Is sibling conflict a problem in your home? Maybe you think that question is just a joke. Maybe you think it's a nice way to begin a post by making everyone feel normal and right at home because DUH! of course sibling conflict is a problem. In everyone's home. Always.
But it may not be for the reason you're thinking.
This post was featured on the Homeschool Solutions Show. Use the player below to hear me read it aloud to you!
When I ask homeschool moms what the biggest problem is in their homeschool, besides sibling issues, one of the most frequent answers I hear is, "Math. We are struggling with math".
At the risk of elaborating on what might seem obvious, what does it mean to "struggle with math"? Here are some of the common reasons why math has become a problem for a homeschool family.
Moms might mean ...
- I'm not sure what's reasonable to expect at this age, so I don't know if I'm asking too much or too little of him. Are we behind?
- I can see what he needs to learn, but I can't find a good way to teach or demonstrate that concept to him.
- I thought I taught him this, but he doesn't seem to remember or be able to apply it. Is this a character issue? Or is there some learning challenge?
But here's what moms never, ever mean when they talk about a "math struggle" ...
- I am surprised to find that he still has more math learning to do.
And yet, that's often what moms think they mean when they say they are having "sibling conflict problems" in their homes. They mean that their children have not yet mastered self-control and relationship skills. But is that really the problem?
Hard Work Isn't a Problem
If you are confident in your math curriculum and you know what you need to do next, then math isn't a "problem". It might be hard work. It might not be everyone's idea of fun. But it isn't a problem. It's just something to work through, to work on.
Math becomes a problem - an overwhelming, terrifying, anxiety-producing, guilt-inducing problem - when you aren't confident that you know what expectations are reasonable, how to identify gaps or obstacles, how to address them, and if your methods are working.
The same is true of sibling conflict.
Sibling conflict is simply an indication that more guidance, training, and maturity are needed. It isn't a problem. It's simply something to work through.
However, it becomes a problem when you are uncertain about what expectations are reasonable, how to identify the source of the conflict, how to address those issues, and how to tell if your methods are working.
Expect the Lessons to Keep Coming
Because God is a kind and gentle Father, he works with us very patiently. Each day, he stretches and grows us just a little bit beyond where we were yesterday.
Even if we learned the lesson he had for us yesterday, we ought not to expect that we've mastered gracious living and have nothing left to learn. We needn't be surprised when there is more growing and stretching to do today.
God trains our character like a wise math teacher. He doesn't drop a Calculus book into the lap of a fourth grader. But he does challenge the fourth graders with good, engaging fourth-grade math.
And he loves to teach through hands-on, real-life learning opportunities! As one of our pastors used to say, if you pray for patience, then you should expect extra traffic, long lines at the grocery store, and lots of other opportunities to practice and grow in patience!
The same is true with sibling relationships. If you pray for your children to learn to love each other, then you should expect them to be presented with opportunities to respond kindly to unkindness, opportunities to practice apologizing and forgiving, and opportunities to know the struggles of their own hearts so that they can better extend grace to others.
Change Your Focus
Throwing up your hands in despair because you have a "sibling conflict problem" is like throwing up your hands in despair because your child didn't get a perfect score on the chapter pretest.
Assessments reveal gaps in math understanding. Conflicts reveal gaps in character training.
What you need is a boost of confidence. You need a plan and you need a way to move forward. Sibling conflicts will still be unpleasant. They will still be hard work. But they don't have to be a problem.
Take the First Step Towards a Plan!
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Lynna Sutherland is the mother of eight kids ages teen to toddler. She hosts the Sibling Relationship Lab podcast and writes about sibling conflict resolution and sibling relationship building. Lynna believes that the gospel transforms sibling conflict from an obstacle to an opportunity and loves to show other parents the freedom and confidence of gospel-centered parenting.