“Gail did it!” wails 2-year-old Sharon to her mother after yet another altercation with her 5-year-old sister. More wailing, as her mother attempts to comfort her. Finally, she offers her a red jelly bean. Sharon takes it gratefully but continues to whimper. “And one for Gail?” she asks, holding out her other hand.

Siblings. How do we understand the intense rivalry intertwined with unwavering loyalty?

I once heard that siblings argue onOn average, siblings argue every 6.3 minutes average every 6.3 minutes. The brother becomes irate when his sister plays with, touches (or even looks at!) his carefully curated collection of marbles; the sister screeches when he throws the ball just out of reach.

And loyalty? Ask any camp counselor. Two brothers might be having a fist fight, but later on, if someone starts up with his little brother, you can be sure the older one will come racing to defend him.

So on the one hand, we have this animosity that seems bottomless; on the other, we have infinite devotion. We also know that brothers and sisters learn boundaries and behavior from each other. They learn that this jostle is allowed, that punch was too hard, and this then helps them navigate relationships beyond their immediate family with more understanding and flexibility.

When a child feels less love from a parent, it is bound to impact the relationship between the siblings. I knew a family wrought with tremendous strife. Sadly, dysfunction had been passed down from parents to children. The father, Max, was a very difficult man to live with, and his daughter Rachel became estranged from him. When Max passed away, he left her not a button nor a string in his will.

Rachel counter-attacked with the best lawyers she could find. Eventually, she and her brothers reached a settlement outside of court: she received a small bone thrown her way, but nothing compared to what the two brothers received. Somehow, after all of the ugly sibling fighting, they were able to begin the process of building their relationship, something they continue to work towards.

I know of another family where the bond between the siblings remains as strong as ever. Every time there is a wedding, all 12 brothers and sisters get together and help pay for the bride’s jewelry, or the band, or whatever is necessary. They know that their parents cannot afford the entire expense, so they all chip in. Their motto is: “All for one, and one for all!”

Sibling rivalry, however, is as ancient as the book of Genesis.

The story of Cain and Abel brought sibling jealousy into the world, as we know. And then we have Ham, the third son of Noah. There are commentaries that say he didn’t want his father to have more children because then he would have to share his world with more siblings.

We can, however, learn a few tips from our forefathers and foremothers about how to minimize sibling rivalry in a family.

Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac’s mother was Sarah, and Ishmael’s mother was Hagar, but they were all living in Abraham’s house. Ishmael was a negative influence on Isaac, perhaps even a physical threat. Although it was very difficult for Abraham to do so, G‑d commanded him to send Ishmael away.

Of course, our children don’t need this type of extreme punishment. But sometimes they need a time-out or consequence for their actions when the fighting gets out of hand. We can learn from Abraham that even though it’s not easy to put boundaries on sibling disagreements, it must be done at times for the sake of peace or to protect a child.

Sometimes, we put all of our efforts into a child, and he or sheUltimately, our children are responsible for their own choices still ends up going in a direction we do not approve of. Both Jacob and Esau grew up in an exceptional environment. With such righteous parents as Isaac and Rebecca, one might think that perfectly righteous children would emerge. As it turns out, Esau became a treacherous hypocrite, saying one thing and doing another. There are numerous commentaries that explain why Isaac still wanted to confer upon Esau the very special spiritual blessings. The lesson that we want to extract from the episode of Jacob and Esau is that we can give a child the very best education and the very best models, but a child has free will. Ultimately, our children are responsible for their own choices, no matter how disappointing those choices may be.

Then there is the story of Joseph. His father Jacob gave him a beautiful coat. His brothers were righteous men, but nevertheless felt compelled to sell Joseph into slavery. From their point of view, the brothers truly thought that Joseph was dangerous to the people of Israel, but underneath their righteous indignation, was there a smidgen of jealousy because their father seemed to love Joseph more?

As a parent, try not to show favoritism towards one child over another. It will invariably cause strife among siblings. If you look hard enough, you can always find something unique to cherish about each of your children.

And here are a few tips I learned from nearly 30 years of being a mother and a grandmother:

  • When her sister is in hearing range, look a little baby in the eyes and tell her how much you love her and her big sister. Tell her how lucky she is to have such a big sister. This goes a long way.
  • Give each child even five minutes of quality time every day. Five minutes!
  • If your children are away, call each child on the phone at least once a day. If they are married, at least once a week.
  • Show that you worry and care about the test that your child had that day, the presentation that she was nervous about, etc.
  • And finally, never speak badly about one child to another.

There is nothing quite like the bond between siblings. A family is the perfect laboratory for learning love, loyalty, and honesty.