How to Handle Sibling Disputes

It’s no secret…if you have children at home, especially if they’re together all day, you deal with a certain amount of wrong attitudes and strife.  (If you don’t, email me please.)

For me, this is probably THE hardest part of our daily struggles.  It seems I never know quite how to handle it.  Sometimes I think it best to let them settle  minor disputes instead of refereeing every incident.  But other times I feel it an important part of teaching proper responses and right attitudes.

Ironically, homeschooling is socialization at its best. My children are friends, for sure.  Most of the time they are pleasant with one another.  But not always.  And while we know strife is a part of life, we do not just accept it as “normal”.  We strive toward “esteeming others better than ourselves”, even if it means starting over each day.  I don’t think parents are one bit naive to expect and continue to teach their children to demonstrate honor and love to one another.  I think we are doing a poor job to just accept anything else.

But how to deal with it?  That one escapes me.

Today brought one of those challenges.  The temptation is to want to shout, “Just be nice to each other!”  Because our temptation is to simply make our lives comfortable. But since my job is to build people, that response isn’t a very good one.

So as I sat with two of my children, looked at them, and sighed.

“I don’t know what to say.”  (How’s that for a stroke of mother-genius?)

I tried to bring them both to a place of understanding, regardless of who instigated the dispute.  First I just let them talk and discuss their complaints.  I then tried to explain to my 13-year-old son why it might be possible that his sister snapped at him for no apparent reason, that something changes in girls, and hormones happen, and it’s hard to explain, (and he’s looking at me  like, “Mom, are you making this up?”)

Then, to my daughter I sympathize that she’s having a bad day but remind her that hormones are no excuse for sin (and remind myself too).

I tell them both, “I can’t make you exemplify Christ.  I can’t make you love each other.  You have to pray for a heart that desires that, and for power to demonstrate it.  But I CAN tell you what  the Bible says about how we should treat each other.  I can tell you that  a kind word and tone will go a long way toward building a loving relationship.  Being kind is a choice you have to make, and it will largely determine the atmosphere of our home.”

As I had opportunity, I pulled each one aside separately and encouraged them a bit more.  I suggested to “the offended” that he should find something nice to do for his sister.  So he sneaked off and completed one of her chores for her.

By the evening, they were hugging and laughing and I smiled…“This is hard work, yes…but it’s worth it.”

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12 Responses to “How to Handle Sibling Disputes”

  1. Amy LeBlanc says:

    Kelly…thank you for this.

  2. D. says:

    Well it sure makes another mom’s heart sing to know that as mothers, we are all in this together. That “their” home is not perfect, in spite of the smiling faces posted on Instagram! 🙂

    We have been where you are pretty much every day and I can imagine it’s even more pronounced the more kids one has! Thank you for sharing from your heart so that as weary mothers, we can “not grow weary while doing good….but in due season we shall reap.” Sometimes it honestly feels like all of our conversations about preferring one another, being tenderhearted, using a soft answer to turn away wrath are falling on deaf ears and hard hearts. As you already mentioned, as mothers, we cannot change our children’s hearts (much less our own), but we can turn and point them towards the only One who is willing and able.

    Thanks for being real!!!

    • Thanks, D. Lovely thoughts! And yes, I remind myself mothering is like a garden. You don’t pull weeds one time and have a beautiful harvest overnight. It comes in the patient toil and waiting.

  3. Brandi Rodriguez says:

    “I don’t know what to say” Do you know how encouraging that was to read?! I’ve been there and seriously did not know what to say.

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      🙂 It’s one of the great lessons of motherhood I’ve learned (that I didn’t know before). Mothers don’t always know the right thing to say or do. I just try to remember to go back to see what God’s Word says about a thing, because I do know that will be right.

  4. Bev says:

    Okay – so I have a good friend with 8 children.. her children seriously do not fight or argue. I have always always seen them be very sweet to each other, offering to help and mentor little ones. I asked her once about children arguing and how she did it because her children seemed to get along so well. She humbly said ” I am sorry I really can’t help people when they as me that. I just have never had that problem with my kids. They all love each other and don’t bicker”. I have noticed a few things about her though – she and her hubby decided when internet was the “new thing” that they would not have internet in their home. They do have computers and the kids learn how to type and such but they do not have internet. They did not have smart phones until recently when their oldest started working outside of the home and he had to have one so he and the parents got smart phones. They however still do not get internet at their home or any kind of wi-fi so no internet access on the phones (they live in a remote area now so wi-fi doesn’t surround them.

    So she was able to raise her children with absolutely no distractions! I know this is part of my issue with siblings not getting along. I get distracted by computer “rabbit trails” and neglect the training of their hearts. My own fault but I have to say that the older mothers I truly respect (that I personally know) did not have access to the internet. I think that distraction is huge now mothers – me included!

    • I think you definitely nailed an important thing–distraction which takes us away from the important work. I wrote an article about that (look for it in the side bar) called “Why Your Children Annoy You & Homemaking is Boring.” And it might be true that some children naturally have personalities given to peace (but wow, 8 of them??) Thanks, Bev for your comment.

    • Natalie says:

      Wow, Bev…so true! We choose not to have Smartphones or Facebook because we already have a tendency to withdraw into the internet when things are crazy at home. It is something I have to be on guard about. The past year I have allowed more screens (video games, movies, etc) than I ever have before in our 21 years of parenting! Now, I feel trapped w/i this way of living. I respect your friend for being able to avoid all those distractions!

  5. Bev says:

    That last line should say that the distraction is huge now FOR mothers! Not calling anyone out!

  6. Natalie says:

    Kelly, thank you for writing this! Sometimes I wonder “what is wrong with our children that they fight so much?”
    The thing that grieves me most in our home is the strife within my family. I am a peace-loving person, so I don’t understand why anyone would want to be mean to others. We have 4 sons that still live at home and the differing personalities combined with strengths/weaknesses conflict so much that I feel like we have tried everything! I know it is a heart issue and only the Lord can make them want to love one another more than they want their own way. Until that happens,finding consequences that make them stop and think before calling a name or putting down has been a big challenge. On a positive note, it is a good soundboard for sharing the Gospel since the sin of selfishness is openly on display. Longing for the return of Jesus and the end of all strife!

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