There are many different approaches, or schools of thought, on how to deal with sibling rivalry. There are those who insist on having fairness for all. These are the parents who pull out the timer and make notes on who had what & when. They think they are teaching their kids to 'play fair' and to share, but in reality they are just simply teaching their kids that when Mommy or Daddy is looking (and acting as referee), things need to be done a certain way. Does this approach help foster a change in heart and behavior?
Then there are those at the other end of the spectrum. These are the parents who want to promote 'democracy' instead of having a mini re-creation of socialism. They divide the toys, they take votes, they let the children try to manage their own arguments and seldom interfere. Their idea is that kids need to learn their 'pecking order,' among other things. Is this how God is with us? Does He sit back and let us 'duke it out?' Does He try to promote democracy among us?
We have found that the best approach is the "present approach." What is this? This means you are present in your kid's lives and you are in tune to what is going on in their little hearts. Why are they acting like this? Why is Johnny so selfish lately? Why is Suzie always tattling on her brother? What are the character issues that are being demonstrated lately? This is the parent who will cater his/her interventions to the child, the situation, and the issues at hand. Sorry, there is no pat answer. There is no magical approach that will make sibling rivalry disappear. But, look at the bright side! God has given parents the tools, the gift of this precious time in which you can help model and teach your children to deal with conflict. Because, as you know, they will always face it - ALWAYS! They need to know how to deal with it in a Godly way.
Remember that in Part I we talked about bathing this issue in prayer? We wrote about praying scriptures specific to this issue? Well, begin today! In 1 Thessalonians 3:12 we have a model prayer by Paul as he himself was burdened and in prayer for the unity among these believers. Also, you could use Hebrews 13:1 or Romans 15:5. Write these verses on note cards and post them above the kitchen sink or on the dashboard in your car. Read and pray these verses for your children daily! God WILL work.
Another underlying goal you have to have in all this is to teach your children scripture through these times and trials. Like we see in 2 Tim. 3:15 where we learn that Timothy knew the scriptures from childhood. Let's teach our kids how to deal with conflict. If they are too small for you to be able to really talk through these issues, model the principles and they will learn by doing. You can train your children even when they are too young to "reason with."
We'd like to create a list of ideas on how we approach conflict among siblings. These are not placed in a special order. Some are guiding principles we use as we teach/train about dealing with conflict and some ideas are specific how-to's:
1) Teach your kids to deal with issues promptly. Teach them that scripture says not to let the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4:26). Teach them the dangers of bitterness.
2) WITH THE EXCEPTION OF DANGER (which we train our children about), we teach our kids that if they resort to the "judge" (bringing the issue before a parent) two things will happen. #1, they are opening themselves up for examination, judgement and trial as well. This is scriptural... Matt. 7:1-6; Matt 18:15-17. Have you noticed that in most conflicts there is not only one guilty party? We want our children to learn how to respond properly to resolve conflict, rather than causing it to escalate. #2, both parties get a consequence. Why? Because we want to condition them to learn to deal with conflict on their own. We want to teach and train them how to do it, of course. Our desire is that they would only bring the conflict to us as a last resort. This isn't a "natural" behavior. It is a learned behavior and God has given us an awesome way to deal with conflict. So, we expect our kids to learn to deal with it without the need for Mommy or Daddy to intervene. Keep in mind, however, that when we hear them bickering or arguing, we aren't fast to get into it. We usually wait, listen, pray, and we see how they choose to deal with it. Remember, this is not with regards to danger (physical fighting, big sister hurting little brother, etc).
3) In terms of training them on how to deal with conflict... A great resource for doing this can be found on Doorposts.com. The resource is called "The Brother Offended" and it comes with a book and laminated poster to help teach your children how NOT to deal with conflict, as well as how to deal with it biblically. These are some of the specific things we teach our children:
- Conflict is going to happen (it is inevitable).
- How to deal with the pestering sibling by getting away and having time apart, by blessing them (Rom 12:14), by not seeking revenge (Romans 12:17-19), by praying for the situation, etc.
- The teaching of casting lots (see Proverbs 18:18) to help decide who chooses what they do next, or who gets the turn. They also need to learn to take turns.
- Scripture teaches us to be humble in conflict (1 Cor 6:7), willing to be cheated or wronged. We, as parents, would do well in modeling this for our children.
- How to ask forgiveness and to pardon.
