I was thrilled when I found out my second baby was going to be a boy. We already had one boy and I started dreaming of the beautiful friendship they would share. I couldn't wait for him to be old enough to play with his brother. They were only 15 months apart so I knew I wouldn't have to wait long.
Then one day it happened.
Seeing the special smiles they put on each others' faces made my heart sing. I could see a lifelong brotherly bond forming. But with the bonding came something I was totally unprepared for -
And I mean fighting. There were days when all I would do was break up fights. Their screams were my alarm clock. My husband and I thought we were going to have to raise our children in separate rooms just to keep peace in the house.
I wasn't just frustrated. I was heart broken.
I didn't want to separate my children. I wanted them to enjoy being together, just like we enjoyed being with them. But that natural foolishness they were born with was running rampant in their interactions with each other. We couldn't keep separating them and we couldn't keep refereeing. It was time to give them some tools.
1. Peace Makers and Peace Breakers.
The sibling fighting reached a climax by the time I had three boys ages four and under and another one on the way. I was desperate. One morning I gathered them on my bed with some art supplies.
On a big piece of a cardboard box I drew two categories: Make Peace and Break Peace. I drew a happy heart on one side and a broken heart on the other.
I told the boys that peace means joy. It means quiet. It means sharing love. "The best kind of peace in the whole world comes from Jesus. When we trust in Him, He takes away our sin and gives us special peace. Since we have peace from Jesus, we want to have peace with our brothers, too.
"Mommy drew some pictures of you boys," I told them. Their smiles got bigger. "I want you to tell me if the boys in each picture are making peace or breaking peace."
One by one they helped me decide which side of the chart to glue the pictures to. I picked situations that were very applicable to them: grabbing toys, knocking down someone's tower, pushing, throwing food, etc.
It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done. They got it. I was shocked. They spent the rest of the day running back and forth to the chart to see if what they were doing was making peace or breaking peace. They would identify their actions in the picture and tell me which side it was on.
We have continued to develop this idea as they've gotten older. Making peace isn't always about getting justice. It's not about protecting your rights. Sometimes people are unfair. Sometimes they make you angry. How can you take that situation and make peace?
This silly chart (which has been ripped apart and glued back together numerous times) has taught my boys that peace doesn't mean getting your way. It often means making a sacrifice to stop the fight.
When one of the boys comes running up to me wailing about what a brother did the first thing I ask is, "What did you do to make peace?" Usually they stare at me sheepishly. I tell them to go back, make peace the best they can, and come back to me if it doesn't work. They rarely come back.
2. Put Words in Their Mouths.
"No! Stop it! That's MINE. Give it to me!"
Without some guidance these are the only things little ones would say to each other. They don't know what else to say. Their words are fueled by their selfishness. We have to teach them. We have to give them the words and show them how to use them.
In our family we started by outlawing the above words. We tell our boys there are always other options. We taught them three peace-making phrases that they can use in any disagreement:
"Can I please have a turn?"
"You can have a turn when I'm done."
These words have become so rote in our house that even the two-year-old says them. If they resort to peace-breaking words, we tell them to try again. Every angry word must be replaced with a gentle word. It take practice. LOTS of practice.
I was with another mom recently and I heard her tell her daughter, "That is not a respectful way to talk to Mommy. What should you say instead?" I was so encouraged by this mom's response. She knew her daughter needed to be taught. Tell your kids how to speak when they are angry or hurt. Teach them how to ask for what they want. It will impact every relationship they have, both now and when they are adults.
3. Team Mentality
Last year our kids started getting more involved in group activities. Inevitably we had to have the "bully" talk. Since our boys are so close in age they will go through life doing a lot of the same activities together. We started teaching them that one of their special jobs as brothers is to defend each other against bullies.
"You have to watch out for each other. If you see someone picking on your brother, go help your brother out."
This lesson serves a dual purpose. Not only do they feel confident around bullies, but they learn not to be a bully in their own home.
"Hey, you're supposed to protect your brother, remember?" When they hurt each other they remember they are acting like a bully, the very thing they are supposed to protect each other against.
I've seen the "team mentality" go both ways in families. The goal is family unity, not family pride. When families take it too far it leads to kids thinking their family is better than anyone else's - that their decisions are better, their rules are better, etc. "A Wallace child should never act that way!" - is a good example of what we don't want to do. It's not about us. We aren't a team so we can serve ourselves better, but so that we can serve the body of Christ better. We get to teach our kids to be part of God's family (the church) by starting with our own family. Ultimately this looks like service:
- Don't walk away from a brother who is hurt.
- If you're playing with a toy that your brother wants, help him find another toy.
- If you're getting yourself a drink, ask your brother if he wants one.
- If you finish your chore before your brother, help him finish.
When we notice the kids doing these things we say, "Good work, team!" The Christian life is not individualistic. Teaching a team mentality within the home prepares kids to participate in the visible expression of the gospel here on earth - Christ's body, the church.
4. A Better Way to Say Sorry
Have you ever met someone who can't apologize? Or maybe you are that person. Apologizing is difficult. We want our kids to practice this now so it carries over into their relationships with their spouses, coworkers, bosses, etc.
What better way than to have them practice on their siblings? There are plenty of opportunities throughout the day.
We want to get at the heart of the matter when our kids fight. It's not about who had the toy first. It's about how we effect others with our words and actions.
Recently I read an excellent article that gets to the heart of apologizing by having your child say the following four phrases:
This goes beyond a quick fix. This is a lesson in love and humility.
Check out the full article here to see the practical ways to implement this valuable tool.
Ultimately, you can't always solve your kids' fights. What you can do is give them the heart tools they need to solve them themselves. Instead of demanding who had it first, ask, "Who is showing love in this situation?" Or, "Are you blessing your brother or frustrating your brother?" Help your kids take a step back and see the spiritual side of their disagreement.
You won't just be stopping fights. You'll be opening the door to deeper friendships between your kids. Do my kids still fight? Every day. But they also throw their arms around each other when I'm not looking.
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