A few weeks ago, I presented a Sibling Rivalry & Conflict Seminar to a great group of women in Point Loma that were part of MOPS (a great organization to get tapped into if you're in the "raising tiny humans phase of life"). So many wonderful mommas showed up to learn how they can stay sane when children bicker & go to battle with their siblings.
Here's some of the main ideas we went over....hopefully they bring some light to the situation (if you have any of this going on in your house) & give you some new ideas on how to help your kids argue less & solve their conflicts peacefully, resulting in less stress for you!
As parents of multiple children, this is one of those facts of life that we just need to accept. When we have one child, then welcome another into this world, the first child is what we call "dethroned". He's searching for his place in the family & questioning everything. His thoughts might be "Do we love him less now that baby is here?" or "How can he win back Mom & Dad's attention?" (he misses you when you're nursing or changing diapers). "Do you still love him?" or "Do you like new baby sister better?" These thoughts that he processes are normal, human emotions & it is our place to help him get through them, rather than eliminate the feelings. As baby gets older, there's often a natural element of competition between kids...some siblings are SUPER competitive (like mine), and others are less. What we don't want to do is add fuel to this fire with any comparisons. Even the most mellow of kids naturally compare themselves to their siblings, so when we add to these thoughts by saying things like "Why can't you eat your vegetables, your sister always eats hers?" or "You spilled your milk again?? Even your baby brother doesn't spill his & he is only 1!"....and the tricky ones we THINK are positive "Wow, you can ride your bike like a big boy with out training wheels....your sister's been trying for years & she still can't do it!"....do more harm than good. Eliminating comparisons and addressing each child's unique traits, skill sets, etc. is the way to go. Statements like "Wow, look at you riding your bike with out training wheels" still acknowledges our kids with encouragement with out bringing siblings into the picture. Or saying something like "Looks like you spilled your milk, what do you need to clean it up?", help your children move towards action without putting a bad taste in their mouth that they're not as good as their sibling who never spills their milk. Make sense?
So what happens when you've done your best to reduce the sibling rivalry and your kids STILL fight? First of all, relax. This is normal & some kids unfortunately just fight with each other more than others do. Your first step is to find ways to take care of yourself when the arguing agitates you to your core. A lot of early teaching efforts with super young kids involves educating them how to express themselves with out physically harming others, so often these lessons have to be taught over and over and over again, with grace & persistence! Once your kids get to a place where they aren't in jeopardy of hurting each other, find ways to take care of yourself & remove yourself from the conflict. When they're fighting over who gets to use the red marker first, it really isn't your problem, so take that opportunity to let them try to work it out. Walk outside, take a breath of fresh air, mediate or pray for 2 minutes and decide on your intention as a parent when it comes to dealing with Sibling Conflict. Some of my favorite "go to intentions" in those moments (when I just want to yell....."Stop it! You guys are driving me crazy!") are TO TEACH, TO MODEL SELF CONTROL, TO MENTOR ON LEADING WITH INTEGRITY, TO GUIDE WITH GRACE INSTEAD OF FORCE, etc. Finding a great intention while you're taking a moment to keep calm helps you with your delivery, tone, action plan, etc.
Some other things you can do?
~Try silence over yelling. We talk SO much to our kids that often they become parent deaf, so try silence, or one word like "Kindness" while looking right into their eyes with a smile, or "Outside" while pointing to the back yard (often nature can soothe their souls and help them move towards resolution).
~Join the fight in a playful manor. One of the biggest lessons I've learned from parenthood & RCB (and my amazing husband) is that comedy is the most amazing tool that WORKS with kids (and all humans really!). Jump in and with a silly duck voice say "No! Duck wants the toy!" and then pretend to eat it and get a belly ache. Sounds bizarre, but it works & before you know it everyone is laughing instead of melting down.
~Teach Win/Wins to kids (peaceful conflict resolution). This simple process has them state how they feel & what they want and then work towards resolution.
Sibling 1: "I feel ________, I want _________"
Sibling 2: "I feel ________, I want _________"
Together, you coach them to look at each other and say "How are we going to make this work so we both win"? As they get older, this becomes more conversational and casual.
This is best implemented when you model it first....with your husband or sister, or mom, or whoever. Make a up a fight over coffee or tea in the morning and go through the steps while the kids are watching. Then try it with your oldest child (perhaps at bed or bath time, as those are often power struggle moments), then eventually, have siblings do it together. A lot of clients ask when kids can really start doing this exercise. Remember, even before they can speak, they are watching everything we say & do as a family, so the little ones WILL learn if you model it, but my son started doing win/win's with his sister at 3.5 and is now fluent with this exercise at 5.5.
YES, this exercise takes a lot of coaching, patience and perseverance, but once you experience some wins using this tool, it is incredible! The outcome always involves the two parties coming together, instead of traditional approaches (where Mom & Dad solve the argument) where one of the siblings usually feels like they got the short end of the stick. It also removes you from being the bad guy. The argument is between your two kids, so if you succeed at keeping your tone neutral & coaching them through it (instead of reverting to overpowering the situation to end it)...they keep the argument between them and then they also get to feel the good feelings that come from succeeding on their own. I've seen my kids do this exercise over and over again where they're high five-ing and hugging at the end and using verbiage like "best sister ever" or "let me help you clean your room". Seriously astonishing, incredible stuff. Imagine if all of our kids mastered working out problems like this in the home....then took these tactics out into their school yards, playdates, workplaces one day....oh how the world would change.
***For the wee little ones, as you're teaching them how to do win/win's, try cutting out a heart from red felt & letting each one hold the heart while they talk (and the other listens), and then switch. The younger the kids, the more coaching you will need to do, just remember to ask for permission & try your best to let them do what they can. (i.e. "could I offer you guys some ideas?" or "ok, turn to your sister & ask her if that works for her?").
Those are just a few ideas! The full seminar includes a lot more, so if this is a topic that you'd like to hear more about, grab some girlfriends, your playgroup, a handful of preschool families, or your neighborhood block & organize an evening to host the full seminar at your house. We cover this topic in the full 3 week RCB course also (click here for more info)...which starts Tues. 10/25 in Carlsbad.
Cheers to investing heavy in our kids' relationship with each other. They are learning everyday, through their day to day interactions, how be great friends, students, community members...and one day....employees, spouses, moms and dads. What a gift we can give them....healthy tools to solve disagreements, express their hearts desire and stand for what they believe in...while keeping their integrity & always being respectful to others!