Sibling Sanity

Teaching Siblings to Love Each Other

What Do Children Expect?

We’ve all seen how girls raised in abusive homes often seek out husbands and boyfriends with anger problems, and boys raised with domineering mothers tend to marry strong and sometimes overbearing women. Children will repeat what they’re accustomed to. For good or harm, children feel comfortable with the familiar.

So what do our children expect, and what will they be as adults?

If they listen to our culture, they will expect to have and do what they want when they want it. They will be unable to cope when they don’t get what they want. They will live beyond their means. They will expect to borrow money and not pay it back. They will expect everyone to not just accept, but celebrate, their life choices, whether or not they’re healthy choices. They will expect others to accommodate their most insignificant needs. They will expect marriage to be meaningless and sex to be debasing. They will expect to pursue their own desires, and to justify hurting others to get (or be) what they want. They will view sacrifice as a bad word. They will expect there to be no ultimate standard for right an wrong. They will trust their hearts, believe in themselves, follow their dreams, and expect that they deserve all this and more without doing anything to earn it.


Don’t we want better for them?

Expectations are everything.

Our culture wants us to throw up our hands where our children are concerned; to say to ourselves, “Oh, well … what can you do?” when they misbehave or rebel. The world around us seeks to lower our own expectations of our children and ourselves.

We’re given advice like this about how we shouldn’t expect our children to “always forgive.” Granted, the article says, “You can’t constantly treat your kids poorly and expect them to always forgive.” (Can we assume that someone who’s “constantly” treating their kids poorly probably isn’t searching the Internet for parenting articles?)  Assuming that we’re normal parents who are interested in our children’s welfare, why is it declared “unrealistic” to expect them to forgive? Did Jesus tell us to forgive only when we think the other person deserves it? Or only when we like the other person? Or only when they ask for forgiveness? No. He said to forgive, just as we have been forgiven. That’s called grace. We received it. We’re to give it.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have healthy boundaries (boundaries are Biblical). It means we remember how sinful we are, and we forgive. Period.

Or this article, that advises us to give “choices” to children, not “commands.” I’m sorry, but if my child makes a choice to run in the library, I’m going to command her to hold my hand. My children, ages 7, 8 and 9, were recently eating at a restaurant with me. At the table behind us was a three-year-old with both parents, a grandparent and an aunt. The child did not want to eat her lunch, sit on anyone’s lap, or cooperate in any way. What she wanted to do was grab, throw, squirm and shriek. Loudly. My initial thought was, “It’s 1:30 in the afternoon; she needs a nap.”

My daughter was horrified. She whispered to me, “Mom, no one is telling that little girl to act right.” There was much pleading, happy talk, pantomimes (I am not kidding) and trying to distract the child, but four adults put together could not get that child to want to sit down and eat. And that’s the problem in our day. Children grow up thinking they should not have to do anything they don’t want to do. And why shouldn’t they, when the adults in their lives have reinforced that to them every day. We are so focused on letting the child decide what she wants to do that we forget to help shape her character by giving her rules and requiring her to follow them. Even the word “obey” is falling out of fashion. It’s now a harsh and mean-spirited word, equated with “compel” and “command” and “coerce.”

brothers, sisters, siblings, get along, stop fighting

Living with siblings is a perfect training ground for learning to focus on others, rather than ourselves, and to lead by serving.

We don’t expect them to do the right thing. Instead, we wait to see if they do. And if they don’t, we wring our hands and set about endless examination into what factors led them to “make a bad choice.”

Without God, and any ultimate standard of right and wrong that transcends the fickle human heart, we are sinking in a culture that tells us that people are not responsible for their actions. When people choose to destroy property, loot businesses and hurt others, all we hear is buzzwords that mean they’re not really responsible for what they did. When we see kids defy the police, assault people, and become promiscuous at ever-earlier ages, we are told that it’s all due to this reason or that. It’s a poverty thing. It’s an education thing. It’s a racial thing.

No. It’s a right and wrong thing.

Living with siblings is a perfect training ground for learning to focus on others, rather than ourselves. It’s a great place to practice patience, compassion, helpfulness, standing up to peer pressure, protecting your family, and sticking together through it all. It’s a great time to learn to get over blaming others, trying to control everyone by being hyper-sensitive and hyper-critical, thinking that all our problems are someone else’s fault, inventing syndromes to blame our choices on, and complaining about who got more and better than me.

Let’s use this time to teach our children how to get along, how to lead with a servant’s heart, how to let it go, and how to think of the needs of others. Let’s not succumb to the bombardment of media messages that tell us that parents who require obedience and certain standards of behavior are “harsh” and “bullies.”

Our children want us to care how they act, and how they will turn out. They want us to fight for them. When we tell them that we’re not going to expect them to be polite, patient, respectful, generous, helpful, diligent and honest, we’re telling them we don’t care about them. And when parents check out, that’s when the government, academia, and media check in. They unpack their secular humanist ideas on our children and chip away at their expectations, their ambitions, their sense of morality, their future. Why? To make a buck. To get votes. To impose their ideology on the rest of us.

We have to be a stronger influence in our children’s lives. We have to be vigilant, be good examples, walk the walk every day, and hold our children responsible for their actions and decisions.

It won’t be easy. But what else would we expect?

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Respect at Home = Respect at School

A recent Harris poll of 2,250 adults shed light on a downward cultural spiral of respect among parents, teachers and students.

Numbers were down across the board where respect was concerned:

  • The percentage of those polled who said that teachers respect parents is down
  • Only half of those surveyed said that parents respect teachers (down from 91% when they themselves were in school)
  • Only 3 in 10 surveyed said that students respect teachers (down 48%)
  • 61% of those polled said that teachers respect students (down 25%)

Now, as a discerning reader who wishes to put information in perspective, I will point out three things.

  1. The Harris Poll press release takes the poll of 2,250 adults and — based on the results — makes broader statements about what Americans believe. I don’t consider a poll of 2,250 people to be representative of 243 million American adults. That’s a sample of one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent.
  2. We really don’t know what people believe in their hearts. All we know is what they say. Those surveyed may have answered based on cultural attitudes and messages, rather than stating their actual beliefs. There can be a lot of “guidance” in the way a survey question is crafted. And the comparison is between now and when respondents were in school, so there may be some inaccurate memories at work as well.
  3. Of those surveyed, only 21%  actually had children in grades K-12, so I’m wondering how the others would know about respect levels among school-age kids, teachers and parents. Maybe they were teachers.

Still and all, the results of the poll are telling. Overwhelmingly, the percentage of people who said that parents, students and teachers respect each other has plummeted as compared to when they themselves were in school.

A generation or two ago, if you got into trouble at school, you got into bigger trouble at home. Parents backed teachers. They taught us that sometimes, we had to put up with unfair, weak, nutty teachers. We still had to do our best. It was not our job to teach our teachers how to be decent human beings.

