Sibling Rivalry – Helping “The Balloon Popper”

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The Balloon Popper

Some months ago, the relationship between two of my children was in a rut.  I seemed to be constantly playing referee with the two of them.  It was a discouraging time for not only me, but for our whole family.  Their squabbling was affecting all of us and I decided it was time to get the root of the problem.  

I began to observe my son.  For whatever reason, he had decided that he needed to do whatever he could to keep his younger sister in her place.  Every time she was excited about something or had a story to share, he was right on her heels with a few words to squelch her joy.  I gave him a visual picture of the way he was treating his sister.  

Every time she had something to share it was like she was blowing up a balloon…balloons of excitement, balloons of hope, balloons of a bit of family news.  Every time she slowly blew up her balloon, her big brother was there waiting, anxious to pull out a giant pin, and POP IT!  He had become The Balloon Popper.  How hard to see this as a mom.  How sad!  How unlike the generous love that our Lord has for us! (1 John 4:7-8) Where was this discouraging behavior coming from? 

The Bible talks about building up and tearing down.  Notice that both building up and tearing down are actions that require purposeful intent.  The big difference is that they are headed in two completely opposite directions.  Sadly, tearing down is the natural inclination of our hearts.  We don’t want people to shine brighter than we do, or to have attention we crave for ourselves.  This is what was going on with my son.  

How tempting it can be to wish away these difficult issues and just throw up our hands, attributing them to childish behavior.  But honestly, how cruel for the child in the long run.  Instead of leaving it alone or deciding to turn a deaf ear to it, I encourage you, Mom, to address it.  What this young balloon popper was doing was wrong and it was time for a change.  

We bless our kids when we are honest with them. With love, truth and grace, we can break through the tough and defensive exterior of their behavior and get to their hearts.  As the old saying goes, if the kettle is black, call it black.  The benefit of pinpointing the problem is that it gives our children the chance to repent and to be free of it!  

When the reality of what my son had been doing to his little sister was finally heard, he was grieved.  It was a difficult conversation.  But it opened the door to healing and freedom from this awful rut they were in! We helped our young son by tenderly showing him what to do with his guilt.  He must own it, take it to God and confess it.  He must ask for forgiveness from God and from his little sister.  We then shared the wonderful truth about how freely our merciful God forgives us…and forgets!  (Romans 8:1, Psalm 103:11-12, Daniel 9:9)

Next came a helpful discussion about how God wants his children busy working on building others up, not tearing them down!  (1 Thes. 5:11, Hebrews 3:13)   I explained that a builder of a house, intently working on building with purpose and excellence, would not even think about tearing down his hard work.  In the same way, when you are intentionally busy building someone up, you wouldn’t even consider stopping and then tearing them down!  That would be going in the complete opposite direction!  

We brainstormed together about how he could get busy building up his sister. It started with a few simple projects.  The first was negative in nature.  He may not speak to her for a while.  Their relationship had gotten so dysfunctional that I felt it was necessary to withhold all interaction with her for a time.  The tearing down had to cease construction.  

The rest were positive in nature.  I encouraged him to serve her.  He made her bed in secret (I required it at first ), he wrote her a letter and surprised her with a fort for the two of them to play in.  All of these efforts brought big smiles all around.  We saw improvements right away. 

But just as with the construction of a house, the building process was sometimes slow.  Still, we were headed in the right direction! I’m happy to say that The Balloon Popper is long gone.  After many months of construction, the relationship between the two of them is – and I am not exaggerating – full of laughter and kindness!  What a beautiful change in our family!  How I thank God for His simple plan of healing and restoration – simple enough for a child to understand.  

Remember, too, that as we help our children turn to God, we are showing them the path to freedom!  How helpful to lay the groundwork for their future relationships, teaching them what to do and where to go with their struggles – to our forgiving and restoring God. 

– Julie McGrath

 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 

 – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Going Deeper…

  • What are the relationship issues that need to be addressed in your family, not only at the behavior level, but at the heart level?  
  • Do you acknowledge to your child that left to your own, you are not the builder you want to be either?  Share openly about how much you, too, have to depend on God. 
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