“I was hoping you could do a posting on how to encourage little children to get along together. I have three boys, and another one coming, and there are days when I feel like a referee all day!…How do mothers cultivate patience with younger siblings and the desire to be with and teach and enjoy younger siblings, when baby brother is always “messing things up” for big brothers?? And how much do we “protect” big brothers from baby’s interruption?(ie put up baby gate to keep baby separate).“There are some basic premises I think need to be established before even talking about sibling relationships. We hold two truths regarding sibling strife:
Sibling strife is natural; sibling strife is not acceptable.
Natural meaning, it happens. We all gravitate toward selfishness if we are left to “do what comes natural” and that breeds strife. There isn’t a family exempt. We expect it in our children. But it’s “not acceptable” meaning “what comes natural” is not our measure of behavior. The Word of God contains our standard. What we expect will happen is not what we allow.
Here’s the trick: there’s a wide and often harrowing gap between where we are and where we want to be. As I’ve said many times before, “Motherhood is not for the faint of heart”. If you answer the call to mother the children God has given you, there’s no way around rolling up your sleeves and getting ready to get dirty.
Here’s our starting point:
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Phillipians 2:3Contained in this verse is the essence of “loving your neighbor as yourself”. This verse (and there are others) should be a common, household mantra. It is so important that in training our children to get along we point to the reason: Because God said so. If it’s just because “y’all are driving me crazy” (yes, I say this sometimes) or because we want other people to admire our parenting skills or any other reason, we have missed it.
We also have to remember the two dynamics working together: we trust God to do a work in the hearts while we work on cultivating habits to meet the work.
And cultivating habits is a continuous work. It helps me not to get discouraged when I remember that training children is an ongoing process. We can’t address an issue and expect to solve it and move on. Over time, yes, we expect growth. But the cultivating is daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, while we prune, weed and fertilize the soil.
In esteeming others we expect acts of selflessness, kindness in tones, self-control and flexibility, and a general striving for peace. Get it settled–this is life work.
Especially where there are little ones, consideration must be given to them and the older siblings involved in disputes. This can get very hazy as we try to figure out the right way to deal with conflict. The little ones need to learn that the world does not, in fact, revolve around them, and the older ones need to learn to set the example of “esteeming others better”, which involves more patience toward a younger sibling.
Enforce. If younger ones are too young to comprehend lessons in sharing, etc., is has to be physically enforced. Very young children do understand ”no” and “wait” and should not be allowed to take things from others or destroy what others are doing, etc. A negative command accompanied by a distraction may be all that’s in order. Discipline in cases of obvious disobedience.
Teach the tools. Even as early as around the age of 1, it’s important to give them appropriate responses and tools. For example, if they want the toy that an older sibling has, I might say to them, “No, you must wait. Ask (sibling’s name) “When you get done may I have it?” And then instruct the older one to help by agreeing to give the coveted toy in a reasonable time. Though it’s more time-consuming, the earlier a child can learn patience and sharing, the better.
Employ the older children. I talk often to my older ones about the importance of helping me teach the younger ones by example. Helping them see that they can be an example of what God asks adds to their feeling valuable in the family. I remind my older ones often of how they are either a good example or bad example to their younger siblings.
Remove the object. Instead of constantly refereeing every encounter, which can be exhausting, a better way to teach them to handle their own conflicts is to remove the object of strife, no questions asked. Once they learn the results of strife or coming to Mom with every problem, they’ll naturally try to solve things and even be more willing to yield in order to avoid losing a desired item.
Don’t allow crying over toys. We deal a lot with this with a 2, 3 and 5 year old. Children learn early that crying gets mom’s attention and often gets them what they want. It’s tempting, isn’t it, just to do whatever will make it stop? I’ve tried to pay attention closely and never give a child what he wants if he’s crying or whining for it. I simply tell him that since he’s crying he doesn’t get it at all right now. “Come back later when you’re cheerful and ask me and I might be able to help you.”
Make them answer. Get into the habit of asking, “Are you loving your sister right now?”…”Is that the way you want to be treated?”…”Is that how God says we should treat each other?”…”Are you putting others first?” It’s that reminder of why we expect the behavior we do.
