“Mum, he hit me!” “You’re stupid!” “LEAVE – ME – ALONE!!!”. Do any of these sound familiar? Avoiding arguments between our children entirely may be an impossible task - humans, after all, are born inherently selfish - but we can go some way toward reducing them, and helping our children develop friendships which will see them through the school years and hopefully into adult life.
I’m no parenting expert (many of you know my kids, and I’m sure you know they are not perfect and do not always relate perfectly to each other!) but here are a few things I find helpful in being intentional about building their companionship.
1. Set an expectation of friendship from the outset.
Very young children will happily accept statements which refer to siblings as friends and playmates: ‘Lachlan and Katie are your good friends’ or ‘It’s great fun playing at the park together with Lachlan and Katie’. As they get older, you can talk to them about the importance of respecting and cherishing each other, and the idea of being lifelong friends.
2. Build faith and character
As we help our kids to grow closer to Jesus and become more sensitive to His Spirit, slowly (SO slowly!) a likeness to Christ will begin to flow out into their relationships. Imagine how sibling relationships would look if the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control – were evident all the time! Remember to actively help build these traits rather than just berating our children when they are lacking (“Look, Charlie bear is helping Zoe bear to wash her dishes!; Let’s be kind to Katie today by picking her some flowers).
3. Allow appropriate expression of frustration.
When children use words like “I hate you!” or “You stupid idiot!”, you can let them know that this is disrespectful and will not be allowed. At the same time, acknowledge the feeling behind the words. Alternatives to teach might be “I feel really frustrated that the baby knocked down my tower” or “That made me feel sad and angry, please leave me alone for a while”.
4. Manage the environment
If a particular situation is causing constant tension, try to be creative in altering it. Maybe an older child could be given their own corner of a desk or bench, to keep constructions away from the toddler. Consider giving private spaces even in shared bedrooms, eg “you are only allowed on your sister’s bed with her permission”.
5. Find common ground.
Variations in age, gender and personality can lead to widely different interests and a lack of commonality. However, often siblings will have something in common such as an interest in Star Wars or sports, a love of creating fantasy worlds, or a desire to build cubbies. If you pay attention to the times they play well together, you can kick-start a game at key moments. If you have more than two children you may need to make time for just two to be together at a time, with their shared interest.
6. Guard their inboxes
Of course this again applies to much more than just the sibling issue, but it is relevant here. So many of the TV shows and books and internet content available today, particularly for older children, undermine the qualities we are trying to build. Young heroes are often rude, snarky or disrespectful to their families and others. Teenaged characters are portrayed rolling their eyes and trying to get rid of the ‘annoying’ younger siblings. As always, try to guard their eyes and ears, and talk through any questionable content.
7. Quiet words alone
It is easy to criticise kids ‘in the moment’ in front of each other, but sometimes the most effective way to help them is to speak to them later, alone. If you notice that Big Sister deliberately stirs up Little Brother until he snaps, have a quiet word to her later about the issue. Maybe she could identify the triggers to this behaviour and brainstorm how to manage them, or have a say in which negative consequences you will apply if she continues.
My final comment is that all of the above takes time. Time with our kids. Time to be present. How easy it is to get caught up in the societal push for to work ever increasing hours, trying to squeeze in hobbies, sports, and church and social commitments in around the edges. But at what cost? Do the daycare and OOSH workers have the same commitment as we do, to build Christlikeness and character into our children? Do the older children, left at home alone or with each other, have the maturity to make wise decisions about how to spend their time and relate well to each other? Do we arrive home stressed and exhausted, and leave them to sort out their own arguments because we are too tired or too busy catching up with the chores?
I have not got the balance right yet, and perhaps I never will. Sometimes I despair of my children’s continued squabbles on a subject that I have taught, encouraged and admonished them on. But as I compose this article in my head, we are nearing the end of a 9-hr car trip together which, although not entirely squabble-free, was actually quite enjoyable and I allow myself to think maybe, just maybe, they will one day be able to decide on my nursing home together, without it coming to blows.
