LIVING IN HARMONY:
Encouraging Sibling Friendships

by Tamara Eaton

As parents, we want our children not only to get along with one another, but to develop friendships and actually enjoy one another. There is a saying: "If Christianity doesn't work in the home, don't export it!" We want to encourage our children to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in the home, as well as toward those outside our family.

Sometimes differences have to be worked out, but our children have learned to love, respect and appreciate their siblings. We have never tolerated unkindness toward siblings in our home-- we wouldn't allow them to be rude to those outside our home, why should we overlook it just because they are brothers and sisters? There shouldn't be a double standard.

As we trained them from the start to be kind, loving, friendly, and considerate to one another, we also sought to protect them from negative influences in this area.

We also spent four years "in the wilderness" where our only neighbors were the wild deer and other animals. We drove into "civilization" twice a week for church, and once every two weeks for shopping and the library. Our fellowship with others during this period was largely limited to church and family and while there were disadvantages, there were also numerous advantages and the Lord used that time for good for our family. Especially in fostering our children's close friendships. Our children still are best of friends-- enjoying doing things together and sharing common interests.

It touches me when I see our children help each other out without being asked and demonstrate unselfishness and kindness to one another. I feel such joy as I observe them playing and working together! Sometimes it's the little things--seeing two heads close together working on a problem, hearing one sister calling out to another to double-check the spelling of a word, seeing an older sibling reading aloud with great expression to the youngest two (in the midst of lots of laughter!), watching them plan surprises for one another, or seeing my daughters working together in the kitchen as a team, singing, laughing, and dancing.

I love seeing my son tenderly rock his little sister to sleep, make paper airplanes for his little brother, hold them when they need it, wipe away their tears, fix their trikes, kiss them and tell them he loves them. Is this a rough and tough all-boy son? Yes, indeed, but he has learned tenderness from being at home with younger siblings. One of these days, Lord willing, he will make a terrific father.

We want to encourage our children from an early age to "take up their cross and follow Jesus" and learn to live the crucified life. At the same time, we strive to be that godly example for them, trusting God to do that work in our own lives so that we might consistently practice what we preach. And we demonstrate His great love and compassion to our children, so we're not unkind or unloving in our parenting but tender and merciful and full of grace and longsuffering ourselves--they, in turn, can learn to demonstrate that same attitude toward each other.

Thankfully, we don't have to rely on our own abilities to accomplish this great task, but we have a Source who never fails us, if we'll just keep our eyes and hearts toward Him. And if we do sin, we repent, ask the Lord to forgive us, and ask one others' forgiveness and start all over again with a clean slate!

RESOLVING CONFLICTS

In the early years, we supervised our little ones' play and preferred to be involved in working out conflicts. This helped them learn how to resolve problems and prevented them from forming negative habits such as bossing or controlling siblings. As they matured, they were given more responsibility in working things out on their own, in a *Christlike* manner, but we were still available, if needed. Here are some common examples:

* What if little brother plays with big brother's train tracks and inadvertently destroys a bridge that was painstakingly built by big brother?

In our home, big brother would come to mom and get some sympathy and perhaps help in building it back and little brother would be forgiven, and reassured that it was an accident, but asked to please be more careful next time. Probably mom would find a good activity for little brother in another area so big brother could do his "work" without interruption. We try to respect the needs of the older children to have time without interruptions from younger siblings at times, that way they don't resent it when we ask them to include them at other times.

* What if little sister grabs big sister's favorite book? Big sister's tendency is to grab it back. How should she respond?

We would instruct big sister to politely ask for the book back, then if little sister refused, big sister would go to mom or dad or older sibling and ask for help in getting it back. We encourage the children to share, but they are not allowed to grab others' things without permission.

* What if little brother is purposely "attacking" big brother by either hitting or taking or knocking things down?

We would tell big brother to come to mom or dad right away and tell us the problem. We want to know when a child misbehaves so we can properly train him, discipline him, if necessary, and keep it from reoccurring in the future. At the same time, we encourage big brother to forgive and little brother to tell him he's sorry and help them restore their relationship.

