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.