1. Watch for Triggers
Notice what likely “fight times” are. Sometimes it's car rides, sometimes it's during before-dinner play, and sometimes it's when you've left them in a room together for more than five minutes. You know very well the patterns of upset they've developed.
It's better to accept that these fights might be brewing, rather than wish they wouldn't happen. Being prepared helps us keep a level head when a struggle erupts.
2. Get on Their Level
When their “gas gauge” is nearing empty, it's time to put in more attention. You can plump up their capacity for tolerance. If their sense of connection with you is strong, they are better able to deal with whatever usually sets them off around their sibling.
It pays to plan. If your children traditionally get into trouble right after you bring them home in the evening, try getting down on the floor to play with them right when you walk in the door and re-establish your connection with each of them.
You may need to have snacks like carrot sticks and peanut butter in the car on the way home to handle any immediate hunger problems, and then dinner can be cooked after playful connections have been made.
Games like, “I have ten kisses for each of you” or The Vigorous Snuggle can turn into contests that bring lots of laughter and reassurance after a day of being separated. Sometimes, children will work together to “keep you away,” strengthening their bond as powerful and clever children able to evade the kisses of their bumbling but determined parent.
3. Hear Them Out
If a dispute occurs, let them have their say, letting get their feelings out. If one runs off upset, follow them and sympathise with their issues. Just letting them offload like this can go far in releasing the tension.
Here's How it Can Work:
Here's the story of one father who prepared himself mentally, and the good results he got from the listening he was able to do because he was ready for “trouble.”
My son, who is older, and daughter were sitting at the table. It was dinnertime, and my son almost always finds a way to get upset with his sister at dinner! I prepared myself mentally beforehand, telling myself that their fight was going to happen, and that I could intervene without getting angry.
I sat my son right next to my daughter, instead of sitting between them—which I often do to try to keep a fight from happening. We hold hands before a meal, and take a moment to give thanks. So I said, “OK, let's hold hands.” My son immediately protested. I said, as gently as I could. “Come on, hold her hand now.” That's all it took to get them going.
My son said, “Don't force me!” And I said, “I'm not forcing you, but it would be good to hold your sister's hand.” I didn't make him do it, but I didn't give up on the idea that he could do it. He began to cry, and ran from the table. I followed after him into the next room, and he cried, saying that how his sister always hurts him and teases him and kicks him. I kept quiet about the things I know he does to her, and didn't argue at all, just listened to the wrongs he felt.
He cried for a long time. He didn't come back to the table a completely loving brother, but later that night, I heard him talking to her very sweetly, saying, “Do you want me to pick you up? Want me to carry you?” Normally he doesn't want to get physically close to her at all. And as I do more of this listening, I see that they're starting to play together more, and he's hugging her sometimes. It's unbelievable, actually! I'm really excited that things are loosening up between them.
It's a real challenge for us, because we are so tired of their fights and their attitudes toward each other. It's hard to be kind and gentle when the fights begin. But we're getting the payoff, bit by bit.
You'll find some of the most common sibling struggles parents encounter in the links below. Each will give you valuable insights behind what causes the behavior and some ideas for how to intervene or prevent it. Let us know your successes!
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