Snippets of typical conversation in car trip to Wodonga.
L – OK, come on, lets name the flowers we pass. Frangipani, pointsiana, Hibiscus....
T – Pointsiana, bottlebrush
B - Bottlebrush
J – Green leaves, Spiky leaves, round leaves, spiderwebby leaves....
D – Rowland family leaves. [Newcastle]
L – Eucalypt, geranium....
D – marijuana.
Ben bored and squirmy.
L – look, Ben, look at the two dogs in the back of the Ute.
B – where, I can’t see them.
J & T – THERE, Ben, out your window.
B [Looks again then turns away from window to face us and say “I can’t see ANYTHING there”, just at the moment we pass right by the dogs.
J&T THERE Ben, you just missed them!
B – (starts to get upset)
L – nevermind Benny, you’ve seen dogs before.
D – But not these dogs. These were the BEST dogs EVER. They were tap dancing and playing banjos!
(This makes fuel for further conversation about the tap-dancing, banjo-playing dogs when they next come into view, at which point Ben does actually see them).
By Wendy Brown
I'm not really a resentful person. I've coped with a lot of challenges with a good attitude. But as a Christian parent living in a complicated world, I've had some resentments along the way. I started off full of ideals of how to raise well balanced, Christian kids. This included a stable Christian family unit, and a nurturing church community for the kids to grow up in....just like I had growing up. My faith was deep and strong by the time I left home at 18, and I wanted to provide the same benefits to my sons. However, during their primary school years, divorce happened. And then a short time later, the church community we had invested into fell apart in spectacular fashion. So there goes plan A. Life was very messy.
Navigating family life after divorce is tricky. My child-raising partner was no longer on the same page as me. We did the best we could, putting the kids first, but I was sad that my kids had to grow up as part of a split family. I now had the sole responsibility of instilling faith into their lives. And to make that job harder, my kids had missed out on the joy of growing up in a church where they felt like they belonged naturally. It was a double blow. We eventually found a lovely church, but by then the kids were at an age where they didn't adjust to change as easily. Plus most kids at church these days attend Christian schools. We had chosen to send our kids to the local public school for a variety of reasons, but the popularity of Christian schooling has left very few Christian families or teachers in the public school system. Overall, it seemed the odds were stacked against my kids and it felt so unfair.
But God started to change my attitude. Resentment is not a Godly attitude. It's a choice and there is a better way. A growth way. A way that accepts the disappointments and resentments, and lets them drive me to prayer and, when needed, to action. Many things were outside my control, but they were not outside His control. The impossible is possible with God. I knew that, but it took some time for me to grab hold of it.
So I formed a small prayer group for parents of kids in public schools. We meet monthly and prayed from every angle we could think of for God to intervene on behalf of the kids and teachers at the local schools, for favour upon Christian programs in schools and for the truth of Jesus to be everpresent with our kids. We prayed for Christian friendships to develop and boldness within the peer groups. The parents in this group prayed for over 5 years for our own kids and the kids in the local schools. I remember praying specifically for my boys in yr 7 that God would provide at least one Christian friend for them in high school. It seemed like a miracle would be required because at the time I didn't know of any other Christian families at their school. But God is good! Both my boys naturally developed friends that were Christians. I don't know the full extent of the fruit that has come from this prayer group, but I do know that little group helped focus my thoughts in the right direction and that we were fighting spiritual battles of eternal value every time we met.
Meanwhile I continued praying for greater connectedness at church for my kids, and a hunger for things of faith. Many family members, friends and people in the church family have invested into this over the years and it requires a good deal of persistence. The story isn't finished yet. One son is not especially close to God, although has certainly not rejected Him. But my younger son, having been through a few years of showing only casual interest in church life, has now connected strongly with the youth of the church, attending weekly bible studies and youth group, and has a circle of Christian mates at school. They are even talking about starting a Christian band at school at lunch times! As a parent, I am rejoicing in the progress and passionately hopeful for the future, both at the same time.
