Got sibling squabbles? Uh, yep!
The holidays are here, and you know what that means. The kids are driving you nuts and, even worse, driving each other nuts! We turn to the fabulous Parenting Partnership for some top tips
As a mum of three, sibling squabbles have been a big part of my life. When my children were young, exhausted and exasperated, I used to think “can’t I even leave them alone for five minutes!” and sometimes, “when does school start again?” Happily, things have moved on and they are now great friends, but the constant bickering was a real button pusher.
When our kids argue, bicker and fight it is exhausting and can be stressful. We feel at a loss to help them get on and sometimes think that they never ever will. These big feelings can make us lose our cool and react in ineffective ways. We jump to conclusions while resorting to shouting, nagging, bribing or just expelling them all to their rooms.
Is there a way to stay calm in the moment and help our kids learn to manage and redirect their big emotions and get along?
Happily, yes there is! We need to begin with a sensitive response that reinforces for our kids that there will always be disagreements in relationships, that this is normal and a healthy part of life and that reparations are also an important part of the process. Our families are, after all, THE greatest training ground for life.
The first step is to manage our own expectations. All siblings fight and argue. It is a normal and even healthy part of growing up. A quiet home with adoring siblings who play happily together for hours and never argue or disagree may sound great but it is unrealistic and can be unhealthy. Armed with realistic expectations we are more likely to recognise the many triggers behind sibling outbursts including boredom, tiredness, overstimulation, jealousy or frustration. This understanding gives us a greater chance of addressing the triggers while keeping our cool.
The second step is to remain open minded. Once we get the idea that to be fair and effective, we need to remain neutral and objective, we can move from finding blame and judging to trying to uncover the problem behind our sibling struggles. I used to jump in and assume that my young impulsive son was always the instigator. My daughters, now teenagers, told me recently that they would wind him up as they quite enjoyed the spectacle of their brother getting angry and me getting cross with him while they quietly retreated to play in their room! When we jump in and punish rather than remaining objective and looking for the feelings underlying the behaviour, our children can feel misunderstood, hurt, attacked and resentful. These feeling only serve to lower their self-esteem which in turn causes more poor behaviour. You can imagine that they might start to think “I am the naughty one”, “I ALWAYS get in trouble and Mum never sees what Ellie does to me first”. “Mum likes Ellie better than me”.
With this mindset of realistic expectations and objectively, we are in a better place to calmly adopt a practical approach to sort sibling squabbles and lay the groundwork for sibling harmony this summer and for the years to come:
- Intervene only when necessary. Ignore as much as possible the low-level bickering but when things are heating up, take a deep breath and simply state what you see “I see two boys who both want to play with the same car.” “I see one boy who used to have the car and still wants to play with it. I see another boy who wants to play with it as he now has it.” We often try and solve a problem by ascribing blame or judging – “why can’t you just ask and play nicely. You are just too aggressive with your brother!” Just stating calmly what you see gets their attention, shows you are objective and deescalates the situation.
- Console them to calm the situation – We cannot learn when we are flooded with emotion. At this point, you need to right the ship, offer life jackets and get back to calm waters. “Goodness I can see you are both really upset and need my help. I have two arms, one to hug each of you and then we work this out.” or “ I think that we all need a moment to cool down.”
- Be curious -. It is only when we take the time to get to the feelings behind the actions that we begin to understand the behaviour. It might sound like this “For you to speak to me like that shows me just how angry you feel. I am wondering whether you’re thinking that he always gets first choice?”, “I am thinking that you were not sure that you wanted to give that car away and that you are regretting the decision?” or “I’m thinking that your swimming lesson was tough today and that you are still a bit mad about it.”
- Empathise – By accepting the underlying emotion, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, and using the ‘name it to tame it ‘approach – Such as annoyed with your sister who gets it all right, jealous of your little brother for getting all the attention, frustrated that you should share, we give our kids permission to have the feelings. When the underlying feeling is accepted and named, then they will be able to begin to learn to regulate and manage the feelings and move on.
- Set limits respectfully– All emotions are acceptable but some behaviours are not. When everyone has cooled down, revisit the behaviour and help them (without any judgment) say in their own words what happened: e.g. “You wanted to get on the swing. You thumped Emma because you thought it was your turn. We need to help you tell Emma with your words because no one should be hurt.” For more on this read our blog on positive discipline. Where appropriate invite them to make amends. Forced apologies are not valuable but focusing on the needs of the one who was wronged teaches empathy. “Does Emma need a hug?”
- Help them manage next time – Invite your kids to come up with their solution for helping them manage their anger next time they are ‘annoyed’ or experience another strong emotion. This is best done in a quiet moment when you are connecting with your child. “I know you don’t always want your sister around when you are playing with your Lego. She likes being with you. I am wondering what you could say to let her know that you are getting upset.”
- Give Positive Attention– Notice and mention all the things they get right through the process – their engagement, their creativity in problem solving, their willingness to make amends. Keep the process positive and descriptive and they will take on board the learning. If we criticise, blame or punish, they will feel belittled, or resentful and feeling poorly about themselves means it is more likely that the behaviour will reoccur. Children are born with an instinct to get things RIGHT.
Finally, the best way of handling sibling squabbles is to lessen the chances of them happening in the first place. When they feel secure, happy in themselves and connected to their family it is less likely they need to seek attention and have their needs met through heated sibling conflict. Our first port of call is always to give positive attention to each child and deepen the connection as when they feel good about themselves they are more likely to be kind to their siblings. Perhaps we can all invest time in making sure that we are positively connected to each of our children this summer? Good Luck xx
A massive thanks to the wonderful Panda and Heather at The Parenting Partnership for their brilliant advice. Need help? For more information and details of parenting courses and workshops this Autumn please visit www.theparentingpartnerships.com.