4) We always want to give our kids an outlet to vent their frustrations with us. We want them to be able to come to us with their problems or questions, etc. So we teach them that if they see a pattern of behavior in one of their siblings, they should come to us with the issue ALONE and in PRIVATE. We are big advocates for not shaming each other. When tattling happens it most often happens in front of the offender as well as others. Tattling can be a way of revenge and belittling others and is not appropriate. We teach the kids to, instead, come to us 'quietly' with the issue. This is how we take our conflicts to the Lord. He wants us to come to Him for direction. We will listen to the child, pray with them asking God to give both them and us wisdom, and then we may offer some ideas on how to deal with the issue. We also then look at ways we can be purposeful in dealing with the character issue that was brought before us.
5) Sometimes, if the offender continues to disrupt the peaceful scene and we see the others trying to handle it as we have instructed them, we will intervene, often by removing the offender from the situation. This practice breaks their fellowship with the others for a while. We do not like to send them to their rooms or send them away because the solitude will usually not bring about change. Instead, we ask that child to come with us and we apply a gardening principle. Young tomato plants need close direction, which is why they are "staked" to a stick. We apply this truth by bringing the child alongside us for a time as we continue in our daily tasks. During this time, we look for opportunities to involve them in what needs to be done. This allows us to invest more in them, fill their little cups, talk about the issue, and reinforce our expectations. You may think that this is a reward for them instead of a consequence. Actually, initially they see it as a consequence because they don't get what they want (the toy, playing with siblings, their way, etc). Eventually they do see the benefit in it, and we see a change in heart.
6) During our daily evening Bible Time, we have a time of "dealing with offenses" and ask all the members of the family to make things right before we proceed with the scripture reading, singing, praying, etc. (See Mat. 5:23-24 and Eph. 4:26.
7) As parents, we model the behavior we want our kids to have. We also may use 'acting' to visually teach our kids what behavior we want them to have during conflict, or behaviors to avoid. This is especially good for visual learners, little ones with short attention spans, etc. Sometimes we use puppets to act out the scene because even in the acting, we don't want the kids to be confused and think Mommy and Daddy are fighting.
8) A rather 'new' thing we are trying to incorporate in our weekly schedule is a time for each child to have with Daddy for "pow-wow's." This is a time where each child who wants to can have a time to talk privately with Daddy about whatever is on their heart. When we have done this, often the topic of conflict comes up and it gives the child and father a time to pray for the issue and talk it over. It is a time of listening to the hearts of our children. This idea came from the Maxwell family of Titus2.com.
9) Sometimes there is a need for one appointed child to be in charge. For example, some of the children are asking for a snack and you need to step out to another room for a few minutes. You appoint one child (the most responsible and trustworty) to be in charge and teach the others to submit to them. If a child 'breaks a rule,' the one in charge has the authority to send them away from the table, etc. This also teaches all the children to respect the appointed authority.
**A note on boys: We have found that God has gifted boys so differently than girls. Unfortunately, we often make home life very feminine and have unrealistic expectations of our boys, as if they will act like the girls. But this is not how God made them. God made them rowdy, energetic, bossy, wanting to rule, strong, with the need to compete. When we make our home environments so that boys cannot exert their energy, their 'rule', their strength, it stifles the boys. It can actually cause more conflict, more problems, more frustration. Honestly, this topic in and of itself deserves a whole different post, but for the sake of the larger topic at hand, let's try to cover some basics.
If you have daughters older than your son(s), the girls are naturally going to want to use their "mothering natures" to control the environment. This will irritate the boys. They want to rule and dominate. Boys will often pester and pick fights because they want to be in charge, they need to compete, etc. The girls can't stand this disorderly conduct and cry out for help. So what should you do? Give the boys areas of dominion. These are areas in which they rule and the girls cannot tell them how or when to do it. Give them responsibilities that use their strength. Resist the temptation to make it all equal with the girls. Do not let the girls be the ones to do this job you gave the boys. Let only the boys do it and teach/model for the girls how to praise the boys for their diligence, etc. Let the boys run off their steam. They need a lot more outdoor time than girls do. You will find this to be true if you homeschool your children. Give all of your children opportunities to take a break and get some fresh air outside. Be especially mindful of this need in your boys. You may want to try, if possible, to have the boys home-school in a different area than the girls. Make sure that their "sitting still" time is not too long. Let them be in charge of certain areas of the yard and be the one "in authority" so they can practice and have an outlet for that God-given instinct.
Well, we hope these points have been helpful as you prayerfully seek God's direction in this important area. If you have additional ideas or comments, please leave a comment so other's can also be blessed.