We are also careful to make sure our older children don't tease or provoke the younger ones. Name-calling is not allowed, either. By nipping this sort of negative behavior in the bud, we avoid many problems!

BUDDY SYSTEM--When our first four were born within four and a half years, we used the "buddy system" so each older child could help look out for a younger child. Instead of fostering resentment, this encouraged special relationships that are still in existence many years later.

Years later, the Lord blessed us with two more babies within 20 months and they had four older siblings who were delighted to help care for them. It was so helpful to have someone to help me watch out for them especially when we would go on an outing. (Although, ultimately, I was still in charge and careful to keep an eye on everyone.)

PICK A FRUIT!--When our older four were young, we made a tree with the different names of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23) and hung it in the playroom. When someone was grouchy, they'd cheerfully be instructed to "Run-- quickly! Pick a fruit!" and they'd run to the tree and pretend to pick the correct fruit. Of course, ALL of our problems weren't resolved this instantly, but it was a good teaching tool.

SECRET PALS--We sometimes had "secret pals" where everyone in the family would draw names and not tell anyone else who his secret pal was--then each day we would do something special for our secret pal, in secret, of course.

Children CAN be taught to be kind to one another from an early age, and it's well worth all the time and trouble for mom and dad to be consistent in requiring kindness and respect in the family as well as outside the family.

CONFLICTING PERSONALITIES?

Occasionally two of our teens (both have been gifted with strong leadership skills!) have had different opinions on how something should be done. We talk to them individually and together, and pray with them. Ultimately, this is something that *they* have had to deal with, although we will continue to help them along the way and won't tolerate unkindness.

The good news is that they are both Christians and have recognized their need to die to self and overcome the temptation to be irritated with one another. William and I have both challenged them to cultivate a greater friendship and understand each other's personalities and look for ways to *bless* one another. We have noticed a maturing in both of them in this area in recent years and it's been months since we've had to challenge them in this area.

We're so thankful to see the Lord's work in our children's hearts because while we can change outward behavior by setting certain standards in our home, only He can change their hearts. We're convinced that the key to good relationships is to have each individual committed to living a crucified life unto the Lord. We can also help our children learn how to "walk out" their Christianity in a practical way, as they learn to yield to the Lord and the Fruit of the Spirit.

We're still working on the youngest two not bickering at times, but it helps so much for them to have older children who have victory in this area and can model sibling love for them. In fact, recently when the younger children were fussing over who got to do something first, I asked them if they could imagine two of their older sisters ever doing such a thing. They sheepishly grinned and said, "Well...no." Then the older two sisters jokingly mimicked what had just transpired between the young ones--it was hilarious and the little ones saw how ridiculous they'd looked.

Sometimes when our youngest two fuss with each other, we have them both sit on different couches in the den until they agree to be friends again. Sometimes they both need encouragement in finding some positive activity, too, but regardless-- they MUST realize that they have to be kind to one another whether they FEEL like it always or not. We all must make that choice daily (sometimes hourly!) to yield to the Fruit of the Spirit instead of to the flesh.



FAMILY COURT

We resolve minor problems that occasionally arise between the children in Family Court. (For more serious problems we call the offending/offended members into our room to privately discuss, pray and resolve the situation)

The whole family gathers together in the den. William and I are the lawyer (who handles both sides of the case) and the judge. The children are the jury and the witnesses--good thing there are a lot of them to go around!

Anyone with a complaint must step up to the bench and state his case, his lawyer adding hilarious and serious comments all along, of course. (There is usually a demand for QUIET IN THE COURTROOM when the people get to laughing too hard.) We do discuss and resolve the problems but we can usually see humor in it all, too.

Sometimes we must re-enact what actually took place earlier: the two parties show what they believe happened, the witnesses show what they believe happened, and sometimes the lawyer and the judge demonstrate what they think *probably* happened.

The judge and lawyer offer the guilty parties and jury a chance to voice ideas on how to resolve the situation, then discuss the case and announce the verdict. We have done this for many years and consider it a great success! It's not necessary to hold Family Court often these days, but anyone may request a hearing and we will schedule it for that evening. Sometimes we even serve refreshments afterwards or bring out the guitars and sing a hearty chorus or two. I'm sure we'll all have good memories of the times Family Court was in session.

