Siblings: The Good and the Bad – Part 3

We are in the midst of evaluating what we can do as mothers to facilitate the development of close sibling relationships. It seems like in Christian homes even the children should be kind to each other, but the reality is often quite the opposite. After the first article on this topic, I received an e-mail that I felt would be a good beginning for Part Three of our series.

“I don’t know if you are going to touch on these or could point me to appropriate resources, but one of my biggest problems is not knowing how to encourage my girls to encourage each other, not judge. For instance, if they see one of their sisters not doing what I asked, I’d love for them to be able to lovingly encourage the other to do good, choose right. But what really happens is more like ‘You shouldn’t do that!’ or ‘You’re supposed to pick up the room!’ Typically that last one is said while the talker is NOT doing what she should be. Although I’m still trying to figure it out in real time, I get the sharing and the playing together, but I guess I just don’t know what Christian siblings should be to one another. Can they give and accept correction from one another? Do they need to learn to accept it even if it isn’t given in the correct tone/attitude?” Janessa

When our children were young, the second most critical thing we did to help them toward good relationships was to teach them to deal with problems with each other. We generally had two thrusts as we worked through a conflict. First, we had the child who was unkind. An example of that would be the child who takes a toy his brother was playing with when his brother takes a break to go to the bathroom. Then we had the child who came crying and tattling on his brother for having taken the toy. With the first child, we would admonish him that he was not choosing to be loving and kind, that he had other toys he could play with, and that he could nicely ask his brother for a turn with the toy when his brother was finished with it rather than taking it when his brother was gone for a couple of minutes.

For the child who had the toy snatched from him, we discussed the importance of choosing to be longsuffering, letting others have their turn with a favored toy, and not being selfish. We also encouraged him to make these choices rather than coming to us to get a sibling in trouble. We tried to use Scripture, when we could, to give a biblical reason for the behavior we were encouraging in the children. I wish I had been better at that and done it more.

In the situation that Janessa presented, we also have a two-part problem. There is the child who isn’t behaving in the way he should behave, and there is the child who is pointing the problem out to the sibling, and most likely to Mom as well. The disobedient child will not like his sibling telling him that he isn’t doing what he should be doing, and the child who is correcting his sibling will generally have an attitude of bossiness, contention, and superiority. Probably both have issues and need to be encouraged in the appropriate responses.

For the child who is misbehaving, Mom will want to discuss the importance of being grateful for the sibling who is helping him do what he ought to do and then making the choice to do it. Concerning the child who is trying to encourage his sibling to do the right thing but going about it in the wrong way, Mom will be working with him to have a sweet, loving attitude and gentle words. She can encourage that child to be part of the solution and offer to help his sibling with the work he is supposed to be accomplishing. This process is part of our calling as Christian moms. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).

For these types of situations, we might also give consequences, often to both children. We found “chair sitting” to be an effective consequence that I could give consistently. I would have the child (or children) sit on a dining room chair for five or ten minutes, depending on the child’s age. We purchased a kitchen timer from Wal-Mart that I could set and place on the table where the child could watch his time counting down, if he was old enough to read numbers, and then it would beep when the time was finished. At that point, the child had the opportunity to go try again. If there were more problems, we would go through the process again. “Chair sitting” temporarily ended the problem, gave the children a consequence that I could easily administer, and also allowed them time to think about their past and future actions. “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17).

I am not going to tell you that if you do this consistently for a week you will have perfect sibling interactions. However, the more I focused on stopping what I was busy doing when the situation occurred, dealing with both sides of the problem, and interacting with the children calmly, the more progress they made.

I know these issues are wearing on a mom. We are always preoccupied with something that we must interrupt to focus on the trouble. We don’t want to correct a child who has done nothing wrong, so we have the emotional burden of ferreting through behavior and attitudes on both sides. The results are not immediate but long-term.

I wasn’t as consistent as I could have been, and consistency is really key. I got discouraged. I wanted so much for the children to be kind to each other, and when they weren’t I felt like a failure and that they would never learn to treat each other with love and respect. I am certainly glad, though, that I didn’t give up—Steve will probably tell you I was tempted to do so a few times—but kept speaking the truth to the children, showing them what was wrong in their interactions, pointing out what they could have done, and giving consequences when necessary. This was all part of completing what the Lord had called me to do, as Ephesians 6:4 says, “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” As we purpose to follow Him obediently and rely on His strength to help us through the difficulties, we can remain steadfast through the struggles and disappointments.

I want to encourage Janessa, and other struggling moms, to tackle problems on both sides by being willing to set aside what currently holds her focus and turn it to the children. View the time and effort that it takes as part of the mothering job. Ask the Lord to help you be determined to be consistent while maintaining a meek and quiet spirit. With that foundation, I think you won’t have to wait as long as we did for the results to be evident in your children’s lives.