Using Play to End Sibling Rivalry

Kristen Volk, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor
Kristen Volk, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

My kids seemed fine when they came home from school on a Monday.  My 8-year-old daughter even wanted to do yoga, so I put the laptop out for her to do an on-line yoga class.  Her older brother was reading on the couch pretty engaged in his book, but his sister was doing yoga an arm's length away from him so once she started to do some standing poses, he couldn't resist irritating her…you know that brotherly, “I'm in your space and won't let you do what you want” kind of irritation?  He pulled on her yoga mat, he stepped in front of the computer, he rolled off the couch and laid down beside her so she couldn't do some of her poses.

This was not going over very well with my daughter.  She wanted to be really focused on the yoga and being a child who liked to get her way, she demanded harshly, “Get off!” as she pushed him away.  Things were escalating as I was busy with things in the kitchen hoping someone wasn't going to flip their lid.  But thinking for a moment, I realized this wasn't going to resolve itself and my son's motivation to irritate his sister was getting in the way of him functioning well or connecting with her.  It was clear I needed to step in and set a limit. Things weren't too out of control though and I was feeling playful so I decided to bring some laughter into the limit.

I inserted myself between the two while facing my son since he seemed to be the most off track.  I positioned myself into an intense wrestling stance — more like a sumo wrestler.  He started to laugh and immediately jumped up to wrestled with me.  On the floor we went, pushing and rolling and getting tied up together.  He kept laughing and pushing.

My daughter said, “Keep him away, Mom,”  as she continued with her yoga. “I'll try, sweetheart,” as I let him struggle against me, pushing me around some of the time, but not getting in my daughter's way and still giving him a lot of resistance.  I knew he needed the resistance because of how obnoxious he was being towards his sister.  Giving him resistance with laughter was a great formula for building connection and trust, and working through whatever was bothering him.

This turned into about a 40-minute wrestling match.  We went around and around, rolling back and forth with lots of laughter and pushing.   It went longer than I really wanted it to, especially since my son, now 12 was quite strong, and I really preferred to focus on dinner.  But I stayed with him anyway.  I could tell he really needed it.  He laughed continuously and wrestled so hard.  Every so often he touched my daughters yoga mat and I went into immediate sumo yowl to confront him, and an, “Oh no you don't!” He kept the majority of his focus on me and our wrestling match.  I also couldn't resist laughing along.

My job was to keep everyone safe.  I could let my son continue to show me his impulse to interfere with his sister and I didn't have to yell at him or tell him he was a “bad” kid.  I knew there was nothing wrong with my son just because he wasn't feeling connected and his impulse control was impaired.  He needed connection first, before he could have good impulse control.  So I gave him lots and lots of connection through wrestling, physical contact, and laughter.

Eventually, we ended up in a pile on the floor, which included my daughter.  All exhausted, relaxed, and laughing.  Dinner ended up being more simple than I had planned, but our connection was great that night.  My children were well nourished.

Kristen Volk, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

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1 thought on “Using Play to End Sibling Rivalry”

  1. I love this, I really do but, in the cases of so many parents, especially dual-income families, who are already experiencing a severe time crunch as is, taking 40 minutes out of dinner prep time isn’t terribly realistic. Solutions that involve intensifying parental involvement at crucial times of the day; getting ready for school, homework time, dinnertime and bedtime, can often leave parents like me feeling inadequate and frustrated that we could be better parents if only we could just find a little more time.

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