Before we dive into an info-packed Tune In, I wanted to let you know I’ll be doing a special individualized workshop for parents on sibling challenges. See below for details on how to register. It’s limited to 10 so act fast if you’d like to join.
Now let’s talk siblings.
Having kids home all day means that they have no other social outlet other than each other. No after-school soccer game to get out their competitive ya ya’s, no class-time scuffle to practice making up with a friend, and no recess Lord of the Flies action to figure out who gets the conch. now it’s just the SIBLINGS. All. Day. Long.
And while they seem to be in a never-ending boxing match, we teeter between joining them in the ring, coaching from the corner, and leaving the stadium altogether.
This topic is complicated, so I broke it down in two parts. Part 1 is all about IF, WHEN and HOW to intervene.
But one thing before we get started. Let’s be real. The stuff I’m about to say sounds great on paper. But pulling it off can be near impossible. Especially right now when we’re pushed to our limits. These are ways of thinking about the sibling dynamics. It’s going to be a lifelong journey to try to be Cuomo-calm with our kids. But every tiny step helps. Ok let’s do this.
1. First – Relax. You’re doing fine.
Keep your emotional level dooowwn. This is a biggie and we have to start here. When our kids fight we tend to go straight to a dark place – “I failed as a parent. My kids hate each other. They’re going to be axe murderers” (maybe that last one was just me?) But the thing is, ALL siblings fight. And we all have those same thoughts at some point.
It’s important to remind ourselves that we’re not bad parents and this is NORMAL; it has nothing to do with anything we did wrong. If we can remember this, we may be more able to accept it in the moment and not feel compelled to FIX. So especially these days tell yourself you’re a kick-ass parent because you are doing your very best. In fact, tell yourself it’s great your kids have an opportunity to learn how to handle competition and adversity. It’s going to help them when they run for president someday.
2. To intervene or NOT to intervene?
The million dollar question when our kids are fighting is IF and WHEN to intervene. It’s possible that living this constant conflict is the real reason our hair goes grey.
I find that there are three types of fights:
#1: The Lion Cub Fight:
Sometimes our kids just need to tussle. It often starts with a playful brush or a provocative jab. For instance, my middle son communicates through physical contact. When he feels distant from his brother or just plain bored he may provoke his brother to get a rise. Next thing you know they are actually fighting, not at all playing.
SOLUTION: In these moments of Lion Cub fighting, LET YOUR KIDS BE.
Tell them they can continue fighting but not in front of you because it upsets you to see it. Have them go into another room if they’d like to continue. More often than not, if you’re not a witness to it, they’ll lose interest. Part of the fun is seeing if it will get a rise out of us.
These fights are a general expression of the perpetual sibling wound: “you love the other more” and they are just waiting for us to intervene so we can settle it once and for all (Spoiler: it will never be settled. Our love is different for each).
In order to stay out of it, we need to accept that it is NORMAL and reduce our level of stress about it. (See #1)
One thing you could do is say – “This is starting out as play but I’m warning you now that someone might end up getting hurt.” Then it’s up to them. LET THEM BE. They won’t kill each other. If they hurt each other then they’ve learned for the next time.
I know it may feel like you’re walking out on Carole Baskin’s husband being fed to the tigers but trust me. It’s best for all.
#2: The Coveted Object:
You’ve seen it happen: an everyday object like a plate, stick, chair, suddenly becomes gold-plated. Both kids want it NOW. As you know, this fight is not necessarily about the object itself. It has more to do with possessing- “What you have looks good.” And then it takes a turn for the irrational. They want THE thing, and then another thing. It almost seems as if the kids want to experience a little scuffle.
#3: Helpless Rage:
This one happens when someone feels wronged and reacts quickly. A toy was taken, something hurtful was said. They resort to physical violence because they are SO MAD. And in that moment of feeling helpless, overwhelmed, angry and betrayed, they’re not the best communicators.
SOLUTION: In these last two scenarios, support but don’t solve.
Here are some guidelines:
3. Stop. Pause. Breathe—for US
When our kids quickly spiral into a full-on fight about a thing, our immediate desire is to FIX FAST. Just do anything for PEACE. At that moment we yell, we punish, we time-out, we go extreme. And when that happens, well it never ends well for anyone.
We need to stop, drop and roll. Or maybe just take a breath before responding. There is no rush, it just FEELS like there is. In fact, try to move in slow motion. If we go into it calmly the kids will feel it too.
