Lately my kids have done a copious amount of bickering. What's all the fuss? Oh, monument things, I would say: little brother is not facing his plate; big brother does not have all four chair legs on the floor. Big brother is not singing the right words; little brother is looking at me. Little brother won't share; big brother won't either. Big brother won the race; little brother pushed me.
Not surprising to any mother, I can't stand the sound of my children fighting with, purposely annoying, or lording over one another. The quibbles (which are more than usual right now) have been a good "opportunity" for me to think through and practice how to tread the quarrelling waters. And since I have short term memory issues (comes with the motherhood territory), I thought it best to write some things down.
I have a few good one-liners in my pocket that I pull out when a scrape ensues ("Let me be the mom, and you can be the encouraging older brother" and "If you continue arguing you will lose the privilege of playing together.")
Generally speaking, I don't permit arguing between the brothers. If I cannot trust them to treat each other well then they cannot play together unsupervised. (More on that notion here.) That does not mean that we are spat-free around here. Quite the contrary! But I grew up with a sibling and we just did not dispute. Part of it was personality, but I think part of it was that our parents taught us how to get along and they did it in a way that worked. My experience tells me that it is possible for siblings to learn to treat each other well. So that is the expectation in our house. I hope it will better prepare them for life, work, and marriage someday!
Here are some of the way that I am teaching my kids how to get along with each other.
1. I know in my heart that my facial expressions and tone of voice DIRECTLY IMPACT how my kids relate to each other. If I am sternly reprimanding their bickering, I have set the example of sternness and impatience. If I respond to their tiff with a soft voice and a smile (even if it IS forced), they have seen an example of how to respond even when they are irritated. (LORD KNOWS how irritated I get!)
I did an experiment in the car today, amid a battle over who was right about the words of a particular song. I put a smile on my face and empathized with the child who was actually right (we both knew he was right) and told him: Since you are the older brother you DO know more things than your little brother, huh? But part of knowing more things is being patient with those who don't know as much. So, if he is wrong and he does not believe you are right, be wise! Know in your head that you are right and just say "Oh well" and move on. That child did not much care for my thoughts on the subject and the scowl on his face remained throughout the miniature lecture - and beyond. My permi-grin remained as well, and I joined in singing the song and acting like I was having a good ol' time, even though one child was glowering and little brother still did not sing the right words. I winked at the scowly face in my rear-view mirror a couple of times but did not let on that he was irking me. It was not long before his countenance changed and he was singing again. As I had hoped, my countenance impacted his and he was finding himself enjoying himself despite the fact that he did not get his little brother to admit he was wrong about something.
2. When I suddenly find my kids have gotten into a cycle of scraps I take note! I spend time thinking about their arguing and try to name what I am hearing. If I can't yet name it, or don't know how best to handle it I default to my standby and send the kids to different rooms or regions to sit quietly and look at books or something. That at least buys me some time until the next quarrel. (And yes, there will be a "next time.") So anyway, rather than react and respond in foolishness I think and pray for wisdom. After some thinking and praying, I have discovered that the types of arguments we are having lately involve 1.) mostly one boy lording authority over another boy and 2) I hear a fair amount of "right fighting" which basically means that a brother cares more about being right than anything (that's the definition of an idol!). Of course the other typical source of quarrels stem from selfishness in one child and impatience from the other. In nearly all bickering, both kids are in the wrong: Right-fighting and lording over from one child usually creates a stubborn heart in the other.
3. If I have spent time thinking about the bottom line of the arguments then when the bickering starts I pretty quickly can identify what's "really" going on, which gives me the opportunity to use my prepared response. Yes, I brush up on my acting skills and prepare what I will say next time.
4. I spend time teaching (a bit in the moment and a bit more, later, when they are more prepared to learn!). Rather than focus on what to stop doing or acting like, I try to focus on teaching them how they should act: how to react; what words to use; what tone of voice to adopt. I might say to one child, "Rather than yell at at your brother to quit, please say, 'will you please stop..." When I give them a better phrase I try my best to force a smile and keep my tone pleasant. When it it really hard for me to maintain control over my tone and words, it is actually a good reminder to me that what I am asking of them (to control their anger or frustration) is a very difficult thing!
I also try to help them see the situation from the younger one's perspective. For instance I might say, "Honey, I know he is bothering you and that you would rather he leave. But do you know that he just loves playing with you so much? He just wants to do what you are doing because you are so fun to be around." Pointing out that fact usually stops the older one in their tracks and gives them a dramatically different level of patience with a younger brother.
5. I also try to take note of how I have been speaking to the kids and my husband in other situations. Has my tongue been quick? Have I exercised great patience and self-control? Am I giving them the benefit of the doubt? Have I smiled at my kids? Have I respected my husband? Am I nit-picking? Am I being inconsistent in my discipline? Am I asking the kids to do things that I, a grown woman, am not modeling? I am surprised at what I usually discover. Ugh.
Probably the most agonizing thing about controlling the caterwaul is owning up to how I have contributed to the problem. I think I will forever need to be humbled in how I use my tongue and tone. But when it is all said and done I am pointed to my Savior, who is the only one who can help. I love the reminder in Ephesians: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph 4:29-32)
This verse is a good reminder for me and my kids!
(For other sibling-related posts click here.)