Teachers backed parents, too. And many still do. But the teacher’s job has been made infinitely more difficult by the lack of Godly instruction at home. A child who is taught that everything she does is “awesome,” and that she should do as she pleases, is entitled to eat only her favorites for every meal, and that it’s okay to disrespect others (especially adults) is going to make her teacher’s job much harder. And her parents’, but that’s another subject.

When teachers try to address these problems with parents, they often hear that little Toby is acting up because he’s bored. As if that’s okay. The real problem is that Toby isn’t being trained to act right no matter how he feels.

Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t teachers who are the product of a very liberal educational culture or bad character. That’s true in any profession or group of people. But a lack of Biblical parenting in our society leaves teachers to increasingly lean on social services to deal with unruly children. Law enforcement. Child Protective Services. Social workers. School “behavioral teams.” School police officers. School “Child Study” teams. Anti-bullying campaigns (and broadening the definition of “bully” to include any kid who exhibits bad manners).

Is this how we really want to raise our children?

Love begins at home, and so does respect. Siblings taught to respect each other generally respect their friends at school. Siblings taught to respect their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and adults in their family’s life generally respect their teachers, school administrators, and other adults at school.

Homes that have more than one child give those children an advantage, and that advantage  is this: children learn early and often that they have to give way to others, to share, to wait their turn, to show respect, and to treat others the way they want to be treated. They have to practice it every day.

It’s exhausting for teachers to keep up with 27 or 35 children at one time, all day. It can be exhausting for parents to keep up with multiple children day and night and weekends, too. But parents have an advantage over teachers: they have a stronger bond (which means greater influence), more authority and a wider array of discipline options than teachers have.

Children and adults are not peers. This has been an accepted part of childhood from the dawn of time. Until now. All of a sudden, children are not intimidated or awed by adults anymore. They order us around. They ignore us. They walk away while we’re speaking to them. They continue doing what we just told them to stop doing. With impunity, they simply do as they please. Where did they get the idea that they only have to do what they want to do?

At home, that’s where.

Now, more than ever, we need to teach our children to respect adults. In our family, children do not address adults by their first names (with the exceptions of aunts, uncles and cousins). It’s unusual, but the kids prefer it. They are expected to acknowledge verbally adults who speak to them, but we’re working on it. They’re learning to smile and greet adults, and to be friendly to adults they or their parents know, rather than being rude. They ask if they can get up from the dinner table (when everyone’s done eating), and they ask if they can have a snack. When they order at a restaurant, they say, “May I please have … ” rather than, “I want.”

We’re a long way from perfect, but children disrespecting adults is a pet peeve of mine and so we work on it every day. It’s easy to ignore it when siblings are speaking unkindly to each other, but we all know you can’t parent from an armchair. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the time. We must pay attention to what our children are saying to each other, and how they’re acting toward each other.

And in 25 years’ time, perhaps our children will be polled by Harris about whether they think students respect teachers. And maybe then, the numbers will be higher than before, not lower.

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National Sibling Day April 10

The siblings bonds are life-long relationships usually lasting from cradle to grave.  It is  usually the longest relationship of a person’s life and typically much longer than a mother’s and father’s relationship.

Siblings Day follows the spirit of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day – a great American tradition and celebration of family-unit values.  It is an uplifting celebration honoring people who have shared our history, our life-shaping experiences, our family relationships and our family culture.

Those whose have siblings in a blood relationship look alike, and even siblings from other types of families (step-siblings and adoptive siblings) enjoy feelings of closeness which may never be surpassed in any other relationship.  It is usually the longest relationship of a person’s life (typically much longer than a mother’s and father’s relationship).   We must always remember that the strength of families is vital to the strength of our communities, state and nation.

Claudia Evart, a native New Yorker and resident of Manhattan after losing both of her siblings early in life, felt inspired to create the Siblings Day Foundation (SDF), a tax-exempt organization whose goals include the establishment of a National Siblings Day, to be celebrated annually on April 10, the birthday of her late sister, Lisette.

A day to honor and recognize siblings has been an annual event for thousands of years in Northern India, Guyana in South America and several South Asian countries. Since 1998, 85 governors have signed gubernatorial proclamations in 49 states.

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“She’s copying me!”

It’s a stage that every sibling group has to struggle through: the copying stage. Parents dread it; kids freak out over it; siblings use it to tease, tattle, and control.

By age 5 or 6, children view those who copy negatively. To the one being copied, copying can feel different to children than it does to adults. If you or I were copied by someone, we would be flattered (until it turned creepy). But kids are often offended, exasperated and frustrated by being copied.

Especially girls.

So what’s at work here? One theory is that children see copying as stealing. The theory is that children across all cultures reach a certain developmental stage at which they view copying as stealing their ideas, preferences, actions, etc.

So if your child is being driven up the wall about being copied, here are some ways of reframing it for her:

  • Tell her that this is how her younger siblings learn. Explain that it’s part of being an older sibling, that she copied others when she was that age, and that it will pass soon. In the meantime, challenge her: “Are you a good teacher?”
  • Take the child’s focus off herself. Ask questions about why the copying bothers her. You’ll soon hear words like “me,” “mine,” and “my.” Help her to see that life is not all about her. Not even her life. She is here to know and love God and to bless others.
  • Teach her to be compassionate toward others.
  • Tell her that this is a test to see if she can “keep her side of the street clean” even when her “neighbors” have trash all over theirs.
  • Show her Jesus’ example; that He forgave those who hurt Him, even while they were still doing it, that He prayed for others when what He had to do was very difficult, that he taught us to love others, even when they’re not being lovable, that He obeyed the Father, even when others around Him were doing just as they pleased.
  • In today’s reality TV “age of outrage,” it’s important to teach children to be respectful to others even if they’re not being respectful to her. This goes along with teaching children to act according to values, not feelings.
  • Help her learn that being patient is a kind of courage. If we want to build courage, we have to exercise it often, and being copied is a great way to use patience to build courage.
  • Explain that copying is sometimes a way for children to entertain themselves. Sometimes, it is done to tease and provoke, especially if the target is easily provoked. Children have a hard time understanding that someone can only tease you if you participate by getting angry at their actions. Help your child to ignore or be kind to those who tease.

