So since I got a bit long winded yesterday, I turned this into a 2 parter to discuss this week’s goals. This past week, Raising Olives had a question and answer post. In this post she linked to another, older post of hers, on solving sibling squabbles. This is an issue that grows as they grow! And I was beginning to wonder, if like in many other areas of life, I’ve allowed bad habits to form. I have it much easier with Ava, and Isaiah, because with these two, we are starting from scratch. I don’t have to break a bad habit and replace it, I just start a good habit. This has been proven in Ava’s response to things which I found terribly difficult with Sarah. When you expect specific things from a young age, children have a way of rising to the occasion! When you expect it suddenly at an older age, they (as we adults sometimes do!) have a much harder time of making it a normal behavior. Change is HARD! But, in this case, change is necessary! Sibling squabbles can’t continue as they have, or things will deteriorate as more kids arrive into the Sacks Brood! Must. Get. A. Handle. On. This. NOW!
Now, second lesson I’ve learned is I never have a handle on ANYTHING! This is where God comes in. First thing to do? Get on my knees. I know the particular passage that Raising Olives mentioned in her post: Matthew 18. In fact, I’ve quoted it a lot myself in other quarrels with adults, and issues within my extended family. My husband and I have discussed it at length in solving issues with others when it comes to disagreements over life choices. (and believe me, we have PLENTY of those! Lately we’ve become quite a lightning rod for that. But that is another story!) I never, oddly, considered it as a principle to teach my young children. This is where I find I failed in the early years of mothering. Applying scripture correctly, on their level, and faithfully. But at that time in my life, scripture was only referenced when it was useful, and inspirational. Time to roll my sleeves up, and apply scripture liberally!
So how can we apply Matthew 18 to our little girls, 6, 4, and 22 months?
Well. First we read it. A friend recommended ESV for little kids, the language is clear, concise, and doesn’t lose its weight in trying to be simple either.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
We break it down, often right when it is most applicable. I started this week, and am already noticing an uptick in peaceful negotiations! 🙂
It goes like this:
Sarah: BUT I WANT THAT TOY!
Emma: But I want it TOO!
We stop, separate, and often, I encourage some kind of positive physical contact with somebody. Me, or the other child. If it is especially heated, they are encouraged to hold hands with me. This might change as they get older, but when they are little, it has an instant calming effect. The toy in question is set in a neutral place until the argument is settled. It acts as a motivation to settle.
We start with confrontation. “What is your problem with your sister?” Each child takes a turn stating their issue. The other child is asked to consider it in terms of selflessness, not selfishness. If we’re still resisting, often we quote this scripture at this point: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
If there are other sin issues, a stolen toy for example, those are also dealt with immediately, the offending child is asked to state what the Biblical law is on that point. Should we hurt? Should we Steal? What does God say? Often, this reminder is enough to solve the issue on the spot. The offending child hands the toy over, apologizes, and they are encouraged to hug or otherwise comfort the other crying sibling.
We’ve also asked each child to apologize when sin is present. I have been told many times in my teaching days that forcing a child to apologize is wrong. But the Bible has a different standard than the world. In some cases of law, apology isn’t even enough! Restitution is needed. If a child repeats the offense of stealing, in some cases, they will be asked to provide restitution. (You took her toy, now you must give hers back, AND one of yours.”) If that doesn’t stop the stealing in its tracks, we take time alone together to address the heart issue, maybe it is envy, covetousness, and I try to be aware of what that child is doing constantly.
Part of the apology process is the healing. A quick hug, a word of forgiveness, and all is over, and everyone happily returns to play. If we still have some petulance on one side or another, it still isn’t resolved, and we move back to square one. Oddly enough, Although Ava needs constant prompts, and nudges to properly complete an argument, Sarah and Emma have caught on quickly, and do attempt to solve it themselves in some cases. 50% of the time I am not asked, and don’t need to intervene. If they can’t solve it on their own following these steps, they come and get me, and ask me. (Getting a third party, as per verse16) Usually then, before I go and intervene, the child who approaches me is confronted on her sin. “What happened?” The child may tell a tale of woe where the other child will not give her a desired toy. “Are you being selfish, and putting your wants before hers?” Sometimes, that even makes my intervention unnecessary. If the problem is really a heart issue with child no. 1, it can stop there, and they play on happily.
Although every situation, every argument is different, what really blows my mind is how scripture has a principle, a word of wisdom for each one of them. It reminds me of that moment in Matthew 22 where a young lawyer tries to trap Jesus into a disregard for some portion of the law, and fails:
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 ESV)
Everything depends on loving God first, and loving your neighbor as yourself, putting their needs on par with your own. Oddly enough, almost all (in fact, I might say all) of the arguments we confront in our home have to do with either selfishness or pride, or a combination.
(Mom, you might be laughing right now, because as I type this, I can hear you saying that to us as we all sit in the back of that big van, arms folded across our chests, rolling our eyeballs at your latest mention of selfishness and pride!)
Arguments are by no means gone, or as well handled as I’d like yet (after all, we’re only a week into applying Matthew 18! Although we’ve been using restitution as a consequence for a year now, and apologies have always been expected.) We aren’t perfect, and kids struggle, just as adults do, with selfishness and sin. But using this goal as a working point, and teaching the children to meet this standard is making a difference, and I am hoping with perseverance and hard work will become a life long habit.