Sibling Rivalry Strife and Spite

A few years ago I visited a family to talk with their teenage son about downloading things from the internet. He was very able at the process and I had never done it before. While I was in the home an exchange took place between the young man and his youngest sister, who was probably about five years younger than him. She had been using his computer, which she was allowed to do, but had gone about five minutes over the allocated time. The boy, in his later years of high school, shouted at his sister and hit her, demanding that she get off his computer.

Several things about this exchange were troubling. The level of spite and violence was shocking. The fact that he did not even ask his sister to leave his computer, but immediately began abusing her was also out of place. The response from the family indicated that this was something they had all become accustomed to. When the mother tried to call her son to account for his actions he justified himself by pointing out that the sister had gone over her allocated time. The mother accepted that, rather than challenging the spite and violence of the son’s actions. No-one seemed embarrassed or uncomfortable that this was played out with me watching.

Siblings in the Bible

Having grown up with four brothers and then raised five sons I was personally distressed to see the bitter attitude so evident between these siblings. I had never experienced anything like it in my youth or as a parent. I took it for granted that siblings get along happily and resolve their upsets in positive and constructive ways.

So I reflected on what I had seen, seeking some wisdom. We know that it is possible for siblings to dwell together happily and that God blesses them when they are in unity (Psalm 133). We also know that it is possible for sin to tempt siblings to be violent to each other, as was the case with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). We also know that siblings can offend each other, resulting in serious barriers being built up between them (Proverbs 18:19).

One older lady told me that when she was growing up each of her siblings made serious attempts to kill the others. I thought she was joking, but she explained that they would regularly throw each other down flights of stairs, hoping to do serious injury. There was deep hatred between them all.

Resolving Sibling Rivalry

What should we do in a case where siblings have developed ill-will toward each other?

It’s a Serious Matter: The first things parents should do if there is evidence of sibling rivalry or spite is to take the matter seriously. This is not just a passing phase. This is not normal. This is not something to be put up with. It is completely contrary to what God wants and blesses in a family. Sin is at work. That’s what God told Cain, when God said “Sin is close at hand” (Genesis 4:7).

Seek Wisdom: Parents need godly wisdom to resolve this situation. This is not a time for hasty and impassioned words and actions. A wise, thoughtful and measured response is far better. Remember that anger from a parent is a waste of time, since Solomon teaches that the “rod of anger will fail”, Proverbs 22:8.

Find the Spiritual Roots: Outward behaviour comes from the heart of a person (Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45). Seek God to show you what is going on in the heart of your child or children that is causing them to be spiteful toward one another. The deeper issues could be jealousy (which might spring from insecurity), unforgiveness for past actions, resentment of the advantages the other child has, feelings of shame within the angry child for their own secret personal failures, despair that their hopes and dreams are amounting to nothing, and so on. Remember that hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12). When a child gives themself over to sin they become a slave and may end up hating their own self because of the secret struggles they are having.

Pray with Authority: Before trying to fully resolve the matter with the children it is best to have covered the whole thing in prayer. If you can be confident in God’s blessing, wisdom and grace in your home then you will be much better able to navigate the emotional challenge of dealing with vexing issues. Pray for healing for your children. Bind the enemy’s work. Ask for grace and wisdom. Ask God to confirm the things which you are sensing as key issues (so that by the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses every word can be established – 2Corinthians 13:1). Resist the devil. Bind the enemy. Claim God’s salvation for your whole household. Present your family to God.

Speak with Authority: When you are properly prepared, you can speak into the situation. Remember to speak to your child’s heart – since that is the critical area where breakthrough is needed. You are looking for a change of heart, not just a change of behaviour. A good start can be to investigate the situation. Ask the child or children, either individually or in a group setting, to explain what is behind the strife that you observe. This will probably illicit the justifications and accusations, but at least you will have the child addressing the issue. You can then let them know what it is that you are sensing about the situation. You might then ask, “Do you think there is any substance to what I have just said?” You are looking for your child conceding that their behaviour has not been totally appropriate, even if it is done in response to some provocation.

Lead the Children to Humility Before God: The greatest outcome is that your children present themselves to God, in humility and conviction of sin. As they call on God for His grace they are practicing a glorious pattern which you want them to employ throughout their entire lives.

