By Rachel Baker, Crosswalk.com
What a blessing it is to be a parent. Our children often remind us to see the wonder and beauty in this world. They approach life with a curiosity and sense of awe. They remind us to have fun, to be silly and to play again.
If only every day with our children was lighthearted and easy though. In reality, each of our children is gifted with their own emotions, personalities and perspective on life. If you, like me, have more than one child, then I’m sure you know by now that our children’s unique personalities can clash, which can lead to conflict a.k.a sibling fighting.
With our younger children, conflict can look like difficulty sharing or resolving minute issues. These conflicts often arise when our little ones are developing social skills. They are learning how to share and be kind and use their words, so, when conflict occurs in these situations it can be easier for us to forgive and remember to guide our children towards developmental skills.
As our children grow older, however, the clashing of personalities and conflicts can increase. In our home our two children have a four year gap. Our oldest son is capable of doing things that his younger sister has not yet mastered. This can create frustration on her part. Her frustration can manifest as anger or whining, two things her older brother becomes irritated by.
As her anger rises conflict between her and her old brother can increase. Something simple, like not being able to color within the lines, can lead to an all-out fight between the two of them.
If you are walking through a stage of parenting where there is conflict between your children, here are a few suggestions and tricks to help resolve issues quickly and set the tone for a peaceful home.
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1. Love Them Through It, and Lead Them to Peace
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18
Listening to my children fight with each other literally pains me. I implore them to love each other well and to be at peace with each other. When they fight my momma heart hurts. I feel exasperated and overwhelmed. I just want the fighting to stop!
These moments in my parenting test me. They challenge me and how I’m going to respond. I wish I could say that when in the heat of the moment my natural response is love and patience, but the truth is that I’m much quicker to respond out of my frustration. On days when I feel more like a referee than a mother, harsh words or unrealistic consequences can be my go to.
When these moments come, we have to remember God’s grace for us as parents and God’s grace for our children.
I remember the words of 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins,” and am reminded to press pause and respond to conflict in love.
It is so important to step back, evaluate the situation and respond in a way that teaches our children how to peacefully resolve conflict. When done with a foundation of love they can actually hear our hearts for them, and depending on their ages they can process the “why” behind what we’re teaching them.
We need to love our children with abundance, especially in the hard moments.
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2. Get Creative and Encourage Collaboration
The other night I told my kids that I was writing an article about “sibling conflict.” I asked if they would be interested in helping me come up with creative ideas for what to do when they are fighting. Their responses were incredibly insightful.
My 9-year-old, who needs more alone time, suggested that when fighting occurs it might be helpful if he and his sister take a break from each other for a little while. He let me know that sometimes he just needs some quiet to reset.
My 5-year-old explained that it’s helpful for her when her and her brother do the “we will not fight walk.” The “we will not fight walk” is when her and her brother hold hands and walk through each room of the house and declare “we will not fight!”
Each time they do this, they end up laughing hysterically and then scampering away together to play.
I have no idea when my husband and I instituted this ridiculous form of “discipline” into our home, all I know is that it is received well with our two kids. It’s creative for sure; instead of coming down hard on our kids it can be a humorous option to remind them to enjoy and love each other.
I want my children to grow up to be great friends.
If we can lay a foundation for that relationship now, it’s a win for everyone us! The building of those essential memories starts today.
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3. Remember that Children Need Discipline
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
The other day our daughter needed a major time-out. I sent her to her room for some alone time. For her, being alone is one of the most intense forms of discipline, and the most effective. In her room she can cry as much as she needs to, or to lay down and practice breathing.
These methods work for her; allowing her to manage her own emotions and reset.
This day in particular she stomped off to her room a frustrated little mess. She took some time for herself and rejoined the family about 5 minutes later. We discussed why she had been sent to her room and what we need to do in the future to avoid these consequences.
She exhaled and then took my hand and said, “Mommy, you’re the best Mommy on earth.” She paused and corrected, “Actually, Jesus’ mom was the best Mommy on earth. You’re second to her.”
I laughed so hard I almost shot my La Croix out of my nose. I had just disciplined her, but here she was, calmed down and attitude improved, telling me that I rank amongst the best of Mothers ever to walk the earth.
Her hilarious little compliment reminded me that children need and crave discipline. They have to develop an understanding of actions and consequences. If we don’t model loving discipline in our own homes then where exactly do we think they will learn these skills from?
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4. Seek Wise Counsel
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14
My husband and I have had some difficult moments in our parenting; considering that our children are still young I assume that different challenges will come our way as our children grow.
As we wade out into what often feels like unknown waters we can take heart in remembering that we have a wealth of resources available to us. From our extended family, to our church community, to parenting resources and advocates in our children’s schools, we know that we are not alone in tackling difficult issues.
When grappling with the discourse in our home caused by sibling conflict I’ve reached out to trusted friends and advisors who have already walked those paths. I’ve asked for advice, prayer and examples of how to diffuse conflict between my children. Some of their advice has been rock-solid, and other times it hasn’t worked for my kids.
It helps to remember our children’s individuality, and to parent accordingly. I know now that my daughter needs completely different consequences than my son, and I know that sometimes their fights begin because she just wants to be in his company, whereas he needs more alone time.
Knowing our children and helping them know themselves and each other can also help build healthy relationships and develop tools for getting along better as siblings.
At the end of the day we need to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect child, nor is being a perfect parent possible. We are all being developed in this life. I know that God is constantly working on me and my children.
If we can point our children back to Christ and encourage them to love each other, then we are doing our best as parents. There will be difficult days, today might be one for you, yesterday was one for me.
Nonetheless, if we can hit pause when our own frustrations and fatigue rise and open our hands and hearts to God’s prompting in our lives we can become great examples for our children. Often, I need my children to witness how their fighting breaks my heart.
I need to let them see me cry, I don’t allow myself these emotions because I want to manipulate my children, but rather I want them to know how much I love them and how much God loves them, and that when they choose conflict it grieves not just my heart but also the heart of God.
Finally, we as parents have an opportunity to invite our children into experiencing redemption first-hand. When fight ensues and conflict arises we get to work together to solve issues here and now, but I think my favorite part of resolution comes when we pray together and ask God for forgiveness, for correction and for self-discipline to avoid fights.
This is the beauty of walking in faith and sharing that with our children.
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