What about the copier? Here are some suggestions:

  • When you’re in the midst of a copying/tattling cycle, separate the children. Without deciding who’s the villain and who’s the victim (which can set a child up for a lifetime of seeking reward for being a victim), just tell them, “Since you two can’t get along, you’re not going to be allowed to play together.” Then sit them in separate chairs without a book or toy until it dawns on them that getting along is a lot more fun that pestering one another.
  • Explain to the copycat that when their copying is frustrating to someone and they continue to do it, that’s teasing, and teasing is not tolerated in your family.
  • Turn it into a game. If you think that you can deflect the copying before it causes a meltdown, jump in an play “Mother May I?” or “Simple Simon” or some other game that requires copying someone.
  • If the copycat is copying undesirable behavior, clarify what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t, be sure she understands, and then provide consequences when she copies something she knows is unacceptable.
  • Talk to your little copycat about what’s unique and different about her. Help her to see that she’s not a defective version of an older sibling, but a unique child that God planned before He even created the universe, that she is unique in all of human history, and that she does not need to be like someone else. This is not the same as self-absorption, which is damaging and encouraged all over our culture. It’s helping the child to see her worth in the eyes of God, and then to honor Him by respecting instead of teasing.


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5 Lies Siblings Believe

There are lots of lies that kids believe … bright, shiny lies that water down kids’ trust in their parents and delay development of the all-important skill of restraint. That’s how the enemy gets between us and God, isn’t it? Going all the way back to Eve, Satan tempts us with lies, half-truths, rationalizations and innocent-sounding leading questions. He loves nothing more than to start when we’re young, separating us from God’s love and truth by getting us to question Him.

As we all know, nothing brings out our sinful nature like family, especially siblings who compete with us for everything from the last brownie to a parent’s lap. It’s all too easy for kids to slide into a rationalization mentality, nursing hurt feelings and wounded pride with self-exonerating lies and excuses. So let’s expose some of those lies that siblings believe.

Let’s see what a little fresh air and sunlight can do.

Lie #1: “My siblings have it easier than I do.”

This lie goes right along with its own sibling: “She/He is my parents’ favorite.” Kids are expert score-keepers, and for every privilege they receive, for every smile, every proud comment, every  privilege, they can count five that a sibling got instead. But this kind of thinking is damaging for two reasons. First, it keeps the child’s focus on herself, which is always a path to futility and destruction. Second, it keeps her focus on what she doesn’t have — or more precisely, what someone else has — rather than what she has. This is an insidious way of creating an adult who covets, who is perpetually discontent.

Ever wonder why “do not covet” is one of the 10 Commandments? Think about it. There are only 10 Commandments. Presumably, these would be the crucial ones. Why is coveting on there, along with murder? There’s nothing in the 10 Commandments about gossiping, or boasting, or taking advantage of someone’s generosity. It’s because when we covet, we’re saying to God, “I don’t want what you want for me. I want what you want for her.”

It is said that coveting is to women as lust is to men. We look around and see all these enticing things and we begin to develop an ungodly desire for them, a desire that destroys the good things we do have.

Help your child (especially your daughters) to overcome coveting when they’re young. How? Popular culture says to refrain from using judgmental language, spend time with each child, don’t compare, and remind each child of her special treatment and privileges. This is all very good advice, but it does not get to the heart of the problem. On the contrary, it teaches the child to seek her worth from others. The better way is to teach gratitude.

Gratitude is the antidote to depression. It is the essential ingredient to happiness. It is the opposite of pride. Gratitude is a precious resource. If you can teach your child to get in touch with her gratitude, rather than her jealousy, this will go a long way toward creating a resilient, well-adjusted person who can roll with life’s punches, see the beauty and richness in her life, have meaningful friendships with people of different means, and focus on others, not herself.

Lie #2: “You’re not being fair.”

A child think that fairness means everyone gets the same thing at the same time in the same way (or more accurately, that no one gets more than he does).

In school, everyone learns the same thing at the same time in the same way. If there is a birthday celebration, everyone gets a cupcake. Everyone gets the same days off, the same amount of time for lunch, the same holidays off, the same lectures at assembly. Political leaders and government programs take a “fair share” away from some people to give to others, so things will be even.

Fairness sounds like a virtue, doesn’t it? Our society reinforces the notion that having more is wrong, that having less is unacceptable. Kids soon get the message that they should fight for what’s theirs, that seeing someone else get more is “injustice” (even if they worked hard for it) and that someone else must correct this “inequality.”

When children whose unrestrained nature has been reinforced with these messages see an older sibling getting to stay up later, or a younger sibling not being required to clean his room to the same standard they are, they freak out. “It isn’t fair!” they complain. Fairness can often be a mechanism for self-centeredness. The child who’s focused on fairness is focused on getting things for himself. He watches other children, especially siblings, carefully monitoring whether they got something he didn’t get. If so, he petitions to get the same thing. Selfishness sounds so much more noble when you call it justice.

The child is not concerned with even-handedness, and here’s how you can tell. Give the complainer something the others didn’t get and see if he hollers about fairness. It’s definitely not about fairness.

So what do do? First, remind your children — collectively and individually — that you have been placed in authority over them, and it is you who must decide what is expected of and given to each child. Explain that you treat each child according to his age and needs, and in that respect you are fair. You must answer to God for your decisions, not to your children. They must each answer to God for their obedience, respect, and attitude.

Next, pull an old tool out of the parental tool-box, and use it often. This tool is the response, “Because I said so.” Frowned on by today’s culture because it emphasizes legitimate authority and points out that children are not adults, it is an excellent tool for ending disputes and strengthening the proper relationship between your child and you. You are the parent. He is the child. You have authority over him. You are not his peer or his friend. He is to obey (another word that has fallen out of favor because it denies the self) because you are his parent. He doesn’t need to understand your decision or agree with it. He needs to obey it.

Third, make it clear to your child that score-keeping is a sure path to misery, that it’s hostile, and that it’s unacceptable in your home. Then follow through. If you hear your child complain about how another child was given something he wan’t, correct it. When your child learns that he loses what he does have (freedom, belongings, privileges) every time he complains about what he doesn’t have, he’ll comply. And yes, at first, his heart may not be changed; he may be complying for selfish reasons. But stay strong, because after a while, the pattern will take hold. Your child will be out of the habit of comparing, coveting, and complaining. And this will be a gift you have given to him, his future wife, bosses, colleagues, friends, clients, in-laws, roommates, children … you get the picture.

Lie #3: “My parents don’t know what life is like for me.”

Our responses to everything are rooted in our experiences, which form our opinions and world view. This is how we learn; we assimilate new experiences and information into the warehouse of what we already think, remember and know. When we come across something completely new, our brain’s first response is to relate it to something familiar. But to a child, nearly everything is unfamiliar. Kids are going through bullying, acne, new siblings, and overpowering feelings of attraction and independence for the first time. To them, it’s all very strange, compelling, confusing, and dramatic. To us, it’s just stuff we learned a long time ago. To them, their fears, abilities, experiences, and relationships are all totally unique in the history of mankind.

Just because you dealt with a friend who betrayed you when you were 12, you really can’t understand what it’s like for your child, she believes, because you didn’t have the exact same conversations/problem/friend as she child.

