How To Disciple Your Kids Through Sibling Squabbles

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By Shela Ervin
If your family is blessed to have two or more little people living in it, then I might guess that there is big sibling love involved—and likely big sibling squabbles. It’s a fact of life: when sinful people live together, they bump into one another, and conflict comes up.
Children offer us some of the best pictures of sin at work because their responses are filter-less. Coveting comes up when a brother complains about his sister’s bigger and better toy. Stealing springs up when a sister takes without asking. Anger arises when anything (really, it could be anything) doesn’t go a child’s way.
As God does with us when we are in conflict with others, we have an opportunity to disciple our children’s hearts toward God’s truth and peace by the way we adjudicate their sibling squabbles.
In Christ, we are called to lives of repentance and forgiveness. How can we equip our children to understand and practice these fundamental habits?
Consider some of these discipleship points and how they might help our children’s hearts to the cross-ward path.
Be a fair judge.
When you hear the explosion of a sibling squabble (or see the tail end of it), it may be tempting to assume who was in the wrong. But the truth is important in matters of justice, even little kid justice. Suspend all judgment and ask your children to tell the truth of what happened. Our God is an impartial judge, and his standard of righteousness applies to everyone without bias. The world’s courts may not always demonstrate fairness, but our parenting can point them to the God who judges impartially.
Coach them in confession and repentance.
True confession of sin involves a specific description of the wrong they did. Encourage your children to name their wrongdoing. Lead them to put words to why it is wrong. They can also confess how their sin has hurt others. In this, we remember that our sin violates God’s righteous standard.
True repentance also involves contrition, or as I describe it to our little ones, a truly sorry heart. Gently and firmly teach your children that feeling sorry for being caught in sin is not the same as being sorry because their wrong has gone against what is good and right in God’s eyes. In this, we hold fast to godly sorrow and not the worldly sorrow that leads to death.
Don’t let one’s sin excuse the other’s.
It’s often the case that both parties have sinned in different ways. One sibling’s sin does not give permission for the other to sin, too. We don’t make a wrong right by doing wrong back. Our children should know that each of us will be accountable for the wrong we have done, not what others have done.
Discourage them from elaborating on their sibling’s wrongdoing.
It’s easy to see how bad another person’s sin is. When a child begins to elaborate and press in on their sibling’s wrong, let them know that they don’t need to talk about other people’s sins. We should put that energy toward confessing our own. In this, we train our children to take the log out of their own eye before taking the speck out of their brother’s eye.
Train them to ask for and give forgiveness.
Confession of sin isn’t sufficient for reconciliation. After confessing their wrong, our children should understand that they need forgiveness for a restored relationship. Remind them to ask, “Will you forgive me?” In this, their hearts will be led to understand the forgiveness they need in their broken relationship with God.
Encourage your children to forgive quickly and freely. This part is often most beautifully demonstrated by children, who are so humblingly quick to forgive!
Celebrate the restoration of fellowship.
When God forgives us our trespasses, our enmity with him is replaced by sweet fellowship. We, who were once at war with a holy God, now have peace with him. What a relief—and what a joy! Celebrate the restoration of your children’s fellowship by encouraging hugs, laughs, and “I love you’s” all around. In this, our children may know a small foretaste of the joy they’ll know as they enjoy peace with God through the forgiveness of their own sins.

Shela is a happy helpmate to her husband in gospel ministry, mom to two young ones, and creates goods & resources with hopes to strengthen Kingdom families into Christ until he comes.
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