At the end of one day during my sons' school break, I needed to go buy some food. So, my six-year-old and nine-year-old sons and I stopped at a supermarket. Things went well initially, though we were all tired and the store was getting crowded. My boys helped me pick out fruits and vegetables, and they took turns pushing the shopping cart.
However, as we were finishing up in the produce section, I remembered that I forgot to get carrots. I asked my older son to get them, but he didn't want to. Instead, my younger son volunteered to. After he got them, I thanked him with a big smile.
This interaction might have brought up some feelings for my older son. Soon after that, he started pushing his younger brother away from the shopping cart. No longer taking turns with the cart, they pushed each other, both of them tight with tension. I inserted my body between them, trying to stop them and, at the same time, connect with them. In vain, I exhausted all the tactics that came to mind. Instead, I pushed the cart forward, while, on each side of me, my sons struggled to steer the cart in two opposite directions. Somehow, I managed to steer us toward a less crowded area, as I was starting to worry about what other people might think of us.
Then I thought of a Playlistening idea. I said, “Whoever gets the cart gets my kisses!”
Upon hearing this, my younger son jumped, and he let go of the shopping cart, laughing. My older son then got hold of the shopping cart, and I went after him slowly, carefully watching his reaction. He gleefully avoided my kisses but let me succeed with a few.
My younger son watched from a yard away, and I also went after him. “I am not holding the cart!” he said. “He is. Mommy, you need to kiss him!”
“Oh, yes, that's right,” I said.
I went back and forth between them, playing a confused role. Both of them laughed.
And that was it. This playful interaction in a challenging moment diffused their tension. We were able to finish the rest of the shopping just fine, and my sons were helpful at the check-out counter, unloading items from the cart while talking in a lively way with one another once again.
For extensive support around raising siblings and helping them get along, try our Taming Sibling Rivalry course.
—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor