings has a very opposite personality than I do, where I like to have everything planned out ahead of time and organized. This other sibling is very flexible and especially as a child, just loved to fly by the seat of their pants, and there's a lot of great things about that. But that sibling and I just had constant conflict because we approached life so differently. So that's one thing.

If your children have very opposite personalities, that's a conversation to have with them about what can they do when their natures are so very opposite, how can they think about one another in that? Or you can also look to see is there a specific instances where your son has sinned against your daughter and your daughter has sinned against your son, and those issues have never been confessed and repented of. So it's really important to recognize where is the bitterness stemming from? Because the thing about sin is sin never goes away. Sin always must be paid for.

Sometimes we have this faulty idea in the church that God just smiles at us, and it's kind of like, "oh, well, it's not that big a deal. Wink wink, I'll forgive you." Where nowhere in scripture is that ever portrayed that sin is always a grievous offense against God. And the only way that sin can be forgiven is when it is paid for. And there are two options presented for us in scripture that our sin can be paid for through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus actually bore the full weight of God's wrath against our sin when he was on the cross. And if we repent of that sin and trust in him, then we receive forgiveness because he has already paid the penalty for that sin. Or we can pay the penalty for our own sin by being eternally separated from God in hell.

And so sin is never just something to be winked at and swept under the rug that it has to be paid for. And so if we can identify certain instances where our children have sinned against one another, these are times when we need to walk them through the process of confession and repentance.

And so I would encourage the person who wrote in with this question to sit down with your daughter and ask her what specific things are you bitter about towards your brother? And if there's certain situations where he has sinned against her, then you need to have her go to him and say, "Hey, when you did X, Y, or Z, that was wrong. And that really hurt me" and give him the opportunity to confess that he did that and to repent of that, and then for her to forgive him. And conversely, I'm sure there are ways in which your daughter has sinned against your son. And so this just needs to be a continual practice in our home of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. And so this is something we need to model for our children and we need to guide them along in as well.

That's something I'm very grateful for about my dad is as my brother and sister and I have grown into adults and my brother's married and my sister's married and they both have kids, my dad really cares about all of our relationships. And while this has not always been fun in the moment, there have been times as an adult where I've sinned against my sibling and my dad has one of my siblings, and my dad has pointed it out and said, okay, you need to go apologize for that. When are you going to do that?

And so that's so important that when our children are still children, when we're shepherding them within our home, that we are providing them with that model and that we are holding them accountable to that and that they know that sin never goes away, that sin must be confessed and repented of.

So that's the first thing. Then if our children have very opposite personalities, a book that can be a good thing to go through with them is actually a book that we've recommended in a previous Foundation Worldview Book Club is the book, "The Treasure Tree". And it just goes through a story about four different animals, and the four animals represent different personality types. And it can be really helpful just to help our children understand that we are wired differently. So the way that we view the world is not necessarily the exact same way that our siblings view the world. And so that book can be a really helpful guide to that.

I remember actually, I used to read that book to my students and then with their parents, they would take a little personality test. And not that personality tests are decisive or we're put in a box or any personality test is perfect, but it was just helpful for my students to realize, oh, there are different personalities in this classroom. And then what I would do is once they had identified their personality types with their parents, I would print out little pictures that the animals of the animals that represented their personality type, and I would just glue it on their name tag on their desk so that every time I was looking at their name tag, I would remember what personality type that they had just so I can think through how to love them best.

I remember one time there was this one little boy in my class, and he was very, very type a, very organized, very structured, and it was really bothering him that his desk group was not exactly on the tape that I had put down on the floor. And so he kept saying to his group, our desks are not in the right space. Our desks are not in the right space. And this other boy kept saying, it's not a big deal. It's not like they're majorly off the mark. We're close enough. And then the boy that said that, he looked down at his desk mates name tag and he saw a picture of a little beaver and he said, oh, I forgot you're a beaver. Okay, I'm going to help help you. We can move the desk back because the beaver personality type is very structured and organized and type A. And so that little boy knew, oh, he's looking at the world slightly differently than I am. I can help him with this. So I think that can be a really helpful book to go through with our kids.

Another thing that I would recommend is just making sure that we're fostering opportunities or providing opportunities that are going to foster genuine relationship development with our children. And so if we can give them a common project to work on together, it doesn't have to be necessarily a chore around the house, but even just something fun, whether they're building something together or creating something together. I know this is something that I would do with students in my classroom. There were students who just naturally didn't gel. Their personalities were very opposite, and they just didn't spend time together. So what I would do is every month I would partner together students who were very different, and twice a week after 10 minutes, I would give them an assignment to do together. Maybe they would have to build a paper airplane, and then we'd have a paper airplane contest at the end of that time. Or maybe they would be building a tower or maybe they would be making a card for somebody, just some common project that they would be working on together.

Now, it didn't automatically turn those opposite students into best friends, but what it did do is it gave them a common goal to work towards and help them foster relationship. So you can just think through what's a fun activity that your kids can do together that's going to foster sibling relationships? If they're older, you could even say, "hey, you know what? This Saturday we're going to spend time together as a family, and you know what? We have $20 that we can spend for this family time. What I'd love for you to do is I'd love for the two of you to sit down and talk through how can we spend this $20 for something fun for the family?" So just give them a project that they can work on together. Give them a little bit of freedom for how they can spend a very small budget on a fun family day. But anything where you're actually helping to foster relationship among the siblings in a way that's not super, doesn't have a lot of pressure and can be a lot of fun.

A final resource that I would like to recommend to you is the book called "Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends" by Sarah Stephen and Grace Malley. And these are just three siblings who now, they're all adults, but when they wrote the book, I think they were all teenagers, and they just wrote the book on just different biblical tips on helping foster sibling relationships. And when I was teaching, I used to read this book to my class and then give them a challenge every week for something that they could do to help foster relationships among their siblings.

And actually, the first time I read it with one of my classes, I actually learned a whole lot about sibling relationships. And even though I was in my mid-twenties at the time, I was able to implement a lot of the things that the book talked about. And then my relationship with my siblings was transformed through implementing some of the things that are talked about in the book. And today I can say that my sister, she and I were not very close growing up, but today she is one of my best friends. And isn't that really what we want for our siblings? So, sorry, not for our siblings, but for our children as they are siblings and as they grow as siblings.

So that's what I'd recommend, making sure that we really get to the heart of what is the root of that bitterness? How can we help our children address it? Make sure that any sin is confessed and repented of that it's forgiven and that there's reconciliation, making sure we're shepherding our children in that process. Then providing them with just some fun opportunities to build relationship, giving them some common goals to work towards, even giving them maybe a small budget to plan, a fun family activity. And then just the books, "The Treasure Tree", and "Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends" can be really helpful tools and helping our children understand one another and think through how they can intentionally love one another.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode, but as always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that no matter the situation in which you and the children God has placed in your care find yourselves, that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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