The point is, if we bring our disappointments and resentments to God, He can show us a new way forward. He will work despite the messiness of life. The key is to not look back resentfully at what could have been. Accept the new normal and trust God will bring about His purposes in unexpected ways. He just needs us to trust Him in all circumstances and to remain faithfully prayerful. He knows what lies ahead and what is needed.
I don't resent those things any more. I accept them as part of my journey. I embrace them as ways God has revealed himself to me. I see my kids having Christian friends as a wonderful gift from God in a way I wouldn't have appreciated if they'd gone to a Christian school or if we'd had the church stability I'd wanted when the kids were younger. I have more wisdom, compassion and insight having been through divorce and a church meltdown. Those things were hard, but by the grace of God, they have shaped me.
By Ross Bowerman
When parenting teenagers, one of the best strategies and skills to learn is to ask good questions.
1. ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
A good question is one that gets a teenager talking about what they want to talk about. So start with something open-ended (like “How was the party?” How is school going – score out of 10?”), questions to which there is no right answer, questions that require a sentence to answer. Avoid specific questions at the beginning; you might get the information that you seek but it sounds and feels like an interrogation and nothing is guaranteed to shut down a teenager faster. Your goal is to get your teens talking about what they want to talk about.
Why is this important? Why shouldn’t you dive into questions about things that you know are important? Because – and listen carefully here – your influence will be bigger if it is a topic that matters to them. We are all more motivated to learn what matters to us. Besides, why should they be interested in what matters to you if you are not interested in what matters to them?
What if your teen is not very chatty? Then you may have to focus your questions a little – but not too much, remember you are still wanting your teen to set the agenda for the conversation. An acronym that can give you some good questions to use if they are needed is BIT H(I)M. It is easy to remember with sons when you want to know what bit him?
B What was the B est thing that happened?
I What was the most I nteresting thing that happened?
T What have you been T hinking about?
H What was the H ardest thing?
M What M ood were you in?
2. CLOSE YOUR MOUTH
If you want your teen to talk, you have to stop talking. Sometimes our teens don’t talk because they can’t get a word in. Maybe your teen cannot think as fast as you can. Give them time to think about their answer. Be patient. And when they have answered, wait a little longer to see if they want to say more. Your silence communicates respect (“I want to hear what you have to say”) and you may be surprised at its effects.
3. PLAY BACK WHAT YOU HEARD
After they have answered, you will be tempted to ask a more specific question (about something that interests you) or offer advice. Wait! There is a good chance that you will get the opportunity to do those things later if you do these things well first.
So, how should you reply? Play back to your teen what you heard them say. “Maths is hard.” “The party was boring.” “You enjoyed the day.” If you want to do this at an advanced level: listen for and play back their feelings as well as the facts. “You felt frustrated when we arrived late.” “You were disappointed when she ignored you.”
This gives your teen the chance to (a) correct you if you have it wrong or (b) feel heard because you got it right. Perhaps, because you have just proved your respect to them, they will tell you more. And isn’t that the primary aim of your conversation? Your teens sharing their hearts with you so that you can love them and, perhaps, later bring your wise guidance (although even that too is best done by questions – but that is a topic for another day).
Are there any questions that you have found helpful? Let’s share them by commenting on this article – the more the better – our combined wisdom is what we need.
Author: Steve Troyer
There are so many rewarding things about being a dad. But one of the hardest things that no one prepares you for is how to respond to your children when they need correction. One of the lessons I learned along the way, was that there is a difference between discipline out of frustration, and discipline out of love.
