Fights between siblings can be a source of stress for parents. Thankfully, there is a great deal parents can do to teach their children how to manage problems with their siblings. Communication, patience, and emotion control help families have disagreements instead of battles.
I had the fortune of speaking with Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings about strategies parents can use to reduce sibling conflict in their house. Here's the video of our talk:
Dr. Markham had great suggestions for how parents can take their referee jersey off, step out of the judge role, and become a communication skills facilitator.
As much as we’d like our children to stop fighting NOW, it will take time for everyone to learn the words to reduce fighting and increase problem solving. Please be patient as the family members figure out how to speak rather than react.
When our children are upset, they are in the fight-flight-or-freeze (Triple F) zone of their brains. This is the part that rules the reaction to defend and attack. In this part of the mind, your child’s brother or sister looks like the enemy. For parents, hearing yelling or physical attacks happening usually gets us all revved up, and our Triple F takes over, too! If everyone is in defensive mode, rational thinking and problem solving just aren’t going to happen.
Calmly walk over to where your children are instead of shouting your instructions. Although, if there is violence happening, rush over, and step between your children.
I recommend having a family calm-down plan, where you decide ahead of time what steps are helpful for you to clear your mind and calm the aggressive actions that might be building in your voice, hands or feet. Calming puts you in the part of your mind where you can make good decisions.
Rather than being a referee where you judge who is right or wrong, put yourself into coaching mode. You likely don’t have the full picture of what has happened between your children so taking sides is likely to actually increase the conflict. One child might look at the other as the bad guy and harbor resentment.
Approach your children with an attitude of “You two are having a hard time—I wonder what we can do,” instead of “He or she is the problem.”
As the facilitator, your main goal is to help your child know what words to use to explain his/her upset. In order to help everyone shift out of defensive thinking into helpful thoughts, start by making sure everyone feels heard. Dr. Markham suggests saying something like, “You want ____ and you want ____. Do I have that right?”
Show your children that you understand the missing need and that there is a way to address it. Once children feel heard, they will be able to see solutions.
Once everyone is calm and feels validated, you can start facilitating a conversation between the siblings.
“Tell your brother in words…” is a great way to get children to consider how to attune to what he or she is feelings and express that effectively to another person.
Speak with your children about the options they have available to them, and which ones seem do-able. You might have to help identify those choices while your children learn how to focus on solutions.
Once a solution is agreed upon, walk through the action steps, and remember to use encouraging words like, “You had a problem and now you have both decided how to solve it,” to further fill your child’s sense of feeling understood.
Dr Markham walks through a variety of different scenarios in her Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings book, providing specific scripts to try with your children. I like that she included suggestions for when a new baby is brought into the house. If you have any questions, you are welcome to post those in the comments here or over on my Facebook page, where I will do my best to answer them.
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When my boys were one and three, people would often smile at me and say, "Oh, I miss those years." I'd remember looking up through exhausted eyes and cursing them under my breath, as they lazily sat on the their chair sipping wine while their older children ran around unsupervised.
But yesterday, I really understood what they meant (and I'm sorry for cursing!) and wanted to share my revelation.
Parents of one to four year-olds, I know you might feel like you are in a daily marathon of unfun things, so in hopes this helps you feel better today, this is what I miss from toddlers/ preschoolers:
The feeling of having my child fall asleep in my arms.
The way, "I wuv you, mommy" sounds coming out of a little person.
How a toddler hugs like he's hanging on for dear life.
The feeling of being the most important person alive to that little person (now friends are starting to get a piece of that pie).
Afternoon nap-time, when I'd sometimes snuggle in beside my child and feel him breathe on my face.
The random, crazy things they would say, like "Mommy, your face looks upside down."
Great, now I made myself cry... see... you will likely look back on the early years and remember these things, not all the struggles you faced. And could you please let your little one drape his body on yours for me - that's what I miss the most.
My colleagues here at YummyMummyClub.ca also had lovely memories and some honesty about the toddler time to share:
I miss the greetings at the end of the day...the way they'd throw their entire bodies into their running hugs when they sprinted to me as if they weren't entirely sure they'd ever see me again. Today's greetings run more towards grunts and the, "what's for dinner" variety. – Jennifer Sherwood Hicks
I miss how the whole world was new and exciting in their eyes, how we could go for a walk through the neighbourhood and there would be so many neat things to look at - an old car, a new car, someone's dog, a rock, a bird, a tree... – Nicole MacPherson
Being able to see the world through their eyes and how they would marvel at the simplest things I take for granted. It was a lesson in being able to enjoy splashing in the puddles instead of worried about being in the rain. – Sharon DeVellis
I miss early morning snuggles in bed, when their sleep-tousled hair was so cute and they were warm and huggy and kissable. Plus they started each day with such optimism and eagerness. One of the most memorable was my son crawling in beside me the day before his 5th birthday. "Tomorrow, mommy," he said, pointing to his face above his eyes, "I'm going to have a fivehead," right? Sigh for those oh-so-sweet days! – Paula Roy
Pudgy fingers and little thumbs that looked like fat garden grubs. - Jeni Marinucci
Is it wrong if I say, I don't? My son really struggled in the toddler phase due to his autism. So six has been a more magical and manageable age. – Julie Green
I miss little feet that didn't smell like stinky feet. – Alexandria Thom Durrell
I'm still in the midst of it all. I will let you know when I miss it! – Alanna McGinn
I miss the little kid words. Moon was "ayoomee", water was "ladala", bath was "hap.” – Andrea Mulder-Slater
I miss cuddling up and reading books at night. That was one of my favourite activities to do with my kids - acting out the stories, making games out the rhythm of the words, and discovering new books that connected with each of my kids differently. Today my kids are avid readers, but now it's a solo activity that doesn't include me. I really miss that. It's also a metaphor for all the activities my kids needed to do with me that now we do on their own. Watching your kids grow and and become independent is bittersweet. – YMC Founder, Erica Ehm
Is there anything you’d like to add? Please do pop over to my Facebook page and let us know what you miss about the early years.
