“I probably attribute this little “trick” to much of the harmony (when it’s present!) in our home.”
I think of training behavior in my children as weeding a garden; careful and constant attention must be given to bad habits, or it can quickly be taken over with “weeds”. So it is with their behavior toward each other. I really try to address every offense in some way.
In general, when children speak unkindly (raise a voice, use a harsh tone, etc.), if they are still fairly young I verbally address it. “Susie, you may not speak that way to your brother–it is unkind. You say, “Johnny, will you please let me have my doll?”
Sometimes, particularly if a child is struggling in an area, I will pull him aside and give a gentle reminder from Scripture. I feel it’s very important, whether it’s said every time or not, that our children ultimately know that we speak kindly because it is part of obeying the “neighbor” commandment of Scripture.
Any other motivation for behavior is hollow, and can lead to pride or hypocrisy. It is always “back to the Bible” for the reason we practice certain behaviors.
As they become older, I may spank for overt unkindness.
One of the things I believe has been most successful for me as I strive to help them develop habits of kindness, is verbal recognition. What I mean is, speaking to them and about them the way I want them to be.
Periodically, if I catch a child doing something for another–and it may not be big, mind you–it doesn’t matter, I may stop and say something like:
“Brooks, do you know what a blessed little boy you are to have Avi for a sister? (Avi is present while I’m speaking.) She just gave you her toy without being told, all because she loves you. I think that was a very unselfish thing–Avi, I am so proud to see you treating you brother the way you want to be treated. Did you know that’s EXACTLY what Jesus tells us to do?” (I speak about the details of the action, to reinforce what it is that’s “so great” about the child’s actions.)
Sometimes I really get carried away with this! I probably attribute this little “trick” to much of the harmony (when it’s present!) in our home. I do the same thing for the older ones, only make it age-appropriate.
Another note that’s kind of random…I expect different levels of achievement according to my child’s ages. I try to be a bit more long suffering with a two-year old who is still learning how to verbalize her frustration, helping her replace wrong behavior with the correct one.
Now there are times when I may handle disagreement with a hands-off approach. That is, if two are arguing over which toy or object they want, I tell them they must come to an agreement on their own or they both lose the privilege of that item. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I do know we must balance “addressing every situation” with allowing them to work some things out. The important thing, even when you allow them to work on their own, is that they are honoring one another.
HONOR–that’s another word we use a lot. So much that we laugh now sometimes when the 4-year old says, “Mom, he is not honoring to me.”
I may talk a bit more about honor later, but it’s a good word to study and use in relating to each other as family members.
Remember the goal: we want to demonstrate the same kind of honor toward each other that we do with those outside. Keep reminding your children of that!