Lead them to Repent, Forgive, Renounce Evil, Resist the Devil and Live in Freedom: Your children have been brought into moral danger. When they perceive that and then find God’s deliverance they will be experienced in Christian ministry, not only for themselves but as a basis for helping others. Have them understand and work through the steps of Personal Repentance; Forgiveness of Offenders; Renouncing Evil – revoking the connection that they have established between themselves and sin – such as spite, jealousy, etc; Resisting the Devil and doing spiritual warfare to claim their victory and freedom; and then standing before God to receive grace, newness, cleansing and a whole new future of freedom.

Maintain Accountability: Don’t leave the matter to just follow its own course. Advise the children that you will be monitoring what is happening and that you will be asking them to give you an update and self-audit in some set time in the future. If the situation is very intense and change may be a struggle then you could set up a review within hours or days. If the matter is more sporadic then you might set up a review time several weeks later. Be sure to follow up and at least revisit the topic.

Throw Yourself onto God: You will already have done this, but it is important to see these emerging challenges as God’s way to call you to higher levels of commitment and wisdom in your parenting. So throw yourself at God’s feet and allow God to take you beyond where you may have wanted to go. The very area of challenge may become the platform for international ministry, a best-selling book, or a new intercession ministry. Let God be God in your life.

You may not need any of the above thoughts, but I trust they encourage you in moving forward in God’s purposes on your whole family.

The Heart of Your Child

It is vital that you train the heart of your children. However it is popular to ignore this essential process and give in to shallow alternatives. Since many young parents have not thought these issues through I am penning these notes as a guide to parents.

The Heart of the Matter

The most important part of your child’s development is the training of their heart. While we may not be aware of what is going on inside other people, including our children, the Bible tells us that God looks on the heart.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1Samuel 16:7

God’s prophet, Samuel, did what people naturally do. He looked on external things. God accurately accused men of taking notice of external things – “man looks on the outward appearance”. That is why people have to take ‘first impressions’ seriously and why image is such a big deal for worldly people. It should not be so for those who love and follow God, but sadly appearance and image is a major focus of some churches today.

Since God looks on your child’s heart it is essential that you make it a key focus on your attention.

The Heart of Your Child is Exposed by What Comes Out

Jesus had much to say about what comes out of the heart. He said that we are defiled by what comes out of us. He then listed a bunch of things that find their source in the human heart.

“The words which come out of the mouth come from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” Jesus Christ, Matthew 15:18-19

Jesus is pointing here to both the words people speak and the motivations that lead them to do evil things. So wise parents will be attentive to the spontaneous expressions from their children and also from the behaviour patterns the children display.

A winning smile on the face of a child can be deceptive. Sweet words of promise and nicety may be a cover for wrong intentions. In the same way that adults can be expert at this level of deception, some children know how to play up to their parents’ expectations.

Key Lessons For the Heart

The heart is troubled by the presence of foolishness, which Solomon warns us is bound in the heart of every child (Proverbs 22:15). So it is important for each parent to respect the particular process that God prescribes for removing that foolishness. The prescribed process is to use the rod of correction on the child.

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Solomon, Proverbs 22:15

Obedience is a key test of the child’s heart. If a child refuses to obey then they have foolishness. So getting the child to promptly obey the parent is a key heart training process. This involves them submitting to the parent’s authority. In that process they learn to fear the Lord, giving respect to God’s requirement that they obey their parents.

Games and Tricks Don’t Train the Heart

Some parents think that they are doing quite well if they get the desired action from the child. But it is not the action that is the most important. What is important, as we saw earlier, is the heart of the child. God does not look on the outward evidence but on the heart.

If you instruct a child to eat their food and the child is reluctant to obey, then a matter of the heart has been exposed. The child’s rebellious or independent attitude is a more serious matter than the nutritional value of the meal.

Many parents, however, become distracted with the external element, getting the food into the child. They can completely miss the much more serious issue of the child’s heart. Clever parents can resort to games to get the child to eat. “Let’s pretend that the spoon is a train and your mouth is a tunnel. Let the train into the tunnel.”

Such games may be fun, but they set the parent and child up for future pain. The child’s heart is left in a rebellious state, even though all the food is eaten.