So how can we help? First, let’s get to the root of this problem, which is the root of nearly every problem, and that is too much focus on self. A child’s preoccupation with her social life, how well she’s doing in school, her sports performance, how her siblings are embarrassing her, how much the rules get in the way of her fun … this is an obsession with herself.

All day long, our culture reinforces that, with television commercials, Facebook pages, movies, blogs, vlogs, American Idol, youth fiction books, and YouTube channels that focus on fashion, make-up, skin-care products, accessories, trendy pets, designer dorm rooms, shoes, bags, fun destinations, and electronics.  All of it pushes our children to spend time pondering questions like “What do you like?” “What are you like?” “Who is the real you?” “What do you want?” “How can you get what you want?” “How do others see you?” “What are others getting that you’re not getting?” “Are you going to miss out?” “How do you see yourself?” “What do you want to become?”

The barrage is constant, loud and omnipresent. We must counteract that agenda with training that is healthy, which leads to happiness: namely, to think of others, to focus on gratitude, to act on values and not feelings. When we give our kids a foundation like this, we can help them through difficult times in their lives. And that help is the same whether we understand their lives or not.

We can encourage them to do the right thing, even when they’re hurting. We can help them to see someone else’s point of view. We can remind them of the riches they have. We can reassure them of their value in the eyes of God and their family. And if we hear the frequent song of adolescence: “You just don’t understand what I’m going through!” we can respond with kindness, leadership and respect: “You may be right, but I do understand what’s required of you. I know it hurts right now, but you know the right thing to do, and I’m going to help you do it.”

Lie #4: “I can’t stand my brother/sister.”

Yes, you can.

That’s the short answer. Here’s why: Love begins at home.

If a child can’t live with a sibling’s peculiarities, be patient with a sibling’s weaknesses, and overlook a sibling’s flaws, how will he be able to do that with his wife? His own children? His friends? Home is where we learn how to live with others. It’s practice for later life. But it’s more than that.

At home, we forge relationships that will stay with us for a lifetime. I’ve had my sisters’ support and love through relationships that didn’t work out, several moves, a couple of careers, and childhood trauma. Our children need to understand that their siblings are the only ones who will know them the longest, who will have shared both their childhood and their parents, who will always be on their side. These are their most treasured relationships.

Siblings are the people we should treat better than everyone else, not worse. Siblings must be taught to love each other. It won’t just happen. It might happen on its own, but it might not. So if we want our children to learn relationship skills such as patience, empathy and grace, we need to teach them to practice those skills with each other. While one sibling is complaining about the faults of another, we can remind her that her brother is also being taught to be patient with her.

Lie #5: “I’m the way I am because of my birth order.”

Birth order plays a part in shaping our view of who we are, how the world works, and how we fit in. We all have impressions and issues relating to where we fall in the order of birth in our sibling sets; even only children.

But does it really make us what we are? Does it define us? If so, what happens to the youngest when a younger sibling unexpectedly comes into the family? What happens when foster or adoptive children come into the home?

I am the middle of three. But during my childhood in a group foster home, I was the second youngest of up to 14. I lived with some dear friends for a year, during which I was the only child. I was reunited with my mother when I was 12, making me the only child again. Then my younger sister came to live with us. She’d been living with other people as an only child. Now I was the oldest. Then our older sister joined us. Back in the middle.

My husband came along as a surprise 12 years after his brother and sister. Was she ousted as the baby? No. She was the second born, but her life was more like an only because their eldest brother did not live at home for much of his life. So the middle was a youngest, then an only, then an oldest. Then she left for college, and the youngest became the only.

If birth order makes me who I am, then who am I? Who is my sister-in-law? My husband? The point is that our family relationships and our position in the family do impact our development and expectations, but they don’t define us. Children in every birth order position should be expected to treat others with respect, share, be polite, obey, work hard and pay attention.

Excuses for compromised behavior abound. They masquerade as virtues. “Do your own thing.” “You’re worth it.” “Haven’t you given up enough?” “It’s your life.” “Don’t let anyone stop you.” “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.” “Make your own way.” “Never compromise.” This is because our nature is to do as we wish. And if we can rationalize it and make it sound noble, then we get to do as we wish without guilt.

Don’t let your kids fall into this trap. Help them to understand that many factors — including birth order, socio-economic status, race, nationality, family culture, faith, and life experience — will affect how we deal with people, how we see ourselves, and how we respond to people and events. But they don’t define us. The idea that a person has to behave a certain way because she is the way she it is defeating, and much more damaging than what actually happens to us in life. Let’s help our kids to understand that.

Lies can lead our children down a road of misery that affects them — and everyone else around them — for a lifetime. As parents, we have a privilege and a responsibility to help them view the world in a way that blesses others, gives them peace, and equips them to do what’s really important in life. Let’s meet our task with energy, wisdom and patience. You never know what lies ahead for a child who doesn’t make excuses.

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“It’s Not My Fault!” – The Vanishing of Personal Responsibility

Go to Google and type in the search term, “why do siblings” or “why do children” and see how many results you get. I did, and I got 67,000 and 4.5 million, respectively.

We are a culture obsessed with examining why our children do things (especially to each other), rather than holding them responsible for what they do. And when you’re parenting siblings, there are more people to blame things on, aren’t there?

Now, before I go any further, let me state that I’m not talking about problems with potty training, or sleepwalking, or fear of water, or things that are legitimately influenced by outside pressures or innate limitations. I’m talking about when children make a deliberate choice to do or say something harmful or deceitful, to use a tone of voice that’s intended to be disrespectful, to damage property, hurt someone, cause grief or pain, steal, blame, or neglect their responsibilities.

Read any article about people feasting at a veritable buffet of negative consequences (prison, divorce, drug use, promiscuity, teen birth rates, obesity, generational welfare). I’ll bet you a dollar that virtually the entire article (except this one) will be focused on external pressures that “caused” the person to make unwise choices. These external culprits may be:

  • poverty (as though folks in poverty cannot love, teach, parent, discipline, be an example, give, serve, worship, or grow)
  • birth order (“I can’t help it; I’m the baby/oldest/only child”)
  • bullies (so let’s all hand over our character to other people and leave it up to them how we turn out)
  • failure of education (it’s the parents who are charged with teaching a child right from wrong, not the schools)
  • failure of social services (actually, the more social services a person or family gets, the more reliant they become on government assistance, thereby reducing personal responsibility)
  • temperament (“that’s just the way she is” and … therefore she doesn’t have to grow like the rest of us?)
  • age (“he can’t control himself; he’s only four/five/six/10/18/25”)
  • family situation (excuses abound for single-parent families, adopted kids, teen moms, inner-city families, blended families, the list goes on and on)

why children hitWe all belong in some category of disadvantage. Our society increasingly celebrates victimhood; social identity now revolves around victim groups. Even felons, when they talk about their wrongdoing, use the language of passivity and victimhood:

“I got caught up in ____,”

“I was convicted of ____”

“I received a felony”

“I was charged with ______”

It’s if they were on the receiving end of their own wrongdoing. It’s never, “I was dealing drugs,” “I assaulted a police officer,” or “I wrote bad checks.” These are people who are still not taking responsibility for their actions.

