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.

Hearts for Jesus

“My question is this . . . with four children ages 14, 12, 10 and 8, how do I get them to enjoy Christ and seek to know and serve Him? My children love to play, play, play. It sounds as though you let your kids have video entertainment when they were younger. How did you remove those things without generating resentment and envy of other families? They are very geared toward where their next fun is going to come from.” Concerned Mom

This Corner’s request was written to me from a homeschooling mom. Praise the Lord for the desire of her heart. Sadly, though, it is usually the moms who are concerned about their children’s spiritual growth as opposed to the dads (as evidenced by the fact that the moms are generally the ones asking us questions in this area). But why am I responding to a mom’s question here in a Dad’s Corner? It is because Dad is the one who was given the overall responsibility in Ephesians 6:4 for how the children are raised. “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

In addition to the responsibility God has given Dad, Dad often holds the keys as to where the hearts of the children are directed. If Dad’s heart is worldly and fun-focused, then that is the likely direction the children’s hearts will be turned as well. However, if Dad’s heart is set on things above not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:2), then that is where the children’s hearts will be pulled. Frankly, it is an extremely difficult battle to help the children choose the Lord over fun, but there is hope.

Let’s briefly look at Colossians 3:1-2. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The first phrase is important to this discussion. It is a condition that if true, then the rest of verses 1 and 2 apply. Paul is saying that if a person is saved, then he is to seek things which are above. To seek means just that. It is a willful choice—a decision to desire and seek after those things that are of the Lord Jesus. They will be important to us, what we think about and pursue. Paul is not saying, if you are saved, it would be nice if you had a heart for spiritual things instead of the fun things of this world. He is saying, if we are saved, we are to seek after the things of the Lord Jesus.

What sort of things might that be? First and foremost it will be Jesus Himself. Dads, do we delight in Jesus? Do we think about Him as a bride longs to be with her new husband? Do we talk to Him in our hearts throughout the day? Do our hearts yearn to spend eternity with Jesus?

Further evidence of being risen with Christ will be a desire to be in the Word individually and as a family. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus and the Word are inseparable. We can’t love Jesus and not love His Word. Do we want to read the Bible? Do we think about the Word and how we can apply it to our lives? “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). A sign of life and health with a newborn is the appetite to drink milk. Peter is saying that just as a newborn craves milk so a believer will earnestly long for God’s Word. Those who are saved will feed on the Bible.

In raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, Romans 6:16 is important to consider. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). It is not only important to set our affections on things above but also to obey. Who are we yielding to in obedience—the flesh and the world or the Lord Jesus Christ? It isn’t enough to have warm, fuzzy thoughts of the Lord; we are to obey Him.

When we obey the Lord, He will manifest Himself to us. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). The love of Christ in our lives—Jesus’ love for us and our love for Jesus—is a result in the believer’s life when we obey Him. It is something obvious to others when they are around a person who is abiding in Christ. It is a further “Amen” to the children that Dad is walking in fellowship with his Savior. It demonstrates to the children that Dad has a real relationship with the God of creation and that the things of this world are merely chaff. When Christ is alive in Dad’s life, the family will desire Christ and things above as well.

Obeying Jesus means we won’t have time for the activities that our world is in love with and is a further demonstration of real faith in Christ. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). James is using incredibly strong language to tell us that born again believers’ lives will be different from those of the world.

Now with that groundwork validating the need to remove unprofitable, fun things, and the need for Dad to lead, let’s turn back to the question. “How did you remove those things without generating resentment and envying of other families?” The changes need to begin with Dad. It isn’t just an activity change but a heart change. About twenty years ago, our family of five was like most “normal” Christian families in how we spent our time. One thing we allowed our children to do was to play some carefully selected video games. (Those video games were so tame and boring compared to today’s video games that they would hardly be called video games anymore.)

As we spent more time in God’s Word, we became uncomfortable with the “beast” (TV), video games, and sports, and we realized they had to go. We spoke with the children and explained that the video games were addicting and unprofitable. We shared with them that we wanted to have family Bible time every night and for them to be productive with their time. If you have your children’s hearts, they will receive the direction change and not rebel against it. If you don’t have their hearts, then that is one more thing that needs to be addressed (For more information on keeping children’s hearts see our book called Keeping Our Children’s Hearts).

One thing that helped our children with their time usage was scheduling their time with productive activities. In addition to their school, they had chores. After they finished with their chores, there were projects and other learning activities on which they were to work. Projects are wonderful tools to teach our children worthwhile skills and are a profitable use of time. Back then, we had the boys beginning to learn both computer and building skills.

I have written several Corners on the subject of practical projects that would be helpful for learning how to use projects with your children. Here is the link to those articles.

In addition the Preparing Sons book is a good resource on productive use of time and working with your sons to instill in them a work ethic, skills, and the ability to provide for their future families.

Getting rid of the “beast” is also very helpful in weaning children off of the entertainment, “got to have fun,” addiction. With Dad leading the way, spend time together doing constructive things around the home and helping others. Often, I hear that dads feel they deserve some time to relax in front of the beast after a hard day of work, but would the Lord Jesus agree? In our society we have it easier than probably any other nation or time in history. How could we ever attempt to justify before the Lord that we dads deserve to relax? Certainly, no one could give the Lord a good reason for sitting in front of the vile programming that is broadcast these days.

If we deserve to relax, what about our wives? Isn’t it likely that many of them are working as hard or harder than we do during the day? May we dads have right thoughts and lead by being good examples. One way might be that everyone pitches in with the dinner cleanup. Then I can’t think of a better way to rest a bit and spend time profitably than to move into the living room and spend an hour or so reading the Bible and singing together. In addition to spiritual growth, over time you will find the family actually beginning to enjoy just sitting and fellowshipping amongst themselves. Then if there is still time left before bed, tackle some projects.

The Corner’s request didn’t say whether the children had made professions of faith. If they have, then what I shared is essential for their being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If they haven’t, there is no better setting for them to be brought to a point of seeing their need of a Savior. Think about it, if they aren’t saved, what is likely better for them spiritually, the continued pursuit of fun, or being in God’s Word every night? The answer is obvious.

Is it possible the children might envy other children? I suppose so, but if Dad’s heart is turned toward the children, if he has his children’s hearts and is spending time together as a family, it is more likely others will envy his children.

May we be fathers who are leading our children in paths that will help them learn to seek what is above. We teach first and foremost by our example. I encourage you to consider well what that example is in your family. Eliminate the trivial, empty time pursuits in your home and help your children become productive. Your children will bless you for these choices in years to come.