Let’s face it, no matter how great our kids are, there will be those days when we have to wonder if the arguing, annoyances, and back-seat bickering will ever end. When one wakes up grumpy and annoyed, it doesn’t take long before it rubs off on their brothers and sisters. Add to that the fact that they will be in the same house all day and sometimes I can’t help wishing I could just lock them outside and let them fend for themselves.
So if you are one who thought that homeschooling was a secret recipe or miracle cure for sibling squabbles, let me set the record straight. Conflict is inevitable. But let me follow that with some encouragement — that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Kids learn a lot through conflict and conflict resolution.
And it is definitely true that brothers and sisters who spend time together as homeschooling siblings do form special bonds as they learn and interact together on a daily basis. And you will see your family grow closer — that too is inevitable.
So how do you handle sibling rivalries in homeschooling? And how important is it to step in and help them resolve conflicts — can’t they just move on and forget it?
I’m sure every parent has a list of tactics that have been handed down for generations on how to deal with sibling squabbles, but I wanted to share a few that have worked for me.
Help your kids recognize the blessing of a sibling
My oldest daughter has a good friend who was an only child right into her teens. And oh how Ashley longed for a brother or sister. She so envied her friends who had siblings to play with, talk to, and even fight with. I will never forget how excited she was when she learned that there was finally a little brother on the way.
Having a brother or sister is one of the greatest gifts God can give us. What’s more is that the bond siblings share is tough to match, so help them to recognize how lucky they are to have their siblings in the first place.
Help them appreciate one another by taking advantage of every opportunity to point out how working together makes the job easier. And when you find them frustrated with a task, bring in the reinforcements — siblings can help tackle the challenge and get the job done.
Families become closer when siblings commit to supporting each other through thick and thin. Therefore, it’s important for kids to understand how much they can benefit while learning and growing with their siblings.
Put a positive spin on it
Oftentimes the struggles our kids experience day to day pinpoint the ways in which God wants them to grow in love and grace. A crucial aspect to handling sibling squabbles is to emphasize conflict resolution. Teach your children about the importance of coming to a compromise, and learning to understand and appreciate each other’s point of view when problems arise (more on this in a minute).
Also, highlight valuable character traits as goals for your kids to achieve. Then, praise them for even the smallest steps towards those goals. For example, if you are working to build the character trait of helpfulness, a simple statement (while the whole family is gathered) like, “I was so proud of Jared today when he helped Alyssa carry her books to the table” will go a long way. As you praise and recognize them for demonstrating character, they will look for ways to do it again. And their siblings will also find ways to seek out similar opportunities for recognition.
Separate the kids
Sometimes siblings (and moms!) just need their space. Homeschooling isn’t about forcing your children to spend every waking moment together. Does it help? Of course. But everyone needs a little alone time now and then. Make it your mission to allow for short periods of time in the morning, afternoon, and evening for your kids to work or play by themselves. And educate them on the importance of respecting alone time, and how valuable it can be to their relationship as siblings. If they voluntarily choose to be in the same room together — great! Just be mindful if tension grows and try to help bring it to resolution before it becomes too big.
Be firm about not tolerating conflict
As both teacher and parent, it’s your job to put your foot down when necessary. Show them you’re serious about not allowing conflict to interrupt the lesson and get in the way of maintaining a healthy homeschool setting. But don’t resort to threats or time outs to try and end a conflict. You can’t solve one conflict by creating another. Instead, focus on what might be driving the conflict and address those issues. Maybe your mover and shaker needs to switch assignments. Or perhaps one of your children isn’t grasping the lesson and you need to add a hands on component. But be firm about not allowing conflicts to disrupt your day.
Practice positive conflict responses
Whenever a fight or conflict starts, approach the situation with a positive end result in mind. Siblings need reassurance that their fights will be resolved, especially at a young age. To ensure smoother conflict resolutions, practice a few different methods with the kids. Ask them to share their feelings with each other and come to an understanding rather than an argument. This is tough and requires them to learn to listen to each other so if you don’t see progress, have each of them restate what the other is saying. Have focus on constructive responses instead of snide remarks. And if you have a child who gets overly worked up in conflict, give them some space and have them come back later to resolve the problem. And always require them to “make up.” We require our offender to apologize with specifics and ask for forgiveness. For example, “Abby, I am sorry for taking your favorite pencil. Will you forgive me?” By adding that small extra step, they have to humble themselves and cannot get away with a mumbled or even exasperated, “I’m sorry!”
If you don’t already, take time to pray together every day. Schedule a time in the morning or before bed to pray both alone in silence, and aloud as a group. And remember to thank God for each member of the family.
Find ways to teach all of your kids together when possible. And help them recognize one another’s unique gifts and abilities by assigning projects and challenges that require them to work and learn together. This is one of the amazing benefits of homeschooling — you don’t have to separate them by grade and put them in an environment where they interact only with kids the same age. Requiring older students to help younger siblings fosters a sense of responsibility and encourages servant-hearted behavior. It also creates a bond between siblings as they learn to depend on one another. Lastly, it provides valuable leadership opportunities, and might even allow you a quick break once in a while!
Remember that no matter how well you prepare, conflict will never go away completely. But don’t despair! Staying the course and teaching them how to learn from and resolve conflict will give them valuable skills that will carry them through life. Teach them to love their siblings and lean on them in times of need and you will build a valuable support structure for your family for years to come.