One of the things that can really send many adults over the edge is the negative dynamics that can happen between children. With the summer coming up and our children having more time on their hands as well as more time together, I am preparing for the dependable onslaught of sibling fighting, finking and feuding.
Sibling dynamics can often be full of fun as they engage in play together. They can be full of compassion as they look out for each other, kindness as they comfort each other and support as they take on new adventures with the familiarity of someone they know by their side. Sometimes, siblings inspire each other and even become the others biggest cheerleader.
They can also be full of teasing, outright battles, resentment, jealousy etc.
Both ends of the spectrum are important to some extent as children work out who they are and how to be with others in the world. There is a saying along the lines of …. we are hardest on the ones we are closest too. There is also a widely accepted notion that our children often save their worst for when they get home.
I don’t throw those in to suggest the negative side of sibling behaviour should be tolerated nor is necessarily acceptable. I add them to help with perspective.
We have the power to choose to view these challenging dynamics a bit differently. When we view them differently, we can then address them differently.
The good in sibling squabbles is learning.
Children learn a lot from each other. Having a sibling allows children to develop skills around sharing, compromise, working out conflicts, negotiating, tolerance etc. in the safety of their own families. Not pretty when your child goes to a friend’s house and pins another child to the floor when they don’t get to choose the game they wanted. If this behaviour is going to come up, we want it to happen at home. Then, we are able to teach and guide them to learn flexibility, compromise, patience and acceptance. The skills to cope with not getting what they want.
So, how do we minimize the fighting and maximize the friendship?
- Don’t wait for a fight to break out to teach children about getting along. Be close by when siblings are together so you notice what they are doing to work out a situation using the skills you would like them to have. For example – ‘I see you pausing when your sister chose the game. You are being thoughtful about how you want to respond’. Or ‘I noticed that you and your brother could not agree on what to play. You kept trying to find an activity you could agree on and that shows that you are trying to find a compromise’.
- If a disagreement does develop, to some degree, allow children to work out their differences and learn how to handle conflict. This is another opportunity to teach before it escalates. Let’s face it, no one gets along all the time, so these are moments to teach skills around handling conflict. For example – ‘You seem really mad that your brother is not wanting to play with you right now. Instead of hitting him, you are still using your words to try and change his mind. That takes great self-control.’ Or ‘Your sister is really annoying you right now but you are not retaliating. You have chosen to not engage and that shows amazing maturity.’
- A situation that turns harmful to a person or property will need intervention to keep things safe. Remember to stay as calm as possible. An adult’s escalated emotions generally cause things to spiral out of control and your children need you to be in control of yourself so they can do the same for themselves. Again, stay focused on the way the child is calming. Or the way the other child was not feeding a negative dynamic. See it and say it.
- If there is a stressful scenario that plays out repeatedly in your family, take some time to plan ahead. Carve out a moment or 2 for yourself to help prepare you to remain calm. Take your worries about how it ‘could’ all play out and use that energy to see how you ‘want’ it to play out. Then, instead of sitting back and hoping it happens, take an active role in making that happen. Be prepared to notice and acknowledge the things going right BEFORE they go wrong.
- Know there are many opportunities to teach a skill. Provide feedback to your children for qualities they are showing in situations other than the stressful one. A child that ‘never’ shares with a sibling likely shows the quality of sharing elsewhere (with parents, pets, friends etc.). Being acknowledged for sharing in some situations will help them build that skill and be able to transport it to more situations.
- Explore your own triggers. What exactly is it about what happens before, during or after a sibling squabble that bothers you most? Having this information can help you, as the adult, see the way through a tough situation. For example – if you feel like someone could be judging you because your child is throwing a fit in the grocery store, you are more likely to over react to the situation which can make it worse. Trying to control a child is way harder than trying to control yourself so you can respond in a way that keeps the problem small. Instead of allowing your triggers to send your emotions sideways, see the opportunity to create successes.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. Children will not always get along and will not always have the emotional maturity to manage a situation. Try not to force a coming back together or apology as this can overshadow the child’s own feelings about the other person and the situation. If they don’t really mean it, we can teach insincerity. After a cooling off period help them make any repairs to the relationship that are appropriate. Moving forward, help them start to tune their vision to what the other child is doing well.
If you want to experience more joy this summer and less stress from sibling craziness, try to find when it is going right and build from that. Inspire your children to do the same. It is not always going to be a breeze so just remember that children learn more through being successful at something and less when they are being told they did something wrong. We can start to shift sibling dynamics when we notice and authentically appreciate when things are going well.
We can show them that they have the skills to enjoy their sibling more through friendship by helping them see and believe in what they are truly capable of.
Enjoy your summer,
Marny Elliott is a Nurtured Heart Approach® (NHA) Trainer, Coach and Emotional Health Therapist. She empowers parents, educators etc. to use this effective, heart centered approach to transform behaviour, build relationships and grow the Inner Wealth® of children. In addition, she provides holistic counselling to adults seeking to address defeating patterns and improve their emotional health. Please visit www.joywithin.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250.218.8702.