June 05th, 2017
The days are getting longer and there’s a feeling of lightness in the air. I always seem to feel happier as the mercury rises and I love the long evenings. May has such promise of a good summer - I feel hopeful. But that feeling of bonhomie doesn’t necessarily extend to the children it would appear, as parents in our classes are lamenting the constant bickering.
Sibling squabbling is one of the issues most frequently mentioned by parents as a real button-pusher. Just the noise can get on your nerves but also the meanness can be upsetting. When my sons were young my older one never lost an opportunity to deliver a put-down to his brother. He called him a ‘loser’ and a ‘weirdo’ and told him he was stupid and that he stank. It was constant! Fortunately my sons now get on really well.
So what made the difference? The first step was to understand why my older son was being unkind to his brother and take steps to address that instead of just punishing the surface behaviour. We’re never very effective unless we look for the cause of our children’s behaviour. At this time of year kids may be tired as the school year comes to an end. They may have lots of activities going on. Older siblings may have just completed SATs or even GCSEs with the stress that brings. Unkind behaviours may be prompted by emotions that the child doesn’t know how to express which are vented on the sibling. Of course one sibling may be jealous of another; he may feel his brother or sister gets more of his parents’ love and attention, measured in the time devoted to the sibling, the possessions they get or the amount they get into trouble compared to him! At the height of my sons’ fighting my older boy was struggling at school and getting in trouble a lot and his self-esteem was low. He didn’t want to be the only one feeling that way so his brother copped it!
Part of the solution is building self-esteem but we also need to teach siblings social skills like compromising and negotiating and sharing. We also need to teach them to be kind.
Here are 7 ways to encourage harmony between siblings from my book Real Parenting for Real Kids:
A big reason for fighting is low self-esteem. Another is kids’ need for parents’ attention and approval. Usually when our children are getting on well together we don’t even notice it and just get on with our to-do list but we give plenty of attention when they start fighting!
Use Descriptive Praise to ensure your child gets attention, feels noticed, valued and good about himself.
Descriptively praise your children for getting on, for team work or problem-solving, even if they’re just leaving each other alone.
Set up opportunities for positive play together. Having fun together is important if siblings are to see the point of each other! Play should be with you initially.
In addition, each child needs some Special Time alone with each parent. When children get our undivided attention, at least at certain defined times, they are less likely to compete with their siblings for our attention.
When we acknowledge how our children are feeling - angry, jealous, hurt, frustrated, disappointed, inadequate, left out – they learn to recognise and manage feelings, rather than take them out on others. Focusing on their feelings helps shape their ability to ‘read’ other people’s feelings and thoughts.
Some children pick up on social skills easily but some need to be taught them explicitly. Use role play (maybe with teddies and dolls or action figures) to teach skills like sharing, negotiating, trading deals, asking for something without whining etc.
You may need some rules about possessions and sharing common resources like computers or the front seat of the car!
Children who grow up with positive discipline get along better with other children. Punishment teaches children to give way to greater force, not wisdom. If parents are aggressive children are more likely to be aggressive. If children see you treat others with kindness and empathy they are more likely to do the same.
August 15th, 2014
Does it really push your buttons when your kids fight? When they’re home over the summer holidays they’re in each other’s company more and they may goad each other out of sheer boredom. You know sibling fighting is meant to be normal, but seriously, over who gets to open the door when dad gets home? Which, after all, he does every day. Really? What did you envisage when you brought into the world a sweet little sister or brother for your adored first-born? That she should become a punch bag for him? That he should call her all manner of names and tease her? That she should provoke the life out of him? I thought not. You were probably like me with fantasies of them playing happily together and keeping each other occupied while you watched over them benignly with cup of tea in hand.
When my boys were younger I thought we’d made a serious mistake in having more than one, one which we hadn’t worked out until too late. My older boy turned into a monster around his brother. He tormented him endlessly and seemed so aggressive with him I envisaged a future where I would be visiting him behind bars as I thought he’d turned into a psychopath.
The advice I received was to stay out of their fights. I tried to do this but it was as if I’d given permission for the older one to bully the younger. My younger child felt abandoned. I could understand why I shouldn’t take sides in their disputes but I needed to do something….didn’t I?
Studies have shown that effective intervention has the effect of reducing the number and intensity of sibling rows. (Perlman, M and Ross, H ‘The benefits of parent intervention in their children’s disputes: An examination of concurrent changes in children’s fighting styles.’ Child Development 1997)
Faber & Mazlish’s Siblings Without Rivalry had some good ideas.
Parents need to know when to get involved in their children’s arguments and when to stay out of them.
We need to distinguish between minor squabbles and major on-going battles. We decide upon our intervention based on the level of dispute. We need to be ready to intervene when the children seem to be struggling, or the situation is potentially dangerous, but our intervention is only to encourage and support them to resolve their dispute constructively themselves.
And when we do intervene, we need to do so in ways which not only encourage children to sort out their own disputes but which also support the children’s relationships, and reduce the risk of long term conflict. If we take sides or impose judgments not only does the accused retaliate later but the children don’t learn how to resolve matters themselves.
The basic approach is to:
• describe the problem
• acknowledge how each child feels
• help the children find a solution; support them in using more constructive conflict resolution strategies
Example: Jack, aged 5, wants to watch Peppa Pig on TV but Bella, aged 8, is watching her ‘Frozen’ DVD and singing (loudly) along to ‘Let it go’.
Jack says “I want to watch Peppa now Bella” and Bella just says “no”, so Jack hits her, saying “It’s my turn now horrible Bella.” And Bella shouts and hits him back. Jack cries. Dad thinks it’s time to intervene and doesn’t say “Ok, you two that’s enough. Bella don’t be so mean, give Jack a turn”. (He did that last week and it ended in tears all round – Dad too, well, almost.)
Dad: Jack I can see you’re upset. We don’t hit in this family. Can you tell Bella what you want, rather than calling her names?
Jack: She’s being mean. I want a turn.
Bella: But it’s my turn now. I want to watch the end of this video.
Jack: You watched it on the weekend. I want to watch Peppa now.
Dad: (Dad has some sympathy – he wouldn’t mind some respite from ‘Let it go’ himself.) Jack is saying he wants a turn to watch his show. Bella is saying she’s not ready for her turn to be over….Hmm…That’s a tough situation...I know it can be hard to wait, Jack.
Jack: I don’t want to wait…I want to watch Peppa now! Bella gets to watch her show all the time.
Dad: You feel you’re not getting a fair go? Can you tell Bella that and ask her when she’ll be ready to give you a turn? Bella can you tell Jack, without hitting, what would be a fair time for you to have on the video.
Jack: It’s not fair Bella, you had a turn on the weekend and I haven’t had my turn for ages. When will it be my turn?
Bella: Ok Jack! You can watch Peppa when the next song is finished. Why don’t you be Olaf?
Dad gives lots of descriptive praise for both children for resolving this situation constructively.
Both kids feel heard and they have learnt how to assert themselves without hitting.
Managing sibling conflicts is one of the most difficult parts of parenting. Helping children to resolve disputes without abusing power or resorting to name-calling or violence is a great gift.
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Elaine and Melissa