Today after church I was negotiating a hostage situation....I mean, I was refereeing the kids' most recent argument. G 'fake punched' A and so she kicked him back. Then he hit her with his Bible (his BIBLE, y'all!) and then she mocked him and laid the sarcasm on thick as she told him that was a great idea and to keep using his 'sword' against her.
Isn't it always the way it goes? 'She hit me so I pushed her!' 'He called me a name so I threw his toy!' One person starts it and the other person has to finish it and 'get them back'. The kids feel justified in lashing out at the sibling who wronged them.
I'll hear a conflict brewing in the other room and then a bang followed by crying and, "I'M TELLING!" When they come to me and tell what the other one has done, as long as they are not bleeding or in serious pain, you will often hear me saying, "I don't want to hear what she did to you, tell me what you did to her." or "Was he totally unprovoked? What did you do that made him want to hit you?"
One of the biggest regrets of my own childhood was how much my sister and I fought. We are both feisty, three years apart and there was competition between the two of us, sibling rivalry. There were some times that our arguments ended with pulling hair, slapping and pushing. Of course my parents punished us and made sure we knew that it wasn't okay, but still we fought like cats and dogs. One night my dad was so exasperated with our fight that he started 'mock cheering' for us in turn like he was watching a fight on TV: Go Lark, hit her with a right!
I've prayed for so long that kind of fighting would not be a part of our kids' experience with their siblings, and that they would love each other and be friends. I hold on to the fact that my sister and I enjoy a good relationship now, and we rarely ever pull each others' hair.
As a mom who loves Jesus I get really frustrated when my kids are treating each other so horribly. I know it stems from their own sinful nature so I try to show them a better way to handle their conflicts. I know I'm not consistently doing this right but here are some things that *seem* to help:
TeammatesOne day when they were fighting over who got to be first on something (a common theme with our oldest, but that's a post for another day) I explained that our family is like a team. Teammates don't get mad when one of their own does a good job, they cheer them on. They don't get frustrated if someone scores points for the team because what is good for one member is good for the whole team. So if they are treating each other as rivals instead of teammates I remind them, "We are all on the same team!" I say this when one is jealous of the other or when they are having issues with sharing (funny example on their issues with sharing) because we need to take turns and not let one person be the 'star' of the team. Having a 'team' spirit in your family promotes unity and cooperation.
Merry-Go-Round of MeannessWhen they get in a cycle of revenge and getting each other back it's like they are pushing a merry-go-round. One person may start it and then the other person jumps on and gives it a push, and then the other has to give it a bigger push and so on. It can get going so fast that you can't even get off safely without getting hurt. When that happens, someone has to decide to stop pushing so it will slow down. It's much easier to not take the bait to get on in the first place. I'll say, 'Sounds like you guys are on the Merry-Go-Round of Meanness" when they are being unkind to each other as an encouragement for them to realize what is happening and how they can make choices to end it.
Acting outIn the heat of the moment it's so hard for a kids' brain to think quickly enough to react positively instead of overriding what they want to do. Often we will walk through an argument again and practice what they could have done instead and I will coach them on how to say what they are feeling ("I'm angry that you won't let me play with that toy") and help them get to resolutions that can help them in the future to resolve things on their own (I want to finish what I was playing and then I will come tell you when I'm done with it).
Self-ControlThis is the key, really. Unless they are growing in self-control, none of what I say or do is going to matter. When we have a conflict resolution time we pray that the Holy Spirit would be developing the Fruit of Self-control in their lives. We share verses like, Leviticus 19:18 "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." and Romans 12:19, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Just knowing those verses is not enough, they need the power of the Holy Spirit in them enabling them to love and act in self-control.
Why "who started it?" is the wrong question to askWhat if my son has been hogging a toy and my daughter wants it and starts being mean to him so he will give it to her? It may have started with my son's selfishness in hogging the toy but my daughter is also being selfish because she is not waiting for him to finish and instead of waiting patiently she's acting out in a sinful way. Neither of them is blameless so it really doesn't matter who started the argument. We all need to learn how to be kind to others who are not kind to us, so they need opportunities to practice that character quality. If I swoop in and tell my son to stop hogging the toy or set a timer so that they have equal amounts of time (guilty of this one!) then they learn what is most important is fairness, not serving others and self-sacrifice.
Preaching to myselfThese suggestions feel like gospel living to me. But honestly when I am being 'lazy parent' I get tired of their fights and so I just yell at them both to knock it off and be nice to each other, or send them to their rooms. Sometimes I get so worked up I have to send them to separate spaces so we all can calm down and then I divide and conquer, talking to one child at a time then bringing them back together to reconcile. I have to remember that they are little sinners who are in need of grace and lots of repetition and practice before they learn these foundational character qualities.
How do you handle the Merry-Go-Round?