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Love Your Sister
Photo: Aron Kremer
Sibling rivalry needs to be nipped in the bud, so don’t use a sledgehammer.

“Stop cracking your knuckles!” my daughter shouted at her brother.

“Well, if you’re so perfect, why are you always late to breakfast,” he shot back at his sister.

And so began a round of attacks that found me blowing my referee whistle and raising my own voice, “Would you two just cut it out. I’m sick of hearing you fight!” To which my son snipped, “And aren’t you in a bad mood!” So, I told my kids, “OK, we need a timeout. Let’s talk later.”

As a parent, my work is not always fun—like buying birthday presents or giving goodnight kisses. Sometimes I want to run and hide (or pass the buck to my spouse) when my children fight with each other. But parenting is a work we are called to by God.

We have all repeated Ephesians 6:1 to our kids, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” But we sometimes forget that Paul warns us, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children…” (v. 4).

How do you help your children love each other without exasperating them? As a father of five, here are a few things I’ve learned about sibling rivalry from Ephesians 4:29-32.

Stop unwholesome talk dead in its tracks. When a habit of talking unkindly toward a sibling is permitted, it will grow like a weed. I don’t literally use a whistle to stop disputes between my children, but a firm word is often necessary. Ephesians 4:29 says, “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.

Explain how hurtful words bring pain to many people. Your child might say, “My words aren’t hurting anyone except my brother who deserves it!” Well, unkind words hurt everyone who has to listen to them. Thoughtless comments hurt parents’ hearts, grieve the Holy Spirit, and even hurt the future spouse of your children. (Did you know habits formed as children don’t simply disappear when you get married?) Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Teach your children to apologize and forgive each other. Bitterness is the result of an unforgiving heart. It’s challenging to teach children how to forgive if they don’t “feel” like it. Nothing tops modeling forgiveness toward your children when you make a mistake. Forgiveness comes in two steps. First, you choose to forgive with your “head”, then you forgive from your “heart.” That may take longer. Ephesians 4:31, 32 sums it up well, “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.”

One more thought. Sibling rivalry isn’t always “fixed” in the heat of battle. I am more likely to exasperate my children when my own emotions get caught up in straightening everybody out. But calling a “time out” can give the Holy Spirit a chance to work on the heart of your child.

After our breakfast blow-up, my son came to me later that evening and said, “Dad, I’m sorry I spoke to you unkindly. Would you please forgive me?”

“Sure,” I smiled and hugged him. Knowing his heart was softer, I suggested, “Now, go apologize to your sister.”

And he did.

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

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