Do we want our children to become adults who look around for someone to blame whenever they do something wrong? Whenever they come up short? Whenever they’re disappointed or offended?

“Right” and “Wrong” Make us Uncomfortable

Part of the reason we let our kids off the hook is because we as a culture don’t make strong distinctions between right and wrong. Except where liberal ideologies are concerned, that is. When it comes to gay teachers, or boys who want to use the girls’ restroom, or tearing down brand-new baseball bleachers that were paid for by parents because the girls’ team didn’t get exactly the same thing, there’s right and wrong all over the place. When we’re talking about teaching creationism vs. evolution, or the ever widening net that defines bullying, there’s plenty to judge.

But what about personal responsibility?

In an article from Real Simple magazine about kids who lie, the author uses watered-down language such as “naughty” and “bending the truth.” Later, the article actually applauds lying as a sign of cognitive development: “When preschoolers first lie, they’re testing out a new ability,” says Victoria Talwar, a professor of developmental psychology at McGill University, in Montreal, who has done extensive research on kids and lying. “They’re realizing they can have thoughts, knowledge, and beliefs all their own.” Yay for them!

Labeling something as right or wrong is so judgy, we’re told. We’re advised to count to three (or ten). We’re told to ask our children to do what we want them to do, not tell them, thereby leaving it up to them whether they obey. And as for violent terms such as “obeying,” “punishment” and “sin,” well, those have become outright hate speech. We prefer the more comfortable “cooperation,” “listening,” “consequences,” or “unacceptable behavior.”

We Worry Too Much About Why Kids Misbehave

Our parenting culture is obsessed with figuring out the reasons why kids misbehave because we’ve been told by “experts” that if you punish or correct a child the wrong way, you’ll damage him. Finding out why a child hits, they say, is crucial to responding in the right way. Well, I say that hitting is unacceptable, and that’s the only reason a child needs to stop the behavior.

The big mystery surrounding child behavior is a pathway to eroding parental authority. The more we allow child psychologists, social workers, and counselors to tell us that we’re not educated or experienced enough to raise happy, well-adjusted children, the more insecure we become; and insecure parents who don’t trust their own judgment create a huge demand for child psychologists, social workers and counselors.

So here’s how you create hand-wringing parents who hand over their authority to “experts.” First, you create an incredibly complicated construct for understanding, teaching and communicating with children. This dissolves a parent’s authority over his child and replaces it with methodology, and equality with his child. Then, you convince parents that they do not have the key to this complicated methodology unless they themselves are professional therapists, or at least have graduate degrees in the sorts of pseudo-sciences that surround child rearing topics. Last, you issue dire warnings about the damage that amateur parents can inflict on their children — damage that will ruin the children’s lives, as well as the lives of those around them. Now the parent has no choice but to relinquish expertise, authority and control to the “experts” not only for their own child’s good, but so as not to threaten society itself.

When we remember that children are different from adults, that adult have legitimate authority over children, and that authority is to the child’s benefit, we can stop worrying about how to figurer out what’s going on in our children’s minds and help them to learn healthy habits because it’s the right thing to do.

how to teach kids moralsThat is not to say, of course, that a child who suddenly starts stealing or has an uncharacteristic problem with hygiene doesn’t have an issue that the parent should know about and help the child with. However, it is instructive to teach a child to obey and do what’s right, even if there’s something bothering you. You get help with the problem, but in the meantime, you still respect the rule against stealing.

This will help the child take responsibility for following the rules, instead of teaching her to wave her victimhood around as an excuse for misbehavior. Helping kids to get in the habit of acting on their values and not their feelings will put them way ahead in life at an early age; there are many adults who still haven’t learned this vital skill.

It is this that actually does make life miserable for them and everyone around them.

We’re Afraid to Discipline Our Kids

Words such as “punishment,” “correction” and even “discipline” are out of fashion. We prefer “choices,” “feelings,” “listening,” and “win-win solutions.”  Why? In our misguided efforts to make children our equals, we have developed an aversion to any language that asserts power or control over them; and developed an appetite for language that empowers them and makes us out to be their non-threatening teacher-friends.

And if children had the wisdom, cognitive development and self-control to raise themselves, all of this would be no problem. But they don’t. That’s why they need to be raised by responsible, experienced parents.

A child has not lived long enough to know that candy every night before bed will result in thousands of dollars in painful dental treatments and tooth loss. They must take our word for it. But because the consequence is so far in the future — and they haven’t experienced it for themselves — they don’t really believe us. So we must assure that they follow healthy habits in ways that they will understand. That means withholding candy on a nightly basis (even if they don’t like it) and punishing them if they, for example, persistently defy our rules and hide candy in their bedrooms so as to eat it without permission.

When a child’s actions result in unpleasantness or pain, the child understands. Way before he can be reasoned with, he understands boredom, restriction, and pain. These are motivators on a child’s scale. Preserving harmony is not a motivator because children — especially young ones — are not interested in harmony, or everyone’s needs being met. Children are interested in their own needs being met.

So when a child disrespects her mother by running the other way when she says, “Come here,” the behavior needs to become the child’s problem. When mommy chases her around, or threatens to leave without her, the mom is being controlled by the child because obeying is left entirely up to the child. The child is taught that she can obey whenever she wants to, and her defiance is unpleasant only to her mother. She doesn’t care, however, because contrary to idealistic philosophy, children are not motivated by harmony. Children are interested in doing as they please. Because a young child is unrestraint incarnate, she runs on feelings, pleasure and satisfaction 100% of the time. Learning to do otherwise is what we call maturity.

However, when the child is spanked for running way when mommy calls her, then the problem is the child’s. Every time she does that, she gets spanked. She’ll soon figure out that defiance is unpleasant for her, not her mom. When mom stops wringing her hands (as I had to) about why the child disobeys and simply starts making disobedience the child’s problem, things get real simple real fast.

It also teaches the child that her actions result in an increase or decrease in her quality of life, a lesson she’ll need later in life. It reinforces that she is not mommy’s peer, that she must obey, and that even if she doesn’t understand the reasons for mom’s decisions, her job is to obey nonetheless.