Work. I find it positively effective to react to strife by handing out jobs. Not only is it a negative consequence that they’ll try to avoid in the future, but it removes the source (self) and puts them in serving mode. Tailoring the work can be even more effective. Having one child make another’s bed, etc., or having them work together.
Keep them close. One lady writes about “staking tomatoes”, comparing it to training children. She suggests that it’s difficult to catch and therefore “bend” children in the right direction unless you are physically near them to see and hear what is going on. This can be challenging, especially if you have several children. But I think it’s very helpful if you detect a specific problem with a child or two, to keep them close in a “boot camp” type of training for a week or so.
With older ones…in extreme cases, we have eliminated all contacts with other friends or social activites and claimed “no friends until you’re friends”. It’s just that important. A friend of mine also made her oldest boy and girl stand beside each other at every social event (church, etc.) until they agreed to be friends.
Duct tape. As a last resort, if you have two squabbling continually, you could duct tape their arms together. It’s so bizarre, especially if you do it very calmly, that it completely disorients their thoughts and they totally forget about the strife. They find it absolutely hilarious by the time they see you’re serious. I’m only barely joking. I think I may have done this once.
When they do it right…
This is big. The biggest thing, in my opinion. Look hard for the right behavior. And then go crazy. Make a big deal about it. And instead of saying, “I’m so glad you’re finally being nice!” instead say, “THIS IS IT! Did you just hear yourself? You just loved others more than yourself. That is exactly what the Bible says to do and you did it!” (Very animated, of course.) “I am so proud of you and I’m proud of the woman/man of God you’re becoming. See what it feels like to make peace?”
Reward the peacemakers. And keep at the task of building loving relationships. This is a magnanimous work. To build a home full of love and deference where siblings treat each other as friends is no small thing. It’s also no easy thing. The relationships built in your home will under gird every other relationship in their lives. It will affect what kind of spouse they become, employee, neighbor, friend, and ultimately to teach a child to esteem others better than himself will bring him the only true contentment.
One of my favorite speeches:
“You know what? I love you guys so much. Too much to allow you to tear each other down and disobey the Lord in your relationships. I’ll do whatever it takes to help you show each other love. It’s not enough to say it.”
It’s worth the work. “Let your light so shine before men’…the light of love being cultivated in a home where He reigns supreme and we don’t accept any standard but His.
I would only add a handful of ideas to her list.
I read once that if you schedule your day, you can schedule in a block of time that is JUST little one and big brother/sister... 15 mins to an hour depending on how well they have learned this skill... this is bonding time. Big brother/sister gets to play a special game, read a special story, go on a walk, etc... this is something that only happens when big brother/sister has "their" time with little one. It becomes a treasured time. A memory building time where big brother/sister gets to "own" the responsibility of helping the little one grow up. You cannot measure the joy on the face of big brother/sister when little one comes out and says "look what bubu taught me!!"
Also, I would remind you (and myself) that the bible truly is a two edged sword! It can defeat many a debate or squabble in our children, but if we do not pick it up, we do not know how best to use it when the time of battle has arrived. That being said, scripture memory and daily reading of the word are SO VALUABLE!!! It is wonderfully amazing how God equips you with just the right tools :-) (a story that applies, a verse about honoring your father and mother, a proverb, a promise... ) What a blessing to be able to say that God is the one making the rules and we (children and parents alike) are just to obey. AND THEN SHOW IT TO OUR CHILDREN!!!
Oh... another phrase that has been used in our house (it really changes the perspective) is "That is my baby girl that you are treating badly... I cannot let you treat her that way. You are being a bully that I have to protect her from."
It is strange to watch the faces of the "mean" sibling when the perspective changes from "my annoying little sister" to "someones precious little girl" (also works from dads mouth eg"That is my bride you are speaking to!")
Being in the same room really does make a HUGE difference! Being right there to hear everything that is said.
And something we started really early on... "I dont speak whine" "We don't listen to tattle tailing" (that one is sometimes hard, but if kid comes to me and starts the sentence with sibs name, they are immediately cut off and reminded that tattling is not allowed) (they have gotten creative that way :-) but mostly as soon as they realize that they are tattling, they are told to go work it out) and "What are the rules in our house? Obey, Have a good attitude, and treat others like you want to be treated" (Every offense that we have encountered falls under at least one of those)
Ok, that is it for now... I should be posting again soon, so, until then :-)