Bickering, Complaining, and Time Pressure – Part 2

We are in the midst of a Mom’s Corner series addressing the questions raised in this e-mail:

“I was just reading your latest Mom’s Corner and was wondering about you addressing something in the future. We are trying to raise five children, ages six years down to eight months, in the way God would want. I am having difficulty with bickering, bickering, and more bickering. The children complain about having to do chores and not getting enough play time because they have to do school. We are homeschooling. I try to explain that we help each other and should treat each other as we would have others treat us. Also of note . . . I feel my time is so divided, especially with twin eight-month-olds. I don’t feel like I have the time to do all the things that need to be done, such as when it comes to get the children to listen and be kind to each other. I know that this should be the priority, but it seems too hard.” Mom to Five

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, I suggest you read it so that you know what has already been said. This month I would like to move into considering how a mom would deal with the children’s continual bickering on a daily basis. Keep in mind the suggestions from last month, which advised that family time in the Word, having a mindset that raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a long-term project, and addressing sin in our own lives is the starting place.

I would encourage Mom to be in prayer concerning the problems she is observing in her children’s lives, such as sibling squabbles. This prayer would be during the mom’s daily Bible reading and prayer time and also each time that there is a particular situation that arises. Here is a good verse for Mom to pray for herself: “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad. . .” (1 Kings 3:9). When praying for the children, this is one of many verses that would be powerful: “Lord Jesus, would You teach my children to ‘Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering'” (Colossians 3:12).

In looking back on my mothering with small children, I regret that I wasn’t as faithful in praying for my children and for myself, regarding specific issues, as I could have been. Regularly there were times when I simply dished out the consequence without taking time for prayer either in my heart or with the children. When we pray with our children at these moments, we are beginning the discipleship process of teaching them to rely on the Lord Jesus Christ, to look to Him for strength when we are weak, and also to confess sin to Him. That is every bit as important as teaching them to be nice to each other, and therefore, it is worthy of our time investment.

“Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17). Obviously, the mom who wrote me the e-mail would testify that her children are not giving her rest or bringing delight to her soul. The solution to that problem is offered her in Proverbs: correct thy son. However, I can also testify that this correction needs to be consistently used if we hope to see it become effective.

That means we must know what we are going to use for a consequence if the children are bickering. When our children were younger, we had two main consequences to use if they were squabbling with each other. The first one was to sit each of the children involved in the situation on a dining room chair with a kitchen timer set for a pre-determined number of minutes. For our younger children, this was usually five to ten minutes, but if there were return visits to the chair in the same day, the time might be increased. We wanted the consequence to be effective and help to motivate the children to change their behavior. If the chair-sitting time wasn’t enough to do this, then it needed to be longer. By sitting the offending children on a chair, I removed them from whatever was creating the conflict between them. In addition, we gained a period of time for cooling off. It was difficult to work through the problem with the children when their emotions were running high, and they were greatly involved in the situation.

The second consequence we used came from this verse in Proverbs: “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife” (Proverbs 17:1). We grind our own wheat and make our bread. My little children preferred the soft inner pieces of bread versus the outside crusts, so I dried the crusts to be used for bread crumbs. However, at one point in our parenting, Steve and I realized that those dry crusts could provide us with a perfect consequence for children who weren’t being nice to each other.

We began having the children who were part of the conflict come to the dining room table to eat a dry crust. We briefly reviewed Proverbs 17:1 with them and explained that we would rather eat dry morsels all the time and have a peaceful home than to eat the way we usually eat, but with strife amongst family members. This was a simple consequence that I could use consistently—as long as I had some dry crusts available. It removed the children from the problematic situation, and it reinforced the Biblical analogy found in Proverbs 17:1.

With my children, I found it was important not to allow myself to be drawn into the children’s excuse making and not let them argue about a consequence. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit” (Proverbs 26:4-5). Each child usually felt that he was right and his sibling was wrong, making him full of excuses for his behavior. The truth was usually that either child could have chosen to be kind, thereby avoiding the problem. I did watch to see if a particular child might often be the aggressor in the situations so that I could be especially vigilant in trying to help him learn to be more loving.

I also used these times to work with the children to help them know how they could have done or said something differently in order to have avoided the conflict. My job was not only to correct my children but to teach them how to be nice to each other and how to resolve their own problems. That meant I told them what each of them could have done to have prevented the squabble or to have ended it once it was started.

We worked with our children in helping them recognize the sin in their lives in relation to the bickering that had transpired. We wanted them to be able to repent of their sin, confessing it to the Lord Jesus and to the one they had offended. We were teaching them to go to their sibling and ask his forgiveness for whatever they had done wrong.

When our children were little, we went through this process over and over again—consequences and teaching, consequences and teaching. Because the children were young, it sometimes seemed like we weren’t making very good progress in these areas. However, with each advancing year and a backward look, we could see that, step by step, the relationships were improving. The older the children became, the fewer conflicts there were between them and the fewer consequences that were needed.

Dealing on a daily basis with the bickering that can go on between siblings has a way of wearing a mom down. She needs to be dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ and be proactive in teaching the children how to avoid or resolve conflict. As we work with our children in these areas, we are following directives of the Word to bring our children up in both the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.