Personal Responsibility in Sibling Relationships

So how do we teach our children to have personal responsibility with their brothers and sisters? There are several areas that provide almost hourly opportunities:

  • Apologies — Do you use the word “forgive” in your house? It can be very valuable to teach children to apologize by stating the behavior that hurt their sibling, acknowledging that it hurt (and how it hurt), and asking for forgiveness in so many words. It’s also healthy for the other child to say, “I forgive you.” It’s an important thing to understand and get comfortable with, because they’ll need it a lot in future life.
  • Breaking toys — When a child breaks a toy, writes on a pillowcase, or loses a book belonging to a sibling, that child should do extra chores for a week or more to pay to replace it. If it’s a lost item, the child should look for it and not do anything else until either it’s found or a plan has been made to work it off and replace it.
  • Tattling — This is an area where parental judgment of any altercation can set up a situation where victims win. When you decide who was at fault, and punish the other one, you can set a pattern where the “winner” decides that being victimized is a way to get attention, affirmation, and other rewards. This is a bad way to view life. Better to let two arguing siblings sit in chairs in separate rooms with no book or toy for an age-appropriate amount of time. That way, they’ll both be motivated to get along better in the future, mom doesn’t get drawn into an un-winnable fairness competition, and tattling is discouraged right along with whatever other behavior was at fault.
  • Chores — Teaching excellence and expecting it take a long time on the front end, but take less and less time as the child leans it, and takes no time at all once he does. Inspecting a “cleaned” room or swept floor or completed homework often requires that the child be required to do it over or fix it. But soon she’ll realize what you expect her work to look like, and begins to expect that from herself. One day in the future, she’ll see a friend’s dorm room with clothes all over the floor and think to herself, “Oh, wow. I could never live in a room like this.”
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Why We Can’t Let Our Kids Say Hateful Things

“I hate you!”

“I wish I belonged to a different family!”

“You’re so dumb!”

“You want to ruin my life!”

Kids can say some really hateful, hurtful things, and as parents, it is our job to help them learn how to communicate in a way that respects others. But most of us respond to this kind of spiteful language exactly the opposite of how we should.

What do we do? Well, we may get hurt and angry and fire a shot back, which I struggle with. But when we calm down, and the comment still bothers us, we often start by asking ourselves:

“Why did she say that?”

“What’s going on inside him?”

“What’s she dealing with to make her say something like that?”

“Where did that come from?”

We try to blame everything and everyone except the child. Look at any magazine, child advice column, or expert blog and they’ll tell you that a child says these things because of an unmet need.

It’s the need’s fault. Or it’s our fault for not meeting it. Or it’s caused by society, or friends, or family for not meeting it. It’s anything but the child.


Children are not expected to take responsibility for their actions very much in today’s world. If a teacher complains about the child’s behavior in school, we blame the teacher. We call it a “personality conflict” or a “miscommunication.” Anything but a misbehaving child. We refuse to chastise the child if we didn’t witness the infraction first-hand. So how does that impact the child? He acts with impunity toward his teachers. All of them. He loses respect for adults, for clearly, he does not have to obey (or in modern language, “listen to”) them. He loses respect for his parents who let him get away with bad behavior at school because of a flimsy reason for not wanting to scold him and risk being “wrong.”

Yet this does not prepare our children for the future, does it? When an adult says something inappropriate or disrespectful to a supervisor at work, she will be reprimanded, fired, or overlooked for promotions. When an adult is pulled over for speeding, he will be ticketed, like it or not. And if he confronts the officer, threatens him, or lays hands on him, he will go to jail and face assault charges. It doesn’t matter who’s right. What matters is that the adult who has never had to “let it go” did not submit to legitimate authority and did not exhibit proper self-control. That will not be tolerated in the real world, and as parents, if we allow our children to say whatever they feel like saying, no matter how hurtful and damaging to others, we are failing in our duty to help them become successful adults.

Often, children’s hateful words are aimed at the very people they should love the most; their family. They take their family relationships for granted. They abuse the people who will love them no matter what. We all do. But from time to time, it’s important to remind them who the people in their family really are.

A child’s parents are the people who make sure they never miss a meal. These are the people who give them a safe place to live, who get up in the middle of the night with them when they’re sick, who do without so their children can be on sports teams, get braces and go to college. These are the people who brag on their children, show pictures of them to total strangers, wrap Christmas presents in the middle of the night, and plan family vacations and outings in whispers after the kids go to sleep. These are the only people that God chose to raise that child. They deserve a little respect. In fact, the Bible offers only two pieces of advice directed specifically to children: 1) obey your parents, and 2) honor your mother and father. That’s it. It never says to help with chores, to do your homework, to be home by 9 PM or to pay for your own car. Obey and respect. Period.

Ironically, both of these concepts are out of fashion at the moment. Increasingly, children disrespect parents, teachers, police officers, and most every other adult they come in contact with. And obeying? Even the watered-down “listening” is failing as we adults scramble to find clever ways to convince our children to want to do what we want them to do. “Make a better choice,” we say, not, “Do as I say.”

siblingssayinghurtfulthingsAnd respect should be given to siblings, too, both younger and older. How is a boy to grow into a man who’s courageous, reliable, honest, faithful and generous if he is picked on and degraded in his own home throughout his formative years? How is a girl to grow into a woman who’s nurturing, strong, patient, discerning and self-respecting if she is shamed and shoved around during her formative years? Our siblings are the only ones who will know us the longest, share our childhood (AND our parents), and be most forgiving throughout our lives. They will be there for us when our parents are gone. They will stick up for us more often than not, listen to our problems, help us and cheer for us. They deserve at least as much respect as we show to our friends.

Parents aren’t the only ones who shape children’s self-concept, character and understand of how the world works.

Children can control their feelings and actions. A lot better than we give them credit for. The next time your children are hollering hateful things at each other, ask one of them this question: “Isabelle, if your best friend Sophie walked into this room right now, you would not be using this tone of voice or saying these words, would you?” Of course, she wouldn’t. She would get control of herself real fast. And if Joshua’s little league coach or Scout Troop leader walked into the room, he’d straighten up in a hurry.

If we can control ourselves in front of people outside our family, why wouldn’t we control ourselves in front of our family? These are the people who mean the most to us on earth, especially when we’re children. Let’s remind our children what they mean to each other. Let’s praise the kids in front of each other. Let’s acknowledge kindness, forgiveness, and patience when we see it in action among the kids. Let’s help them to value each other.

If we do, they’ll be friends for life.

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I Love You; I Just ACT Like I Hate You

We’ve all heard it and read it a thousand times: siblings fight. Sometimes it’s told to us in parenting articles to help us feel less guilty and overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s said to us by friends who accept sibling aggression and spiteful talk in their homes. Sometimes it’s whispered to ourselves out of sheer exhaustion. It’s so normal that some even view it as desirable.

armhold“Arguments are normal.”

“That’s just the way it is.”

“They’ll get over it/outgrow it.”

