By Sarah Reed
Sibling squabbles. Where to begin? My kids are young, so it has indeed, “only just begun” for me. However, I have already had my fill of the bickering. Not yet have I recorded how many days are “good” days, when my children enjoy each other and play nicely, but I should, because chances are high there are better days then I think.
The problem is, at 3-1/2 years old and 17 months, my kids are still at a vulnerable age in which sharing, tantrums and a sense of fair-play are hard to manage. Emotions ascend mountain tops over something as simple as whether the cardboard box they are in is supposed to be a train or a pirate ship. My daughter, being the older child and able to grasp the rules of playing fair, is especially struggling when she doesn’t feel like adhering to the rules, or when her brother is the naughty one. My son, not yet able to use words to express his anger, his wants or his complaints, does a lot of screaming and throwing.
I let them have their own quiet time to play in their rooms. This is particularly helpful for my daughter, who enjoys her right to not always share with her brother. I allow her to shut her door and have time to herself.
Lately she makes claim over whatever toy her brother has, or, for that matter, any toy he doesn’t have, but looks at, therefore may consider playing with. Sometimes, she cleverly tries to disguise this by offering him a different, less exciting toy instead. Given that he is now old enough not to fall for this, she has resorted to old fashion bullying. Last week, after she snatched his toy and made him cry by holding it out of his reach, I stepped in and told her to stop being a bully to her little brother. “But how do I stop being a bully?” she asked.
“You start by not grabbing toys away from him when he is playing with them,” I retorted. “You know how to be nice, take turns and share.”
I went on to elucidate that he is learning from her how to behave. If she acts nice, he will learn to act nice, if she acts like a bully, then he will learn to be a bully, too. She asked again, “but HOW do I stop being a bully?” I tried simplifying it further. She knows how to be nice. I could see she was still giving it thought, but she gave the toy back and left him alone.
A few days later, outside, she found a white wishing dandelion. I told her to make a wish, expecting to hear her desire for a goldfish or a new Barbie. “I wish…” she paused with reflection. “I wish I could stop being a bully to my brother.”
My heart ached.
She obviously did not like it about herself that she could be a bully at times and wasn’t sure how to change her behavior. I joined my daughter in the grass. It takes practice, I told her, to think before we do things. Even grown-ups have to practice this, I confessed. We must listen to the little voice God gives us that tells our thoughts whether it is something nice to do, or something not nice. It feels good and makes God happy when we’re nice. I went over “the golden rule,” do unto others as you would have done unto you. This, by the way, is the same lesson of ethics across the spectrum, no matter what religion you are. (Because I’m now a homeschooling mom, I’ve since dug up unit studies around The Golden Rule to incorporate into our curriculum and focus on in the coming weeks. Everything is a lesson!)
I also let her know, if there is something we want to change about ourselves but it feels too big to change alone, that is what God is there for. “Just like the wish you made on that dandelion,” I explained. “You say that in a prayer to God, in your heart, and ask Him to help you.”
As the bible reminds us, God does not want us to rely on our own strengths, but on Him. “Look to the Lord for His strength; seek His face always.” -1 Chronicles 16:11
It is invaluable to teach my children, and it is a lesson I am still trying to learn. When we need to overcome something, the power and necessity of prayer lasts our entire lives. We face challenges and pray for strength in place of our weaknesses. That does not wither away simply because you outgrow making dandelion wishes.
Come to think of it, why should any of us outgrow making dandelion wishes, anyway?