Sending you best wishes and energy!
Parenting a toddler? Here's what every stressed out toddler parent needs.
One of the hardest things for a parent to bear is the sound their angry or sad child makes. Our hearts can feel ripped open when our children experience intense emotions. A comment I often hear from well-meaning parents is, “I want my child to be happy so I do whatever I can to prevent him from being upset.”
Good intentions not withstanding, parents may actually be creating an environment of increased anger and aggressiveness in their children with this mindset. Particularly if parents are giving into their child’s demands in order to reduce or prevent frustration.
Frustration is actually a great teacher! According to Susan Stiffelman, MFT, author of Parenting With Presence, it's crucial:
“In order for children to develop the internal resources to accept life on its terms, they must be allowed to move through the stages of denial, anger, and bargaining when they can’t have what they want so that they can them move through their disappointment to acceptance.”
A parent’s desire to keep their children from experiencing feelings associated with disappointment can actually keep them stuck in the first three stages above: denial, anger, and bargaining. It isn’t surprising that a child stuck in these stages, and spared from the weight of “no means no,” would come to believe that if a parent isn’t going to give in to his demands, he needs to have a bigger, louder reaction.
These two dynamics, being stuck in an anger phase and learning to yell more until requests are met, do the opposite of what parents are hoping. The happy, content child they are eager to raise inadvertently becomes one who angers easily.
There is a great deal of value in letting our children be sad or disappointed and to tolerate our child’s unhappiness. In allowing our children to feel all the different human emotions, we facilitate the growth of acceptance and problem solving skills. The process of struggling through not getting what we want to a position of acceptance also creates something incredibly valuable: an inner belief that we are capable.
Rather than caving to our child’s demands, jumping at each request, fixing our child’s problems or talking them out of our upset, parents help their children most by supporting them as they move through loss.
How do we do this? By setting fair limits (that we stick to) and helping our children handle their big feelings.
In Parenting With Presence, Stiffleman walks readers through a case study of a couple who was afraid to stand firm with their son. In the book, the mother is quoted as saying, “I hate to admit it, but I’m a pushover. I can’t imagine standing up to Charlie when he starts heading into one of his tirades. It’s like trying to stay upright in the middle of a hurricane!” Many of us can certainly empathize with this parents’ feeling!
Stiffleman’s suggestions were to dive in to what past events might be affecting our parenting today in combination with learning how to support the boy through his “tirades.” The father in this case scenario was afraid of saying “no” to his child because in part of how powerless he felt as a child. He mentioned that his parents ruled the house with an, “It was their way or the highway” attitude. This dad vowed not to raise his kids that way.
It is great to raise children with respect and to give them power, but it is not helpful to allow the strictness of our parents in our upbringing to cause us to be so unstructured with our own children that it actually hurts them. This is a dynamic I see often in parenting counseling sessions. As parents, we need to do two important things for our children. The first is to empower them to speak up and follow their heart, and the second is to provide them with limits and boundaries to help guide them.
Here are four suggestions to consider:
Remind yourself that feelings are okay.
Instead of trying to fix your child’s problems or reduce upset, stand confidently in your decision to draw lines you know are helpful. Start by telling yourself that it is okay for your child to feel angry, sad or scared. It is not your job to make those feelings go away.
Reduce your discomfort with your child’s frustration.
When parents take an air of acceptance that being frustrated and upset is perfectly normal, they can focus on what to do when their child experiences intense emotions. Consider what internal messages might be triggering the “reptilian brain” (the fight-or-flight response) to kick in. Address those messages before they get you worked up.
Make a plan for handling upset.
Play around with different techniques to calming the unease felt when the children start to rev up. When I sense a big tantrum in one of my children coming, I start breathing deeply and say this to myself, “See him. Support him.” I found repeating this helped me stay calm and consider what was wrong in his world.
Communicate with empathy and clever words.
Show your child you understand his or her upset while at the same time holding your boundary. An example Stiffelman used it this:
“…learn how to communicate in ways that leave the child feeling understood, even if he couldn’t have what he wanted. Instead of, ‘No, you can’t have cookies for dinner’ (no being a very triggering word for most children), I showed them how to respond in a less confrontational way… ‘Cookies for dinner! Wouldn’t that be fun! Should we try that for your next birthday?’”
I have created two lists of supportive phrases to use with young children. This one is for children ages one and two and this one for those who are three and four-years-old.
It is okay for our children to be upset and even to be upset with us! We aren’t crushing their spirits or hampering their individuality by guiding them with clear limits. When our children learn that blowing up isn’t a strategy that works to get what they need, and are shown how to manage their big emotions, any stuck anger has a chance to process and clear out. We actually help our children be happier by not shielding them from painful experiences and being fully present as they feel their sadness and disappointment.
If you’d like more information, I recommend reading Parenting With Presence and I also invite you over to my Facebook page where I continually post free parenting information.
Toddler Woes? Here are 3 Phrases to Stop Toddler Meltdowns