“They’ll love each other in the end.”

“It’s part of growing up.”

“They’ll be closer later because they fight now.”

“Fighting teaches them to stand up for themselves.”

But what are we really teaching our children here by allowing them to act in a disrespectful way toward each other?

The sharp edges of our family members smooth out our own rough edges, like rocks in a tumbler. If love begins at home, then learning to love begins at home, too. Relationships with our parents and siblings lay the foundation for relationships with everyone else in our lives. We learn how to interact with others by interacting with our siblings. We learn how to respond to authority by how we respond to our parents. We learn what’s expected from each side in a relationship, what forgiveness really means, how much it means when someone sticks up for us, or shows up when it’s important to us.

That’s why I’m surprised at the amount of spiteful language, hateful attitudes, destruction of property, humiliation, mockery, snideness, derision, rudeness and physical aggression we allow our kids to unleash on each other. What does that teach them about how to treat people? A child’s siblings are among the most influential, most important and most emotionally intimate relationships our kids will ever have. These are the people they should care most about, not least.

Seriously, would you tolerate that same line of reasoning from any other relationship in your life? What if your spouse said to you, “I know I act like a hate your guts, but I really love you.” Would you feel loved? What if your friend said to you, “I know I call you a moron when my other friend is around, but you know I love you, right?” Would you believe it?


Then why do we want our children to accept this nonsense from their brothers and sisters? Should they accept a version of love that says, “I love you; I just act like I hate you”?

What’s the difference between how you act and how you are?

When you love someone, you treat them with respect, kindness and compassion. You don’t treat them with something that’s indistinguishable from hate.

If a child learns to shut out a sibling who’s irritating him, or hurt a sibling who’s being selfish, or disown a sibling during school hours, or ridicule a sibling to friends, or condescend a sibling at a vulnerable moment, or to physically hurt a sibling when he’s mad at Mom and Dad, how is he going to treat anyone else? Skills we learn, habits we form, attitudes we develop at home will set the stage for our dealings with people for the rest of our lives. In other words, they become what we are when we’re not putting on a show.

Friends Get Treated Better Than Siblings

Why do kids tolerate more from friends than siblings? Why do they treat them with more respect and patience? It’s because of a fear of rejection. Friends can walk away; siblings can’t. With friends, our kids put on their best behavior for a short time because they like their friends and they want their friends to reciprocate. At home, they drop the facade, because really, who can keep that up for long? At home, a child will view a sibling as either someone annoying who stands in the way of everything the child wants, or someone who will always be there for them, no matter how they act.

Sure, there are adult siblings who don’t speak to each other, but by and large, most of the time, your siblings will be there. They’re always there. And that’s exactly why we should teach our kids to treat their brothers and sisters with the most respect, the most patience, the most understanding. Because their siblings are the people who will know them longest, know them best, “get” them, help them, talk to them and show up when life gets hard (like when we die, for example).

making fun of sisterBesides, do we really want our kids to take the most important people around them for granted, to abuse them, to disregard them, and to take loving care of more casual relationships? If a wife is secure in a marriage, will she then stop being polite, pleasant, supportive, forgiving, and generous, and start treating her husband with the same bossy, annoyed, contemptuous attitudes she’s treated her pesky kid brother with all her life? ‘Cause it’s just too much effort to fake being nice any longer?

No. Definitely not. We must take care of the “always there” people, just like the folks we’ve just met.

So next time we’re tempted to ignore the screaming going on upstairs, or chalk up the “wrestling” to normal kid stuff, let’s stop and consider the heart that each child is showing. If the behavior, language and attitude the child is exhibiting would not be appropriate to show to grandma, or a friend,  or a teacher, then it’s definitely not appropriate to use against a sibling. Yes, we have different types of relationships with grandma than we do with siblings, but everyone in our lives deserves respect, and home is where we learn that.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative’s nationwide poll of divorced parents, the three top reasons for divorce in America today are lack of commitment, too much arguing, and infidelity. Yet learning to stick it out, be responsible, talk things over, work things out, make up, forgive, have compassion, empathize, and act on values rather than feelings are the very things we learn at home as we figure out how to live with a bunch of people, some of whom are very different from ourselves.

Do you think your kids will be better wives, husbands and parents if they learn to be patient with others, to “let it go” most of the time, to encourage rather than compete, to honor their commitments no matter how they feel?

That‘s what they need to learn at home. If disrespect, violence, self-centeredness and hatefulness are permitted at home, our children will think it’s normal and acceptable. So be prepared with consequences when this type of behavior arises. Follow through. When little Brian is harassing Paxton, explain to him that “teasing is disrespect, and we don’t do that in our family.”

Your children’s future spouses will thank you for it.

How did your parents teach you to treat your siblings? How has that affected your relationships as an adult? How are you teaching your kids to respect and support each other? Share your insights by leaving a comment below.

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It’s True: Siblings Are #1 Cause of Child Abuse

Siblings are five times more likely to cause physical harm to a child than parents or bullies. This problem is largely ignored, for two reasons. First, parents don’t know it’s as big a problem as it is. Second, many parents don’t see aggression between siblings as a problem.

Kids fight, though, right? Isn’t it normal? That’s what we tell ourselves. But there’s a difference between immature squabbling and attacks or intimidation intended to cause physical harm, chronic fear or humiliation, attacks that are frequent enough to characterize the relationship, rather than being an anomaly.


A New York Times article reports, “According to some studies … roughly 15 percent [of children] have been repeatedly attacked [by a sibling].” That number, say some experts, is conservative (just watch any three random episodes of Supernanny and you’ll get the picture). This is because young children — who lack self-control and empathy — do act out physically from a very early age if they are not trained to stop. Therefore, some parents AND children have a hard time understanding how much is too much, until someone really gets hurt.

Children who are bullied outside the home have a documented increase in likelihood of depression and anxiety disorders, and their school work suffers. They are more likely to be bullies and to be bullied by others outside the home. These long-term effects are even more pronounced when the bullying is done by a sibling. Imagine you are being bullied by someone living in your own home. Imagine the impact it would have on you to know that you could not get away from your tormenter. That there was nowhere safe to go. That your own parents would not protect you. Imagine the stress that would put on you at a young age.

Solutions offered in by today’s acknowledged experts in parenting (i.e., mental health professionals, social workers and researchers) often point parents to things like therapy, diagnoses, medicine and special education to solve the problem of aggression in children.

Wait, what?

Where is the advice for loving discipline and training the heart? They’re out of style, like chain wallets. It’s unfashionable. Discipline has disappeared from the modern lexicon for parenting. And addressing the heart? What is that, anyway?

Spanking has been thrown out by the enlightened psycho/social/educational complex. Even time-out has fallen out of favor with parenting experts, along with all other forms of disciplines. What has replaced it? Redirecting a child to activities that the child LOVES, so as to keep him happy and distracted.