4. Stop. Pause. Breathe—for our kids
When they’re IN it they can’t hear a thing. In their minds, whatever is going on is an emergency. Their underdeveloped prefrontal cortex makes them feel like they truly NEED that cookie, like they might NEVER get that doll back, or like they may have lost their spot on your lap FOREVER. Before we try to give them words to communicate, help them pause. You can say something like: “This is not how we solve conflict in our house.” You can have them both sit, go into different corners, or just breathe. Try to do this calmly, without putting blame on anyone. “Both of you are upset, you both contributed. If you are too upset we can talk about this later.”
5. Calmly Buffer
Especially with little ones, you can use your body or hand as a buffer between them. Calmly put your hand between the arm and mouth biting, or between the raised hand and the target. But stay chill, nonchalant. Try to make it look easy (Hey, fake it till’ ya make it). Having you as a calm buffer will take the edge off.
Your job here is not to end the conflict, rather to keep them safe. For all you care the conflict can grow. It is not your responsibility to stop it. You’re just there to keep them safe while they explore conflict.
6. DON’T Referee
Whether the clash is Helpless Rage or The Coveted Object, we are not there to conduct an interrogation or judge the details of the scene. It is a given that both sides feel wronged and both need to take responsibility (yes, not just the older one.)
If we get involved in the details the kids will inevitably feel that we’ve taken a side. And then the conflict won’t be about the Lego spaceship anymore but about who we love more.
7. DO Coach
Instead of refereeing, coach, especially before the match goes UFC level. Train them how to use words. When they come to you and say, “He took my ball and won’t give it back!” you can give your child words: “Tell him that you were playing with it, and it made you feel angry when he grabbed it.” Or: “Did you like that when he hit you? Tell him! Tell him to stop.” Or: “It sounds like you don’t want your sister touching the spaceship. Say, Can you please not touch that?” Instead of being their mouthpiece, teach them how to use their own words and their own voice. You know, so they can use it against you someday.
8. DO Validate emotions
Acknowledge the validity in both sides of the argument. We’re not solving, we’re just narrating what we see. But here’s the key – we’re doing it super matter of factly. Almost with curiosity. “Wow you both really want that, Maybe there is another way…”
And after the tussle we can help them connect the dots that led to it.
“You felt______ when he _______and he didn’t ________.
YOU felt _______and she didn’t ______”.
Since both sides are feeling injured, both are in desperate need of having their feelings heard.
9. Accept the Drama
There is going to be a kid on the ground yelling, running to their room, and crying in the corner. That just comes with the territory. It’s our job to accept it fully without trying to change anything. It’s natural, it’s normal, it’s part of the family landscape. Our kids are learning how to deal with frustration. That’s a lesson that we’re all still secretly trying to learn behind our Corona mask.
10. Connect before you correct
Only after our kids feel heard can we try to teach them how to manage this type of situation better in the future. “Next time he takes your doll you can say…” But before they feel validated they’ll still be caught up in the injustice they feel and you might as well be talking to their favorite lovey.
So let’s go over this again:
Lion Cub Fight > Don’t intervene
Coveted Object Fight > Don’t try to solve > Narrate nonchalantly > Accept the drama
Helpless Rage Fight > Pause > Don’t referee > Validate > Correct for next time
Putting them in these neat schemas makes it seem easy. But we all know it isn’t. In fact, I just read this piece to my 11 year old to get his opinion and at point #3 (Stop. Pause. Breathe- For us) he said – “Mama, you don’t do that!” And of course it’s true. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by their aggression that I get sucked in and act rashly. But sometimes I manage to respond with patience and compassion for them and for ME.
We’re learning how to be parents as we go. We’re teaching each other and most of all, our kids are teaching us. Just being aware of these things is already a WIN.
Next week you’ll get PART 2 which has a whole slew of more important info.
Now, as you know sibling solutions are not a one-size-fits-all. Each dynamic is unique, each personality is unique. Which is why I have a new offering. Do you have a challenging sibling dynamic at home? (Right now, who doesn’t?)
Join us for a NEW ONLINE WORKSHOP FOR PARENTS. Individualized counseling on how to keep the peace in your home. Limited to 10 participants, meeting twice, for 75 minutes.
Wednesday April 29 8:15pm
Wednesday May 6th 8:15pm
And please, help us out here—did you try any of these tactics this week? Did they work or did they lead you to another solution? Or did you just go hide in the bathroom for 10 minutes (we’ve all done it). Sharing is caring. COMMENT below.