Siblings: The Good and The Bad – Part 5

I am not sure that there is anything that tears a mom’s heart up more than when her children are being unkind to each other. Encouraging family harmony is usually one of the top priorities of moms for the children. When a mom’s efforts and prayers have been invested only to have the children continue in their selfish ways, she usually experiences discouragement. We have been discussing ways to develop and strengthen positive sibling relationships in this series. Here are links to the previous articles.

I would like to give you a few more practical suggestions for things to use as consequences for siblings who are not choosing to be kind to each other. These are things we did with our children. Since my children are beyond the consequences age, I had to ask them what they remembered we had done with them when they were younger.

One of the first things they recalled is that we took away desserts from the offending children. If some of the children weren’t going to be sweet to each other, then they wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the sweet dessert that the rest of the family, including the children not involved in the problem, were eating.

When our three older children were elementary school age, we would have them write blessing letters to their brother or sister if they had been in conflict with that sibling. The blessing letter was to document several of the positive things they could come up with concerning that sibling. Of course this consequence only works for children who are old enough to write. Sarah kept some of those letters and has given me permission to share one with you. I remember that in the midst of those conflicts, the boys could be adamant that there wasn’t anything good they could think of to write about the other child. That just showed how important it was to continue working with them through the difficulties.

Dear Sarah,
You have demonstrated hospitality by sharing your bears with me. I also like the way you demonstrate enthusiasm. For example, when you read, you demonstrate enthusiasm! You show initiative by stopping what you are playing to do chores when Mom gets out of the shower. I am excited about the Baby! And I enjoy you being my loving sister.
Love, Chris

Christopher was nine years old when he wrote that note to Sarah, and she was seven. You can see that even though this was to be a blessing letter, Christopher got a little poke in at Sarah by mentioning the chores. Although I don’t fully remember the schedule back then, I expect Sarah was supposed to be doing some morning chores while I took my shower. Stopping play and starting the chores when she knew I was out of the shower and she would have accountability was most likely not the schedule she was supposed to be following. From this note it is obvious we still had “heart” work to do on both sides.

A mom wrote to me after the last Mom’s Corner with an idea she had that was similar to the blessing letters. I am going to include her whole e-mail because she also acknowledged how she had become lax with giving her younger children consequences for their unloving behavior. That is often the case as we become busy with our older children plus caring for younger ones.

Your Mom’s Corners about sibling rivalry have been incredibly encouraging! I had used Scripture to correct problems with my older children but faded off to just quickly reprimanding the younger ones and getting back to my “work” of cleaning, cooking, school, etc.

Clearly that was not working. The Lord was merciful and showed me an idea for applying 1 Peter 3:9 to a squabble that my six- and eight-year-old daughters had. “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

After gently, lovingly, and carefully questioning the girls individually about their personal roles in the disagreement, each agreed that they had indeed rendered evil for evil and railing for railing, and that it was not what they should do. Next came the blessing. I had each one write a list of three things that she could do that would be a blessing to the other. By the time they had finished their lists, which took some time, they were both excited about ways that they could bless their sister that day! I asked them each to do each thing today and save their lists so that they can add to them later. One daughter actually got so excited she wanted to give her sister all three blessings the first day! They had ideas ranging from doing chores for each other, drawing pictures, letting the sister be the lunch helper, to a hug. 2 Peter 1:13 says “. . . to stir you up by putting you in remembrance.” Thank you for doing that for me. Dawn

“Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife” (Proverbs 17:1). We used this verse to help us determine another consequence for siblings who were squabbling with each other. Part of our nutritional program for our family involved purchasing and then grinding wheat berries into fresh whole-wheat flour that we then made into whole-wheat bread. When I served the bread, the family didn’t prefer the outside crusts but rather the soft, middle slices. I dried the crusts in order to make bread crumbs or croutons with them.

One day, Steve and I realized our “dry morsels” on the counter that were waiting to be processed had the potential of being an effective discipline for children who weren’t being nice to each other. I would call the offenders to the dining room table and serve them a dry crust. The dry crusts didn’t make the children gag. They simply didn’t prefer them.

I could share with them that we would rather eat dry crusts all the time and have kindness and sweetness between them than to get to eat the way we eat in the midst of strife. This was a consequence that removed the children from the problem, was easy to administer, and in addition, it was healthy for them!

I expect many of you have some great suggestions for improving sibling relationships or for consequences when the bickering breaks out. If you are willing to share, e-mail them to me so I can collect them for inclusion in a future Mom’s Corner.

Once again, I desire to encourage you to be faithful to pray for your children and then to have a workable plan in place to lead them toward strong sibling relationships. It has been so long since we have had to use the consequences I share in this article that I had to ask my children to tell me what they remembered we did that they felt was effective. I want you to have that outcome for your children as well. Remember, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). May I encourage you to help your children toward dwelling together in unity?