Hitting, it’s the worst! Especially to see your own children hit one another. My girls used to get physical the moment there was any sort of kerfuffle. The Old Me would threaten, “You hit your sister again and you won’t be able to go to the park later!” It worked in the very short term, but they always seemed to resort to hitting again. (If you are the one your child hits, see “When Your Toddler Hits You: A New Perspective.”)
So I took an online Parenting by Connection class called “Taming Sibling Rivalry.” It was life changing. I learned to set a limit without bribing, shaming, or threatening. I would remind the girls they were not allowed to hit one another and explain to them how sorry I was I didn’t get there in time to help. Then I listened to the upsets and hurts they had with one another. I tried not to take sides and just remained calm finally knowing that it was their struggle to get through and not mine.
When the girls came together to “explain” each side of the story there were some common themes emerging. Firstly, there was a lot of miscommunication and hurt feelings that ended in physical hurt. Usually I was able to let the girls explain their side of the story without insulting each other ( I had to set a limit here too) and they were able to move on.
Just to have the space to explain themselves, to be heard, was enough to change the dynamic. I never made them apologize, although that had been my MO for years. So occasionally they would apologize to each other on their own. I thought this was great progress. Other times they acknowledged their wrong-doing in the incident, unprompted.
Over time my older daughter found more compassion for her sister and my younger daughter found her voice. The imbalance of power came back to the middle. One day, well after I had completed all the videos and homework from the class, I could hear them arguing. I did a “drive-by” down the hall very quietly. I heard my older daughter acquiesce to her sister, allowing her to have all the power, giving into her little sister’s request to be the “mom” in their imaginary play. This never happened! My eldest had always insisted on being the “boss,” the “mom,” the one in charge. But finally my younger daughter was able to ask for what she wanted and her older sister was relaxed and connected enough to allow her the power position in their play.
Not only are my daughters more relaxed and cooperative with one another, the whole family now shares more warmth and flexibility.
Michelle Carlson, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor in Los Angeles
Get more ideas to soothe sibling rivalry in our free call From Hatred to Harmony: How Hand in Hand Changes Sibling Rivalry, this April.
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