You see, the thinking is that people are basically good. That children love harmony and equity. Thus, if a child acts out, it’s because something is missing or wrong in his life. It’s because circumstances have let the child down. If he were secure, the child would not be “dysregulated” and would therefore not need to hit or destroy things to get his needs met.

Erm … sounds good on paper, but the logic is faulty.

First of all, humans are not basically good. This notion is propagandized by people who do not have children or have not experienced a state of anarchy. The Bible clearly states that we are all flawed, selfish people from birth. Children will compete for attention, resources and fun — in harmful, hateful ways if necessary — unless they are taught not to. We all did it as kids. Our kids will do it , and, in a  satisfying bit of cosmic poetry, their kids will do it, too. Fortunately, they can be taught. Not only that, children actually want their parents to take an interest in training them to have self-control and empathy. It makes them feel loved to have parents who care how they turn out.

Second, giving a child a fun activity when she attacks a sibling or says spiteful things is harmful. Redirection is useful as an occasional tool for parents of young children to keep emotions from escalating in children too young to reason with. But it’s not a long-term solution, and it’s not helpful as a way of life. By encouraging fussing kids to go find something else to play with, we’re giving them the message that when they’re agitated, they should look to stuff, entertainment, and fun to regulate their feelings. This can lead to adults with addictions to shopping, drugs, experiences, alcohol and sex.


What we need to do from an early age is to address heart issues during misbehavior. When children are arguing over whose toy it is, what they’re really saying is, “This toy is more important to me than you are at this moment.” That’s huge. We’re tempted to ignore minor fighting and let them work it out by themselves, especially when they are out of earshot and not really disturbing us. Yet the heart issue is vitally important, even in “small” squabbles, because they lay the ground work for larger issues.

We should definitely praise behavior that shows a heart for others. Having a genuine heart for others (I’m not talking about a co-dependent dysfunction) is a coping technique that will not let our children down later in life. It’s time to let our kids know that spitefulness, physical aggression and intimidation will be met with consequences, not counseling. It’s time to address the heart, and explain to our children that what is in the heart comes out in our words, tone, thoughts and actions. They may have to hear it a thousand times, we may have to listen in on nearly all their play and interactions at first (especially at times when they’re prone to conflict), but we cannot parent from an armchair.

There are some of us who have sibling abuse going on in our homes, only we’re not calling it that. Just like battered wives don’t call it that, and abusive parents don’t call it that. Let’s wake up and reach our children’s hearts. Let’s teach them how to understand what’s going on in their hearts when they’re treating others with respect and when they’re being hostile and selfish. THAT’s how to change all this aggression, not art therapy.

“… from infancy you have known the Scriptures, which are able to make you wise.” II Timothy 3:15

Respect: the New Tolerance

Parents of siblings know how often arguments and scuffles arise. Depending on the children’s ages, their training and the family culture, it could be several times a week to several times every waking hour.

But it’s not just the amount of friction that matters. It’s the nature and tone of the friction. When we tell our children to stop arguing, do we search for the heart issues at work in the argument? Rarely is the argument “about” the thing they’re arguing over. It’s about unresolved feelings of past wounds, about fairness, about being overlooked or pushed around or disrespected. It’s the way they handle it that we tend to react to (especially if it’s loud or causing damage). But it’s the feelings inside that are the real cause.

reality tv glamorizes meanness

Kids who get a steady diet of reality TV scenes like this think this is how adults behave.
If adults behave this way, why shouldn’t they?

Discourse has become much more hateful in recent years. From politics to reality TV, Facebook to music lyrics, to the way we talk to and about each other is abominable. Even television commercials show people shouting, calling each other “stupid” and “idiot.” The filter that used to restrain our speech is all but gone. Every vile thing that races through our minds seems to come out our mouths these days. Consider what’s being poured into your children’s minds through media every day. When children see adults slapping each other on reality TV, when they see “news” anchors making vile comments, when they sing lyrics describing rape, and when they smile along at the cute-ification of themes such as revenge, meanness, and rude manners in Disney movies, they begin to think that all of this is normal. They are left with the message that everyone should just do and say whatever they want.

It’s a short slide from hateful language to violence. Consider the current “game” popularized by teens on YouTube where the object is to knock out a stranger with a single punch. I wonder where they got the idea that this is funny. Or acceptable.

Do you want your family to be better than that? Do you want a higher standard for your children? I do.

Teaching our kids to have a heart for others is one of the hardest things to do. It requires constant vigilance. It’s goes against our nature, whether we’re children or adults. We want to look out for number one, get what we deserve, follow our hearts, be right, and see the beauty and nobility of doing exactly as we please. But a heart that’s outward looking, rather than inward-looking, considers others first. A child with such a heart offends less often, forgives, shares, takes turns, encourages, helps, lets it go and shows up for those he loves.

respect is the opposite of tolerance

The idea of tolerance in our society — like almost every other idea taken to a harmful extreme — came from a place of compassion. Putting others first, having empathy, fighting for the underdog … these are qualities that Americans have always identified with. And they’re good things, one and all. But today’s tolerance (like today’s women’s movement, today’s black leadership, and today’s political left) is hurting the very people it was created to help. Political correctness went too far in the 1990s and 2000s, becoming a lampoon of its original intent. And so it disappeared from conversation, only to be replaced with the noble-sounding, “tolerance.” Tolerance has devolved into a muzzle, a punitive tool for shaming those with whom we disagree, and a crutch for cowards who lack discernment. Respect is the opposite of today’s tolerance, for it is putting aside one’s own point of view, putting the needs of others first, and putting grace, understanding and generosity above being right, making sure others are right, and pointing fingers.

All this smack-talking, profane, spitefulness that’s going on around us is just so sad. Let’s help our children to not be part of the problem, to not go running off the civility cliff with all the other lemmings. Let’s listen to how our children talk to each other and their friends. Let’s listen for the heart that’s inside and speak to it. Let’s train these little hearts to be strong enough to have respect for others, secure enough to be humble in conversation, and big enough to be kind. Let’s set a good example for them to follow, to counteract all the adults out there who are acting like they’re three.

Maybe we can start a trend of our own. Maybe respect can be the new tolerance. What would happen if we all started talking to each other the way we would want to be spoken to? I think a lot of the arguments in this world would evaporate if we had a little compassion for the other person’s point of view (or at least the other person). As Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” (The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:12)

What can we parents do? Hitler said, “He who owns the youth owns the future.” Much of our culture wants to take children away from their parents. But we parents are the people our children want most. We can teach them, help them, protect them, love them better than Disney, the school system, their peers and Hollywood put together. So let’s stand up and use our influence to raise up a generation of respectful people.

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