Discipline out of frustration is out of the fear of losing control. Often times it looks like raising your voice, which is another sign that you have in fact lost control. I should know; because I have found myself there on a number of occasions. But what frustrated discipline produces is a shame culture; like raising your voice saying, “I can’t believe that you did that…”. A shame culture will never prove successful in shaping a young person into the person God has created them to become.
Discipline out of love however says, “I love you enough to bring some short-term painful consequences now, so that there are not costly consequences later.” An old proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). As parents, you need to be the one who defines what those consequences are. One thing I remember my dad doing was reassuring me that the discipline that we both knew needed to happen was out of his love for me. He would often ask me to choose between two different forms of discipline, which was quite smart, because it seemed to take dad out of the equation as the one behind the discipline. But, it gave me healthy boundaries, and reassured me that my dad was not against me, but wanted the best for me.
The worst thing a parent can do, is tell a child the consequences but keep on holding off delivering them. “If you keep doing that, you are going to lose your privileges…”; and every time they do it, we say it again, but this time with more force, and so on… I think as parents we can do that because it is just too much work at times, or we think it is loving to hold off discipline. But, in actual fact, we give out mixed messages to our child so that when we finally hit that breaking point of discipline, we find that nine times out of ten, we end up doing it out of frustration, not out of love. That’s not to say that there are times that it is totally fitting to withhold discipline. But, if all our child gets is frustrated discipline, they end up learning that discipline is about being shamed into good behavior.
We have a loving God who walks with us through our times of discipline and growth. Can I encourage you as parents to love your children through the seasons of correction. It will be tough love, but it’s worth it.
By Belinda Lindgren
Work life balance. Everyone is looking for it but is it possible to achieve?
Over the last 25 years I have read much about work life balance and attempted to put what I have learned into practice. Some say it is impossible to achieve while others believe that there is an exact formula for getting the balance right.
To achieve a good work life balance I could tell you things like you need to be organised, use time management tools, keep work at work, negotiate flexible work arrangements, exercise more, have downtime, put the phone down, take regular annual leave etc, etc.
For me the following 3 keys have helped me to work towards a healthy work life balance.
1. FIND WHAT'S IMPORTANT TO YOU
You need to work out what is most important in your life. As a Christian it’s important for me to place God first in all that I do. Following His calling on our lives should be our first priority. Spending time in His Presence and hearing from Him. Other things that might be important to you are relationships with your spouse, kids, family and friends, pursuing your career, studying, volunteering, or having a clean house. Whatever is important to you then you should spend time doing this. Remember we all have different priorities and we should spend our time doing the things that are important to us.
2. DON'T LOOK SIDEWAYS
With the advent of social media we can spend hours each day checking out the amazing lives that our friends seem to have and wish we could be like them. Often we look at how others are managing their life and think we need to be just as busy, pursuing amazing careers, have a beautiful house or always out with friends. When really we need to focus on our own lives. We all have different priorities and callings on our life so can't be expected to keep up with others who are called to other things. If we focus on our own lives then we don’t feel the need to compete or keep up with the world around us.
3. KEEP MARGIN IN YOUR LIFE
Margin can be described as the amount of time outside of your everyday life that you leave to be available for others and the unexpected. On a piece of paper you can draw a rectangle and leave an amount of margin around the page. The closer your rectangle is to the edge of the page the less margin you have in your life. The world we live in today, everyone is busy. I’m sure, like me, you often find yourself telling people that you are busy and have so much to do. Keeping time in your day to be available for family and friends and their needs is important if we wish to maintain healthy and loving relationships. It might be someone in your family or a friend who you need to call, cook a meal, babysit their kids or help move house. Or you have been asked to volunteer at church in some way. It's important to be there for our family, friends and community. If our lives are so busy that we can't be there to help someone in need then it's time to check our priorities.
I believe that work life balance looks different for each of us. Whether you’re a full time parent or a high flying corporate type, we all need to find a healthy balance between God, work, relationships and life.
I would love to hear how you go about finding a healthy work life balance. Please use the comments section below.