We also have regular "Family Meetings" where family problems such as the need for higher standards in housework or school work, etc. are discussed. Solutions are suggested and agreed upon, and we discuss family goals. These meetings always encourage our family to function as a team.

SETTING BIBLICAL STANDARDS

By consistently training our children using Biblical principles from the start, we eliminated so much stress and set a household standard. Our little ones were able to observe the behavior of their older siblings and just knew that some things were not allowed in our home!

Before William and I were married, we asked the Lord for His wisdom in managing our future home so that we could be in divine order and not disorder. Neither of us grew up in homes with fathers present and active and we wanted to make sure that when we had children, they would have two parents working together to train them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. There is no greater gift that we can give our children. (Although we believe Christian parents can trust the Lord to "fill in the gap" if there are unfortunate circumstances with single parent families, or where only one parent is a Christian.)

"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Isaiah 54:13)


A FRESH START!

About now some of you may be thinking, "I can see that training our children from the beginning is the best, but what if we haven't done that with our family? Where do we begin?"

Begin with prayer! Confess your failings in this area and ask the Lord to forgive you and give you wisdom for a fresh start. Call a family meeting and explain to your children that the Lord has convicted you that some changes need to be made. "Children, Mom and Dad have been allowing you to get away with some things that we shouldn't have, and there are going to be some changes from now on." Explain to them that you are going to trust the Lord for a happy home, and that you need their help in creating a positive, praise-filled atmosphere that will glorify God!

Perhaps hold a little training session where you act out possible situations and demonstrate what the Lord wants them to do in those instances, instead of what they might be tempted to do.

Begin each day by asking the Lord to help you maintain a positive attitude. Pray for wisdom and direction--look for ways to bless your family. Encourage teamwork! Let the older siblings help you entertain or care for the younger ones. Demonstrate your appreciation for them-- encourage them and tell them, "You are such a great big sister to the younger ones!" and "Your little brothers and sisters are really blessed to have you as their big sister!"

And don't forget to tell them all how blessed you are to have them in your life and that they are special gifts from Jesus. I regularly tell my little ones (big ones, too!), "I'm so glad Jesus blessed us with you, He knew how much we needed a little girl/boy just like you!"

Ask the Lord to help you demonstrate His love to the children each day. Keep a cheerful attitude and try to always *act* instead of *react* in response to situations and circumstances that arise. We really set the tone for our whole households-- it's a tremendous privilege and responsibility.

If someone starts the day out by being grumpy around here, we send them back to bed to get up on the right side. We pray with them and ask the Lord to forgive them and help them start all over again and have a happy day. This works great for grumpy moms and dads, too. Sometimes we have to take hold of ourselves and change our attitude to one that glorifies the Lord.

Plan pleasant activities that involve the WHOLE family--picnics, hikes, nature studies, hobbies, wiener roasts, singing together, reading aloud together, Bible studies, praying together, ministering to others as a family. Nurture your family relationships-- looking to Jesus, the perfect example for us all--knowing that true peace and harmony in our home will only be found by abiding in Him.

Andrew Murray said it well, "Look to God as the author of your family life; count upon Him to give all that is needed to make it what it should be. Let His Father-heart and His Father-love be your stay. As you know and trust it in adoring love, the assurance will grow that He is fitting you for making your home, in ever-increasing measure, the bright reflection of His love."

Copyright Tamara Eaton 1994-2000, all rights reserved.

Permission is given to reprint any of Tamara's articles in non-profit publications as long as the article is reprinted in full and contains the copyright information and website address. Please send a copy of the publication to :Deeper Life Family Ministries, P.O. Box 909, Killen, AL 35645.

We have always homeschooled our six children (elementary through high school and beyond!) and enjoy encouraging other families in their homeschooling, parenting and in the Lord! For more help and information, please join us on the Christian Homeschool Fellowship Message Board.

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"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;
and great shall be the peace of thy children."

Isaiah 54:13