Christ. Children. Constructivism.

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Civil Siblings

As Christians, in a constructivist community that value a gentle environment both at home and school, peace becomes paramount.  If we are intentional about individual respect, responsibility and resourcefulness, we should extend this mantra to our relationships at home as well. We teach peace and reconciliation with one another with a dedicated  “peace corner” in our classrooms, but can we still apply these principles in our own living rooms on our own sofas?
This idea of sibling peacefulness seems to elude many homes as sibling rivalry and discord is common.  Not a shocker.  Just look at biblical, historical and local stories.  Look at the generational conflict that is alive and well between two brothers – Isaac and Ishmael. It seems to be more normal that siblings have issues with one another than siblings embracing one another.  I wonder how many people actually feel like celebrating National Sibling Day?
You don’t have to assume that your children will fight and not get along or grow-up treating the family pet better than one another.

I was inspired to write about such things after last weekend when Brock celebrated his 20th birthday.  He was in Boston, Massachusetts, for a weekend hockey tournament.  Madeline was in Palm Beach, Florida, studying and dancing as a freshman in college, and Meredith was in Blaine, Minnesota, busy with her “sophomore-in-high-school “activities. There was such a genuine outpouring of love between these siblings through texts, Facebook and Instagrams (the new Hallmark greeting cards) that I was taken aback with their bond across the miles.  I have asked my children, how did you learn that kind of love for one another? Here, in essence, was the sum of their answers…

Leader of the Day! (I can’t take any credit for this brilliant idea.  It belongs to my sweet Aunt Betty who implemented this plan over 40 years ago with her own children).  I adopted the concept and used it successfully and intentionally with my three children from the day Madeline was born in 1997 until Brock started driving in 2013. 
Here’s how it works: There are seven days of the week – everyone gets to be a “Leader” one or more of the days.  In my house, Brock was Mondays and Thursdays; Madeline was Tuesdays and Fridays; and Meredith was Wednesdays and Saturdays. Brent, my husband, and I were the Leaders on Sundays. 
Here’s how it helps:  The Leader of the Day is allowed to make all the decisions, afforded privileges, and assumes responsibility for the family.  For example, who gets to push the elevator button?  Too many little fingers and fussing over this simple task? Easy solution – the Leader pushes the button.  What about the arguing about what CD to play in the car? Who gets to sit in the front seat? Who gets to pray at mealtime? Simple answer – the Leader.  Even little toddlers can be honored in this way up to your teens.  Trust me, it solves a million little squabbles and establishes big cornerstones of respect as well.
I took this protocol so seriously that I even sat in the backseat if we happened to ride with my husband somewhere.  I would let the Leader of the Day sit in the front seat with daddy instead of me.  Sounds radical? It showed that I took “The Leader” seriously. It also aids in self-advocacy and decision making, two important success-in-life concepts.
I am not suggesting making-up work for yourself or allowing children to “run” the family or “be bossy.”  No, leadership is servant hood.  It looks like caring.  It looks like responsibility.  The Leader also gets to clean up a mess made by the dog, or run the garbage out, or help out with an extra job.  Leadership goes both ways. Neither am I suggesting that this one little tip will solve all sibling squabbles.  No, there is a mentality shift of civility that must also occur.  The belief that peace is obtainable and respect among siblings is achievable. There must also be these four
important principles in the family:
1)   Name-calling vs. Endearing Terms:  Avoid any derogatory adjectives or nouns.  People remember what is said about them – especially negative connotations.  This is a must! The adage about “names will never hurt me” is simply not true!  However, it would be perfectly acceptable and even wonderful to give one another nicknames that are sweet or tell a story. We referred to Meredith as “Baby” until her first grade year.  It was a tender way to refer to the littlest one among us. But never, ever name-call.
2)   Hitting vs. Wrestling:  Never allow physical meanness to happen among siblings.  It is a jarring experience to be hit. The first time this occurs, take it very seriously and put a stop to it immediately.  Wrestling and bear-cub play is a different story.  Especially brothers need to have this kind of rough and tumble play with one another, but sisters sometimes need this type of activity as well.  However, all out “smacking” one another from a place of anger or frustration should be curbed.  We often had pillow fights and took all the cushions off the couch for a “wrestling” area. Of course it ended “when someone got hurt,” but it was a fun and memorable time for everyone piled up on daddy’s back. Know the difference between physical touch that is helpful or hurtful.