The same is true when a parent tricks a child into doing the right thing, or fitting in with the parent’s plans. Games and fun, cute as they may be in the hands of clever parents, have no place in testing or training the child’s heart.

The most mature and complete heart training is evident when there is every reason to disobey or to get away with doing wrong, and yet the person insists and persists in doing what is right.

Tough Choices Make for Strong Character

When parents rescue their children from tough choices they undermine the child’s character. Tough choices make for strong character.

The child who must stand by his post, while others get to do fun things, or taunt him, or who is otherwise suffering in order to be there, will develop much stronger character than the child who is given every opportunity to cheat on their character.

False compassion can prompt some parents to remove the tough choices and hard situations from their child’s life. Such emotion is called ‘false’ compassion because it is not true love at all. It masquerades as compassion but it harms the child, so it cannot be real love.

You are Allowed to Play Games

Please note that I am not saying every moment of your child’s life should be a tough moment with tough choices. There is plenty of room for fun, games and play. You are welcome to play ‘aeroplanes’ and fly the food into your child’s mouth or to make cleaning up the room into a fun race against the clock.

The tough choices are made at strategic moments and are then built upon. But once the tough moment is past it is time for celebration and enjoyment of life. The problem will come when your child is never challenged to learn and their heart is not trained.

Insist that they Learn

Parents, be diligent to ensure that each of your children has learned to obey you, to submit to authority and to fear God. You will need to remain attentive to their heart, through what they say and how that is backed up by the attitudes and actions.

Insist that they learn the lessons. Don’t give in, just because they are crying, or complaining. There is much more at stake than their temporary responses.

Baby Wise – A Good Start

Getting off to a good start with a new baby will make all the difference in the months and years to follow. A contented baby in a good routine will make life so much easier for both mum and dad. If the baby is settled the whole household is able to get on with its various routines. If a baby is distressed and unsettled then the family is under constant pressure to settle the baby. That robs the parents of time they would otherwise apply to the house and family needs.

I recommend the book, Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. Having met the Ezzo’s in Australia, and been impressed by their practical application of Biblical wisdom I happily bought their Baby Wise book to share with friends. When my daughter-in-law, Ruth, presented me with my first grand-child I presented her with Baby Wise. She found it wonderfully helpful and has since ensured that her friends have the book to assist them.

I spoke with Ruth today, asking her thoughts about the book, now that she has five children. She advised that each of her friends who have used the book have all been happy with it and found it very helpful. She pointed out, however, that young mums can tend to be insecure. They then take up a principle and turn it into a rigid practice. This may account for some poeple who have not benefited as much from the book.

One of the key principles in the book is that of the Parents, not the Child, setting the tone and program within the home. The baby is welcomed into the parents’ world, rather than the parents becoming servants in the child’s world. The first practical expression of this principle is applied in the feeding routine of the baby. Wise parents set the feeding routine and settle the child into a rhythm that flows with the overall function of the home. As the child adapts and fits in, the first major hurdle in accommodating the baby has been crossed.

For a new-born baby a three-hour feeding pattern is common. Ruth applied the practical guidelines from the book with her first baby, Grace, and all worked well. Her second baby, however, ended up having colic. Upon investigation she discovered, after six weeks of an unhappy baby, that her son, Justus, only needed a feed every four hours. The principle had been confused with the practical guideline. The principle is that of parent-directed feeding. The guideline is that of a three-hour feed, since that is most common. However, in her case the practice of the principle needed to be four-hourly feeds.

Her third baby was also quite happy to operate by a four-hour feeding routine. Ruth by this time was quite relaxed about applying the principle and quickly adapted to the baby’s personal needs, yet maintaining her own overall control of the feeding routine. Her fourth baby was a hungry baby, and the three-hour feeds were back in full-swing again.

There’s an observation to be made there about learning principles, needing practical guidelines, then being able to separate the principle from the guidelines and act in wisdom about how the principle is applied. I might reflect on that further in a few days, since I think it is wise for husbands to help their wife in maintaining an effective distinction between the two – so look out for a post for Husbands some time soon.

So, if you are struggling with a baby, or have a friend or relative who is soon to have a baby, I suggest that you bless them with a copy of Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. The rest of the series, Child Wise books, etc, will also assist parents in the maturing challenge.