3)   Forced Sharing vs. Cooperative Work.  People need to know what is theirs and what is not.  This is very important for respect and responsibility. This is best shown in the constructivist, Montessori classroom, where everyone has his or her own working mat.  One child chooses their own work and doesn’t have to share it. This promotes responsibility and respect, along with patience. The same principle can be applied to your child’s own things at home. Unless permission is granted, siblings should not take things of someone else’s nor should they be forced to share something they are using or enjoying at the moment. This doesn’t mean they won’t play together, borrow each other’s shoes and clothes, listen to one another CDs or learn to work together.  There is a fine line here, but with practice, it can be a key in siblings successfully working together.

4)   Comparing vs. Complimenting.  This is so paramount for moms and dads.  There has to be a watch over our mouth to not compare our children with each other saying “your sister would never do that.” “Why can’t you get better grades like your brother?” “Your sister always remembers, why can’t you?”  These types of comments seem effective at the time, but can add a deep resentment to relationships.  Rather, compliment each other!  There is a way to build up the differences, strengths and strong suits in siblings, without breaking another child down.  When a good grade is achieved, everyone celebrates!  Encourage the other children to chime in with congrats.  Then, do your best to make sure that everyone has a chance to shine in their own way. 
When we went on traveling hockey tournaments with Brock, we always brought the girls with us.  To keep them engaged, I would plan a little nail polish outing.  We put Brock’s hockey number on their nails with the team’s color.  We wore his colors, brought pennants and waved them proudly.  We talked about his game and encouraged the girls to think of something to affirm about his play.  Brock would also be asked to reciprocate at his sisters’ dance recitals. Of course, we didn’t paint his nails, but ensured that he came and affirmed them just the same.  The leader of the day concept tied back into this as well. I did my best to give extra affirmation to the child who was riding in the front seat with me.  Singling out siblings for their strengths without comparing is one way to aid in civility.

I have one brother, Olaf Nathan, and our parents definitely promoted (insisted?) that my brother and I got along.  And we did.  We still do.  I often say that we had a great relationship because he went along with all my ideas and was a total sweetheart.  We used to wrestle for fun, until the day when he was old enough and big enough to pin me – and then the wrestling was over. When we were in high school, people would ask if he was my boyfriend because of the kind way he treated me, talked to me and greeted me.  No one could believe a little brother would be that respectful of his older sister. It was a pleasure to celebrate Thanksgiving around his family’s table this year, along with our parents.
May this idea of peace become pervasive in your home and may God fill you with wisdom as you cultivate your children to not only be civil but to become friends.

4 thoughts on “Civil Siblings

  1. I have definitely taken this post to heart tonight. I've spent many nights (and days) in prayer over the intense and unhealthy sibling relationships between the two young boys in my household. Thank you for sharing your ideas about leadership within the family. This seems like a beautiful connection to the deliberate "attitude of gratitude" we've recently employed. Thanks again for these words–they are on my heart tonight and I will be revisiting these words in the future.

  2. In our house, everyone has a role in maintaining the house. Every one has a daily, along with the weekly chores. Homeschooling on Friday mornings is Family and Consumer Science (FACS) time as everyone scrubs toilets and floors, whether needed or not. haha! Each person does his/her own laundry too. These small expectations have really created an empowered house rather than an entitled house.

  3. Amie – thanks for your open, honest heart. I am praying for you and your boys right now that God gives you wisdom as you guide them. First step is believing that a peaceful home is possible. You have taken that step. God be with you as you continue to walk this direction. – Michelle

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